Examining Quality Culture: Part 1 Quality Assurance Processes in Higher Education Institutions. By Tia Loukkola and Thérèse Zhang - PDF

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E U A P U B L I C A T I O N S Examining Quality Culture: Part 1 Quality Assurance Processes in Higher Education Institutions By Tia Loukkola and Thérèse Zhang Copyright by the European University

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E U A P U B L I C A T I O N S Examining Quality Culture: Part 1 Quality Assurance Processes in Higher Education Institutions By Tia Loukkola and Thérèse Zhang Copyright by the European University Association 2010 All rights reserved. This information may be freely used and copied for non-commercial purposes, provided that the source is acknowledged ( European University Association). Additional copies of this publication are available for 10 Euro per copy. European University Association asbl Avenue de l Yser Brussels, Belgium Tel: Fax: A free electronic version of this report is available through This project has been funded with the support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. ISBN: E U A P U B L I C A T I O N S Examining Quality Culture: Part 1 Quality Assurance Processes in Higher Education Institutions By Tia Loukkola and Thérèse Zhang List of figures and tables Figures Figure 1: Ratio of types of institutions Figure 2: Distribution of respondents per country Figure 3: Elements of quality culture Figure 4: Structures supporting the internal quality assurance processes Figure 5: Introduction of a quality assurance system (or equivalent) Figure 6: Introduction of a quality assurance system (or equivalent) Breakdown per country Figure 7: How the internal quality assurance system (or equivalent) was introduced within the institution Figure 8: The involvement of stakeholders in formal quality assurance processes Figure 9: Designing curriculum and programmes within the institution Figure 10: Monitoring curriculum and programmes Figure 11: Characteristics of student assessment procedures Figure 12: Institutions offering, monitoring, evaluating and improving their learning resources Tables Table 1: Activities covered by institutional quality assurance processes Table 2: Information included in the information system(s) regarding study programmes Table 3: Information provided by the institution on its study programmes Table 4: Internal evaluation processes providing feedback to the strategic planning Table 5: Key findings corresponding to ESGs part Table of contents Foreword Acknowledgements Executive summary 1. Setting the stage 1.1. Background 1.2. The Examining Quality Culture project: aims and methodology 2. Quality assurance as a component of quality culture 2.1. The elements of quality culture 2.2. Quality assurance processes as understood in this project 3. Mapping internal quality assurance processes: survey results 3.1. Quality assurance structures 3.2. Participation of stakeholders 3.3. The use of information 3.4. Quality assurance in teaching and learning 3.5. Implementation of the ESGs 4. Key trends and further reflection 4.1. Trends and perceptions 4.2. Areas for further development 5. Concluding remarks Annex: Questionnaire References Foreword The quality of European education, and of higher education in particular, has been identified as one of the key factors which will allow Europe to succeed in a global competition. In 2003 in Berlin the Ministers for higher education stated that the primary responsibility for quality assurance lies with higher education institutions. Further, various policies and action lines have been developed to improve quality; among other initiatives, European degree structures have been revised, mobility of students and teachers is encouraged, and transparency and comparability of qualifications is promoted. In parallel, EUA has supported its members in promoting an institutional quality culture that is fit for purpose and that takes account of the significant institutional diversity which exists in Europe. After a decade of work in this field, and given the official launch of the European Higher Education Area in 2010, we felt that the time had come to take a moment to analyse progress made in this respect. The aim of the Examining Quality Culture in European Higher Education Institutions project has been to ask the institutions how, and through which activities, they are responding to the challenge of assuring and enhancing the quality of their provision. This report focuses on the activities developed by universities to enhance their internal quality, to improve their accountability and thereby also implementing the European Standards and Guidelines (ESGs) in practice, and is based on the results of a survey completed by 222 institutions across Europe. Nevertheless, true high quality education cannot result only from formal quality assurance processes, but rather is a consequence of the emergence of a quality culture shared by all members of a higher education community. Hence, the work of this project will continue. The intention is to complement this report by another one which will address the complex relationship that exists between formal quality processes and the existence of an overall institutional quality culture. It will also present some case study examples of this interaction. We hope that this publication will be of interest to all our members as well as to policy makers. As the results demonstrate, while considerable progress has been made there remains much to be done. In that context, we hope that this publication will invite reflections that will contribute to this work. Jean-Marc Rapp EUA President 6 Acknowledgements First and foremost, on behalf of the project consortium, we would like to express our gratitude to all the higher education institutions that took the time to answer the questionnaire. This report is based on those replies and would not have seen the light of day without the contribution of everyone within these institutions. We are well aware that the time spent responding to the survey was taken away from the daily tasks of the institutions and very much hope that the results of this project will benefit us all in the long run. Special thanks go to those 14 institutions across Europe that took part in the testing phase of the questionnaire, providing us with invaluable input on the design of the questions and its technical realisation. Secondly, we are grateful to the members of the project Steering Committee (see list below), chaired by Professor Henrik Toft Jensen, former President of Roskilde University in Denmark. Ever since the first meeting of the Steering Committee we have been impressed by the shared