In general theory, quality assurance - QA for short - is the use of planned and systematic production processes, with evaluation and feedback mechanisms, to provide confidence in the suitability of a product for its intended purpose.
In tertiary education, it is taken to mean the use of mechanisms to ensure that each institution provides and continues to provide, courses of an appropriate university-level standard for the intended students, bearing in mind the offerings of similar courses at other universities, government requirements, student feedback and staff wishes - and that the institution itself remains at an appropriate level.
In most countries, goverments are taking an increasing interest in quality assurance of universities. Normally they set up an agency - sometimes more than one in large or federal countries - to do this. Typically the agency operates at "arm's length" from the relevant ministry and from the universities, although there is a strong tradition of the agency using staff from universities in a process with a strong element of peer review.
Quality assurance agencies
There is an automatically maintained list of these at Category:Quality assurance agencies. This has currently (June 2009) around 20 entries but is still growing.
Quality assurance agencies in a region of the world normally join together in an association. The best known are:
For convenience these are also placed in Category:Quality assurance agencies.
GetEducated.com published a list of unrecognised and dubious agencies in February 2009.
Quality assurance of e-learning
A topic of increasing interest is adapting quality assurance precepts to ensure that e-learning is treated in a relevant way. There is work going on in various countries and also in the EU E-xcellence and UNIQUe projects.
Countries where work is going on include: