As it says in the inscription with the famous dictum by Lord Kelvin that was engraved on the facade of the Social Science Research Building at the University of Chicago in 1929: "If you cannot measure, your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory."
Before talking about Winddat, however, it should be mentioned that the higher education system in Catalonia has played a pioneering role in Spain in defining and implementing UNEIX,1 a database that gathers and validates data provided by the universities according to homogeneous criteria to produce reliable information. Indicators are constructed using these data, the definition and calculation of which have been agreed with the university authorities. Winddat would not exist if it had not been for the interest and commitment of the Government of Catalonia (Generalitat de Catalunya), the universities and AQU Catalunya to set up a system to measure university activity.
The quality assurance (QA) processes that AQU Catalunya promotes have of course developed over time, and the use of indicators is one of the aspects that have gained in importance. Although use was not made of indicators initially, their use has gradually become standard in all QA processes. Prior to the UNEIX database, the only indicators that were available for use by the universities were based on information provided by the Agency from the government authorities in Catalonia.
Since 2010, with the approval of the Framework for the validation (ex-ante accreditation), monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised university degree programmes (VSMA Framework), indicators have become a key element in the monitoring process as university authorities now have to analyse the running of degree courses on an annual basis. Moreover, in order to make a well-founded assessment of how they are running, according to the words of Lord Kelvin, indicators need to be consulted and trends established.
The problem for the Agency with all of this, following approval of the VSMA Framework, was how to make the indicators available to the more than one thousand degree programmes that are run in Catalonia every year and for programme monitoring to be carried out at the same time. That wasn't all, however, as we also needed the indicators to be easy to use, visually comprehensible and appealing, and that they could be consulted by the entire university community at any time, precisely in order to promote reflection (food for thought) and action. The solution adopted was to create Winddat, a website with teaching indicators for developing and analysing degree programmes, which is being launched this year.
Winddat offers a selection of data and indicators extracted from UNEIX and is intended to be an easy way of providing, at degree course level, information on the university student profile, the university admissions process (places offered, demand for places, entrance requirements, entrance grades, etc.), data on enrolments and academic governance, type of teaching staff, academic outcomes (student achievement and progress rates, drop-out rate, etc.), graduate destinations (employment, labour market outcomes) and mobility.
We are very aware that this tool is in the test stage and that it will be developed and improved in time as a result of the users' comments, but for the present the advantages that Winddat provides are as follows: information is always available and updated on a public web service; it fosters the understanding of the higher education system in Catalonia; it promotes transparency and accountability; it facilitates dialogue between the universities, government authorities and the Agency, in that everybody is using the same data; and it enables informed decisions to be made.
In the development of Winddat, another beneficiary has been taken into account, namely society, in particular students, and their families, who intend to study in a Catalan university. Winddat is designed to guide and orientate them in their choice of the most appropriate degree course according to their personal profile.
It is obvious that mere evaluation does not in itself resolve existing problems; nevertheless, if the evaluation methodology and instruments like Winddat that are used are appropriate, solutions can be better focused and directed. In order for quality assurance to be really useful, it must go hand in hand with new approaches to constructing and developing degree courses, and this requires the participation of those who are responsible for academic management.
While news of the launching of Winddat may pass unnoticed, it is likely that future versions will become a point of reference for the quality assurance and enhancement of degree courses that being run in Catalan universities and in line with the demands of society. This is our wish.
1UNEIX was launched in 2001 by the Executive of the Government of Catalonia, in collaboration with the public universities, the Universitat de Vic and AQU Catalunya. The private universities are currently in the process of being incorporated into the UNEIX system.