commitment to this project and to promoting a quality culture approach within higher education institutions. This commitment has been demonstrated by the untiring willingness to comment on drafts of both the questionnaire and this report as well as to contribute to the analysis of the results. Furthermore, EUA would like to thank its consortium partners, the German Rectors Conference (HRK) and QAA Scotland for agreeing to embark on this challenging adventure of mapping quality assurance processes and addressing quality culture. Our thanks also go to the European Commission s Lifelong Learning Programme for co-funding the project. Finally, the authors wish to thank Barbara Michalk for acting as our sounding board during the writing process and contributing to the text. And last but by no means least, thanks go to Joanne Byrne, whose help has been invaluable in respect to all aspects of the practical arrangements related to the project and who has scrupulously provided feedback on various draft versions of this report. Tia Loukkola Head of Unit Thérèse Zhang Project Officer Steering Committee Henrik Toft Jensen, Chair, former President of Roskilde University, Denmark Andrea Blättler, representative, European Students Union David Bottomley, Assistant Head, QAA Scotland, United Kingdom Karl Dittrich, representative, European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) Tia Loukkola, Head of Unit, EUA Barbara Michalk, Head of Quality Management Project, German Rectors Conference (HRK), Germany Oliver Vettori, Head of Quality Management and Programme Delivery, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria 7 8 E X A M I N I N G Q U A L I T Y C U L T U R E : P A R T 1 Q U A L I T Y A S S U R A N C E P R O C E S S E S I N H I G H E R E D U C A T I O N I N S T I T U T I O N S Executive summary 1. Setting the stage 1. High quality of provision has been one of the key aims of the current reforms in European higher education, and has led to the increasing demand for quality assurance (QA). Of all the work carried out in this regard at European level, the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESGs), adopted in 2005, are considered as a cornerstone, reinforcing the importance of institutional autonomy and responsibility in QA. 2. When working on QA processes, higher education institutions (HEIs) are ideally expected to develop internal quality cultures which take into account their institutional realities and are related to their organisational culture. 3. The project Examining Quality Culture in Higher Education Institutions (EQC) aims to identify institutional processes and structures that support the development of an internal quality culture. The first phase of the project focused on mapping the existing QA processes through a survey, while the second phase will provide a qualitative approach and embrace the cultural and more informal elements of quality culture. 4. The report, which results from the first phase, seeks to examine how higher education institutions (HEIs) respond in their activities to the developments in QA at policy level. It is based on the quantitative results of a survey that was conducted during spring A total of 222 institutions from 36 countries across Europe responded. 2. Quality assurance as a component of quality culture 5. The study bases its understanding of quality culture on the definition provided by EUA s Quality Culture project (2006), which sees it as referring to an organisational culture characterised by a cultural/psychological element on the one hand, and a structural/managerial element on the other hand. It is crucial, in the authors minds, to distinguish quality culture from quality assurance processes, which are part of the structural element. 6. The definition of quality assurance varies from one country and institution to another. The study uses QA in its broadest sense, including all activities related to defining, assuring and enhancing the quality of an HEI, thus arguing in favour of adopting an all-encompassing approach derived from institutions own strategic goals, fitting into their internal quality culture, while also fulfilling the external requirements for QA. These activities should include, but are not limited to, activities mentioned by the ESGs. The approach adopted by the survey is therefore not limited to checking compliance with the ESGs, but also includes elements of institutional strategic management. 9 3. Mapping internal quality assurance processes: survey results Quality assurance structures 7. Remarkable progress has been made in QA in recent years, and most of the responding HEIs have fundamental policies, structures and processes in place in this regard although institutions tend not to systematically identify or call all QA practices in place as such. A large variety of organisational structures exist when it comes to supporting the implementation of QA processes. HEIs with a longer history in QA are more likely to have developed support structures such as pedagogical innovation and staff development. 8. In terms of policy and associated procedures, most HEIs have a strategic document either at institutional (for the majority of cases) or at faculty level. Participation of stakeholders 9. The crucial role of institutional leadership in demonstrating commitment to quality has been taken on board by most HEIs, which have their senior leadership involved in one way or another in QA processes. 10. Whereas the participation of staff and students is one of the key principles in developing both a quality culture and QA processes, nearly half of the respondents do not have a committee responsible for QA. Committees are more likely to be found in HEIs having worked for longer in QA. HEIs with a longer history in QA are also more likely to give importance to the influence of student surveys as well the importance of a feedback loop and informing the students about the follow-up of QA activities they participated in. While the involvement of academic staff seems to be systematic and common in all stages, from curriculum design to involvement in formal QA processes, student involvement is not as widespread. 11. In most HEIs, external stakeholders (employers, experts, alumni...) are involved in QA processes in various ways, but the level and the nature of their participation varies, from sitting on governance bodies to being consulted as sources of information this latter seeming to be the more common. The use of information 12. Practically all responding HEIs have an information system for monitoring their activities. Institutions tend to collect information about their profile and what they offer, but the information related to resources available to the students (such as library services, computer facilities...) is more limited. Moreover, the information collected is not necessarily the one made public. Usually the information made public is that on study programmes, although even this does not often include information on graduate employment. 