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Observations on validation, monitoring and modification

José Vicente Peña Calvo - Professor, University of Ovideo

The first meta-evaluation workshop-seminar on validation (ex-ante assessment), modification and monitoring of recognised programmes was held in Barcelona in March. Organised by AQU Catalunya, the workshop brought together representatives with responsibilities in academic management and quality from all the Catalan universities, together with reviewers with a professional background, academics, recipients of the services (students), and experts from the Agency. I had the opportunity to take part and learn about the contributions that, from markedly different points of view, the various representatives have been putting into practice over the last eighteen months in relation to what has come to be the process of validation and monitoring. With the information that I gathered and from my personal point of view, I've attempted below to set out my impressions, make an assessment and express one or two doubts for the sole purpose of promoting discussion on the processes of validation, modification and monitoring that are currently under way.

Since the beginning of the long process of aligning university studies in Spain with the EHEA overarching framework for qualifications, there has been a gradual consolidation of a practice of critical review of the approaches used and the achievements made that has helped to standardise processes that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The process of validation, monitoring, modification and ultimately accreditation, considered as a whole, is without any doubt an appropriate instrument for improvement. Nevertheless, I believe certain mechanisms need to be adjusted and improvements made in communication between the different authorities and institutions involved. The Meta-evaluation Workshop-seminar was, from my point of view, a good experience.

Seen from this perspective, I can say that validation reports represent a step forward for the universities in their developing a commitment to society, the beneficiaries of university teaching (students) and the actors who implement this (teachers). Nevertheless, certain aspects of this can be improved and enhanced in at least three ways: simplification, specification of the elements and improved communication.

Simplification can be achieved by both eliminating what are considered to be general aspects of each university and by cutting down on the long-winded wording of procedures that are also vague and generic. Statements of grounds (justification) should be more precise and aimed at demonstrating the added value of a degree programme being proposed; and as far as teaching and research potential is concerned, they should highlight what is actually relevant and serves as scientific certainty and up-to-date teaching methods. These remarks are also applicable to other sections of the reports.

Steps can also be made towards the reports being more specific so that defined projects with clear objectives are clearly conveyed. On occasions, I'm not sure how often, one has the feeling that when it gets to the time of a degree course actually being introduced, the necessary decisions are made according to circumstance. This can be seen particularly in the way that learning outcomes and programme content are defined. Everything is set out in such a way that it is not easy to identify the intended competence profile. The process of writing up the various sections of the report needs to be improved so that, regardless of the inconvenience and difficulties that may exist, it is clear what teaching staff have to teach and what the students have to do in the learning activities that are described.

In order for things to be set out more specifically, communication needs to be improved between quality and programme design units and faculties and departments, so that the different horizontal flows of communication are better distributed. Monitoring processes are considerably more difficult when communication during the initial process of a project being produced and then when it is being introduced has failed to create a sufficient or required level of commitment. If this fails to occur, there is the risk of monitoring ending up in the hands of managers on different levels, and the process ends up being considered as being merely bureaucratic. A monitoring model based on quantitative indicators may be important, although it is not enough. Validation and monitoring need to be continuous, and feedback received from the actors. Fragmentation of the processes into the various management units, which operate on different planes, produces a vision and assessment of the processes that is bureaucratic and commitment is weakened on all sides.

As a whole, the series of procedures is well defined and fits together well, and now a few adjustments and enhancements just need to be made.


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