Assuring quality academics

Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance aims to centralize quality assurance checks across the province

A new academic quality assurance process could facilitate inter-university transfers and help ease departmental budget constraints.

Earlier this year the Ontario government created a new body, the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, to centralize quality checks across the province, Deputy Provost Susan Cole said.

The province has a number of educational goals. While this initiative most obviously targets quality of education, Cole said it could also help students looking to transfer credits from one university to another.

“If there’s more consistency in the evaluation of programs it would give greater comfort to various institutions [when granting credits],” she said. “This might be very helpful to achieve that.”

Eventually, in order to further standardize the academic review process, the Council will oversee the development of new courses and the review of existing ones. Before it can do so, it needs to get a framework in place.

The province gave each university a document outlining what a student should get out of their degree so that each institution can meet the same standards. It cites what the differences should be between bachelor’s degree with and without honours, a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.

For example, in a bachelor’s degree, a student should be able to give “some detailed knowledge in an area of the discipline,” whereas in an honours bachelor’s degree the student should have a “developed, detailed knowledge of and experience in research in an area of the discipline.”

Tomorrow, the University Senate will vote whether or not to approve a Queen’s-centric adaptation of the plan from which they can base their quality assurance processes.

Currently, Cole said undergraduate academic review is conducted by the senate Internal Academic Review (IAR) committee and graduate review is done by the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies.

“It’s quite an extensive process,” she said, adding that every few years departments are required to self-evaluate their graduate or undergraduate programs as a part of their academic review.

In anticipation of the new quality assurance processes, which should be in full swing by Sept. 2011, all new review projects have been put on hold.

“[The IAR committee is] finishing up some internal reviews under the old process but new ones will be under the new process,” Cole said. “The committee won’t exist any longer once the new quality assurance process comes in.

“We’ve got about 10 reviews finishing up, but were just not starting new ones,” Cole said. “Everything, like USATs [University Survey of Student Assessment of Teaching], will be incorporated into the new process—nothing will be lost.” Cole said she’s still waiting for exactly how the new quality assurance process will take shape.

The offices of the provost and vice-principal (academic) have jointly been working on the Queen’s University Quality Assurance Processes (QUQAPs).

Cole said the University must submit these processes to Queen’s park by Dec. 31. They then have until the end of March to review the proposal and ask for revisions.

“They have a quality council that will look at all the universities’ policies,” she said. “It guarantees institutions their autonomy because they’re not going to do a one size fits all.”

Nonetheless, some things are necessary across the board, she said, like high level teaching expectations and cost-effective measures to implement them.

One of the major improvements proposed in the new quality assurance process would allow departments to do their graduate and undergraduate reviews together to increase time efficiency.

“[They won’t have] to do all that repetitive work in terms of background, faculty qualifications,” she said. “We’re hoping to reduce bureaucratic complexity.”

Right now, departments have to do evaluations of their programs in addition to the inspections from outside consultants. By amalgamating the graduate and undergraduate review processes, the University and individual departments can save time and money.

“The departments are where the work starts,” Cole said. “They’re used to doing these things for reviews but it will be a different format.”

In the classroom, students shouldn’t expect the new quality assurance processes to cause any major changes. It’s just getting off its feet and could eventually have larger implications, but in the meantime, the main thing is that it lays out exactly what students can expect from their education and what teachers should be conveying.

“What’s expected in a degree is going to be articulated more specifically,” Cole said. “Since those expectations have been articulated on paper so the onus will be in the University to describe how they’ve met those expectations.”

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