13. The link between collecting information and informing the staff or students involved in this data collection is not obvious, as some information (such as teachers performances) is typically considered as confidential or accessible only at leadership level. Students who provide feedback through surveys are informed about the results and follow-up actions in about half of the HEIs, although a significantly higher percentage of institutions do actually conduct student surveys. Data also show that institutions that have processes in place to oblige a teacher to improve his/her performance give more consideration to the results of student surveys. These institutions, again, are those with a longer history in QA. 14. With regard to strategic management, in about two thirds of HEIs the institutional leadership conducts an annual evaluation to review the goals. However, only a little over half of the HEIs reported having formulated key performance indicators to monitor their progress. 10 Quality assurance in teaching and learning 15. About two thirds of HEIs have designed their QA framework for teaching and learning as institutionspecific but following national frameworks and guidelines. Few HEIs chose to adopt external models (CAF, ISO...) as such. 16. The curriculum is typically designed by a committee or a working group. After a programme is up and running, a variety of processes for monitoring it exist. Most HEIs conduct some kind of internal evaluation in addition to an external one, should there be one. 17. The percentage of HEIs that reportedly have developed learning outcomes is higher than 90%, but they do not all make them publicly available. Less than half measure the student workload needed to reach the described learning outcomes through student surveys. 18. However, where institutions have developed learning outcomes, student assessment is directly related to them. Student assessment combines a variety of characteristics across Europe. Assessment methods and criteria are usually made transparent to students. 19. HEIs offer learning resources, but they do not all systematically monitor or evaluate them. Student support services are more likely to be in place and monitored in institutions having introduced their QA system before Implementation of the ESGs 20. The last part of Chapter 3 offers an overview on the implementation of the ESGs in the light of results collected through the survey. 4. Key trends and further reflection Trends and perceptions 21. The report argues that QA systems are largely in place, although their development in their current format is a recent phenomenon. Yet, developing a quality culture takes time and effort, as it is closely related to values, beliefs and a cultural element which cannot be changed quickly. Participation of all stakeholders in the implementation of QA processes and striving for a stronger quality culture appears to be essential, but still demands attention. Moreover, HEIs seem to have more information available on the input and on what is offered, than on the output. Finally, HEIs tend to be good at collecting information, but promoting a better and more efficient use of it may better contribute to strategic planning and foster continuous improvement. Areas for further development 22. Several key areas for further development in internal QA processes emerge from this study. Among these, an all-encompassing approach to QA, the development of explicit feedback loops, the participation of all relevant stakeholders, and the relation between information on strategic goals and communication strategy should be underlined. Finally, the complexity of the framework in which internal QA processes operate should not be underestimated: other developments in higher education, external regulations, financial constraints, and potential reluctance from the institution s community itself are to be carefully taken into account when further developing a quality culture. 11 1. Setting the stage 1.1. Background The rise of demand for quality assurance (QA) processes both internal and external has usually been linked to the massification of higher education, to the increase of investment and doubts concerning the possibility of maintaining quality in the resulting new circumstances, as well as to the belief in the importance of higher education in the new knowledge society. The high quality of provision has been one of the key aims of the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy as a means to promote the attractiveness and competitiveness of European higher education. The Ministerial meetings within the Bologna Process have shaped the European quality assurance framework. In 2003, the Berlin Communiqué stated that consistent with the principle of institutional autonomy, the primary responsibility for quality assurance in higher education lies with each institution itself (BPMC 2003). Two years later the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESGs) were adopted, based on a proposal prepared by the E4 Group (ENQA, ESU, EUA and EURASHE 1 ). The ESGs yet again reinforced the central importance of institutional autonomy, which brings with it heavy responsibilities for HEIs (ENQA 2005: 11). In 2007, the Ministers endorsed the proposal of the same E4 Group to set up a European Register of Quality Assurance Agencies (EQAR), thus consolidating the framework. (EUA 2010a: 61-62) While the above-mentioned European quality assurance framework was being developed, the work on quality assurance continued at the grass-roots level. HEIs are constantly developing and implementing quality assurance processes and consequently fostering their quality culture. Nevertheless, whereas there have been various reports prepared on the progress made in the field of external quality assurance (for example, ENQA 2008) and other reports that have aimed at covering both internal and external quality processes (for example, Rauhvargers et al. 2009, EC 2009; Westerheijden et al. 2010; ESU 2009 and 2010), there has not been a European level report specifically aimed at examining how higher education institutions have responded to the developments at policy level in their daily activities. EUA s Trends series touched briefly on the topic of internal QA as part of the larger Bologna Process framework. The Trends 2010 results demonstrate clearly that institutions fi
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