The National Peer Counseling Meeting was held on July 13 and 14, 2023, at the “Metropol Palace” hotel in Belgrade. It is the first project activity within the SEQA-ESG2 project (information about the project is available at the link), which NEAQA conducted, as a project partner, in cooperation with the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) – the project coordinator, with the aim of calling for a dialogue of all stakeholders in the field of quality assurance in higher education.

The peer-counselling visits involve policy dialogue as well as practice-oriented elements and aim to identify areas of need and action, determine the sharing of tasks between the actors within the national frameworks, and establish detailed action plans and timelines (including the agreement of country-specific objectives), for the purpose of supporting cohesive action nationally to achieve the requirements of the “European standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area” (ESG).

The peer counselling visits are the project’s first activity, as it is essential to create national awareness and shared understanding among national stakeholders for the issues that need to be subsequently addressed. The involvement of the national authorities is crucial for the successful implementation of the ESG at all levels to ensure that there are no legal or regulatory obstacles and that agencies and HEIs can obtain the support they need for this process.

The peer counselling visits gather representatives from the ministry in charge of higher education, the local QA agency, and key stakeholder organisations. In addition, the counselling visits get contributions from representatives of ENQA leadership, EQAR leadership, and/or additional experts from EHEA agencies already compliant with the ESG and with relevant or comparable experience in setting up their own EQA system (such as neighbouring countries, or agencies from similar systems/structures).

A total of 30 participants attended the event during both days, which included the following: the president of EQAR, the director of EQAR, one of the members of the ENQA Board, the director of the SQAA (Slovenia), representatives of the ENQA Secretariat, representatives of NEAQA (Director, Secretary, Employees, members of the Management Board, the Commission for Accreditation and Quality Assurance and the Appeals Commission), the Rector of the University of Belgrade, representatives of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia, representatives of Reviewers (from among professors, professionals/labour market representatives and students) and representatives of state and private higher education institutions.

The meeting was divided into nine sessions that were organised as panel discussions, workshops and round tables and were dedicated to the following topics: Establishment of legal frameworks for the agency’s independence, A connection of national/agency criteria with Part 1 of the ESG, Peer review experts, Stakeholder involvement in external quality assurance, The alignment of the methodology and processes used in the Serbian system to the ESG’s four-stage peer-review method and ESG 3.4 Thematic Analysis. All attendees actively participated in the sessions mentioned above, giving their opinions and suggestions for the further improvement of NEAQA and, in general, the Serbian higher education system. During the final segment, significant conclusions were reached regarding all the discussed topics. These conclusions hold immense value for NEAQA, especially as an action plan is anticipated to be formulated in the upcoming period based on the findings presented during this meeting.