In a new series of articles, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Program and Pathways), Professor Sean Brawley provides an overview on the current program of renewal of our course and unit quality assurance processes. This important work is now being finalised through the MQ Operating Plan 2020-2024 and will impact colleagues across our suite of courses and units. In Part 1, Sean provides some sector and institutional context.

As a public university with self-accrediting authority over our coursework suite, a crucial dimension of our activities relates to the assurance of the quality of our courses through robust processes of accreditation, monitoring and reaccreditation.

In 2017 we commenced an institutional journey to transform our coursework suite.  This work built on the promise held within our strategic roadmap Framing of Futures.

The 2020 Curriculum Architecture transformation was the culmination of the first phase of this work.  We originally planned to follow this work in 2020 with a second stage that would see us finalise new policies and processes for warranting the quality of our curriculum and, by extension, assuring the quality of the student experience.  This work was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 emergency as we turned our thoughts to more immediate challenges.

Within the Australian Higher Education sector, the idea and application of Quality Assurance, Enhancement and Improvement (QAE&I) has evolved over time. Prior to the Bradley Review of Higher Education in 2008 we operated in the “Fit for Purpose” paradigm.  After Bradley and the creation of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) we moved into the world of “Excellence and Standards”.  This change culminated with the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 which came into effect on 1 January 2017.

With acknowledgements to the Analytic Quality Glossary and Williams (2016)* these are the ways I think about QAE&I:

  • Quality Assurance (QA) represents the internal or external policies, procedures, systems and practices that are designed by an organisation to achieve, maintain and enhance quality.  QA is judged against predetermined standards and is an integral precondition for quality enhancement and improvement.
  • Quality Enhancement (QE) is the deliberative processes by which an organisation augments policy.  It can be ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ or a combination of both processes and includes making qualitative judgements and designing the practical means through which future change is secured.
  • Quality Improvement (QI) is the systematic approach to the monitoring and improvement of processes and systems related to the delivery of quality assurance.
  • Quality System (QS) is the model and mechanism through which the institution operationalises its approach to quality assurance, enhancement and improvement.  It holds the institution’s tools and processes, and synthesises its philosophies, policies and methodologies into models of practice.
ASQC Chair Associate Professor Taryn Jones discusses our new approach at a Workshop with Course Directors

As a self-accrediting provider of higher education, our approach to monitoring and periodic review of our course suite is a matter for us within the boundaries of expectation set by the Higher Education Standards Framework (HESF) and other regulatory instruments such as those driven by the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act, 2000. QAE&I therefore informs all stages within the lifecycle of the curriculum. 

Our new Curriculum Lifecycle Framework (CLF) charts the journey of an award course, course component or unit from idea to disestablishment.  It can also be applied to non-award educational products that still require institutional oversight such as short courses which embed our new institutional approach to micro-credentials.

Stage 1:  Ideation

This is where the idea for a new course is first considered.  This stage is driven by strategic and business considerations. It will incorporate a new decision making process.

Stage 2:  Accreditation

This is the stage where the design of a new academic item is undertaken and the academic case for accreditation is made. It incorporates our existing academic governance processes.

Stage 3: Delivery

This is where the magic happens! 

Stage 4: Monitoring

This stage represents the processes through which we monitor the performance of our academic items — from units, through course components, to the course.  Our approach to unit monitoring takes place at the conclusion of a study period and for courses their health is checked on an annual basis.   The approach is data-driven and risk-based.  If a risk is identified a plan is then put in place to address the issue within the current cycle.  If the issue is seen to be high risk it can trigger a full reaccreditation review.

Stage 5: Re-accreditation

The HESF requires that at least once in every 5-7 years a course is subjected to rigorous external review to ensure it continues to meet the standards expected of it.  Such a processes requires significant stakeholder engagement and external referencing against sector benchmarks.  Our approach is being designed to support both our own internal reaccreditation needs and the external accreditation requirements of many of our courses.  

Stage 6: Discontinuation

The results of Stage 5 can see one of three next steps.  First the course could be deemed to meeting our expectations and can simply return to Stage 3.  Given our approach to monitoring serves as a continuous improvement cycle such an outcome may not be as infrequent as it might have been in the past.  Second, the course could return to Stage 2 for revisions that require the approval of our academic governance processes.  Third and finally, the decision of Stage 5 may be that the course will move to discontinuation.

At this time there is no work related to the new processes that is required by academic and professional staff not already engaged with the project work through Operating Plan, Program Board 2, Workstream 5.  Next time, in Part 2, I will talk about the draft policies and procedures and the timetable for their finalisation before setting out the institutional timetable for implementation.  Watch this space! 

• See James Williams (2016) Quality assurance and quality enhancement: is there a relationship?, Quality in Higher Education, 22:2, 97-102.

Posted by Sean Brawley

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