Changes In The Approach to Higher Education Quality Assurance

With HEFCE just releasing a new update to the way Higher Education Institutions will be assessed on quality, universities and colleges will have to change their approach. Most universities and colleges allow their teaching to remain ancillary; their responsibilities are almost purely regarding their own teaching practice.

University lecturers, lecture students, and then evaluate that practice once it is completed, preparing materials and edits for next time the programme runs; this is their involvement with quality assurance in a HEI. They do not however look at institution-wide quality assurance. Often a university will have its own team and governance for this. But is this truly the best approach?

OLC operate far differently. Being a smaller institution has its benefits; tutors at OLC are involved with, not only quality assurance at unit level, but at programme level and institution level. For instance: approximately ten staff members, including our three directors, are actively, and routinely involved with internally auditing a range of core aspects that affect the whole institution. They audit singularly:

  • To assess methods of recording customer feedback;
  • Delivering education, training and consulting;
  • Our marketing and stakeholder needs;
  • Measuring and monitoring of activities, quality and health and safety systems assessment;
  • People management, HR practice, personnel files and associate management;
  • Winning and maintaining business;
  • Financial and legal compliance checks;
  • Developing partners, products and services;
  • Growing the business and management review activities.

Internal auditing requires staff involved to be able to take a balanced, objective and external view of the processes they in investigating; personal experiences and knowledge, being inside the company, cannot apply. This as a practice allows all those staff members involved to at the forefront of the whole institution’s operations and keeps everyone involved at least some level, with all processes and procedures; plus by maintaining this level of engagement and responsibility, it engages staff members further and has offered great training opportunities.

However it does present some issues when objectivity is required, as these staff members are involved with these processes every day, and others have very little involvement in. I believe this does in fact improve an institution’s approach to quality assurance and more staff are engaged with it and see it as a real issue, but how applicable this is for universities, and their size, is questionable. Staff members at the 2015 Graduation Ceremony – Pictured left to right: Jonathan Saunders; Lisa Rees; Derek Hill; Mazhar Hussain; Enis Elezi; Dr Chris Bamber; Nicola Stockton; Xindong (Bruce) Fu; Professor John Sharp.

Central (and often ancillary) staff are involved with almost all aspects of OLC’s quality assurance. Aside from the aforementioned internal auditing, the rest of the staff are involved with the following:

  • Evaluations of their units in terms of delivery and results;
  • Reactions to staff engagement and issues that are college-wide;
  • Academic issues that affect all students and staff (through Academic meetings);
  • A wide range of evaluations of processes and issues that have been changed or resolved;
  • Aspects of company strategy;
  • Adherence and active analysis of the Quality Assurance Agency’s Quality Code.

 Staff are invited to every single meeting held apart from Staff-Student Meetings and Board Meetings. They also actively contribute with ideas and solutions/potential shortfalls; they also often present small presentations and training sessions as part of wider up-skilling and knowledge/best practice transfer. This approach allows staff to observe how specific issues can be changed as part of a process, and they actively are involved with its change. Each staff member has a unique approach to thinking and problem solving, and its invariably useful to have this at all points of quality control, right from the issue’s inception, to the evaluation of its solution.

However having so many contrasting views in meetings does cause some issues to explode in severity as more and more potential ideas are made, rejected and re-edited, so decisions sometimes take much longer and are more complicated than necessary. With that said, I do believe that the staff engagement levels allow each member to truly feel like they care about an issue as they can directly influence its solutions, and then comment on how its implementation went, allowing a consistently improving system to exist. The question is though, can universities learn anything from this. In massive institutions like British universities, it can be difficult to near impossible to implement this holistic approach, however might there be the resources to allow their teaching staff more involvement and knowledge of the university’s operations outside of their modules?

Greg Paton has been a tutor for over 25 years. During that entire period he has working with the CICM in delivering a consistently high level of teaching on both the Level 3 and Level 5 units. Greg has been a lead developer in our blended learning program ensuring our overseas students have access to our extensive range of resource material