October 2015


From the data and figures to actual enhancement

Martí Casadesús Fa - Director

It is not just what a quality assurance agency "is supposed to do" that makes AQU Catalunya what it is. By this, I mean the main and virtually sole task of QA agencies is the accreditation of study programmes and/or accreditation at institution level. The aim is clearly and simply to engender the trust of society in degrees awarded by universities, promote continuous improvement and demonstrate accountability to stakeholders.

In addition to the assessment and accreditation of faculty teaching staff in accordance with prevailing legislation, AQU Catalunya has for many years been undertaking actions that underpin the primary objective described above. I refer to the collection and systematic analysis of different types of data for use in decision-making that is as informed as much as possible. These include tools such as the survey of the employment outcomes of the graduate population from Catalan universities that has been carried out for more than fifteen years, the employers survey – details of which are given in this newsletter – and the survey on recent graduate satisfaction, which is coordinated between the Agency and the involvement of all universities in the Catalan higher education system. The question remains however as to the degree to which these data are actually used to improve and enhance study programmes and awards. This is by no way a new idea, although it is something we need to be continuously asking ourselves within the Agency.

I have the feeling that the answer is a mixed bag. Aside from making available overall data on the system for use in the analysis of strategic proposals regarding the system itself and each university in particular, specific data on each study programme should support operational decision-making regarding that study programme. It is here, I believe, that some academic managers do make best use of the data whereas others unfortunately do not. Needless to say, the investment in monetary terms made by the system in the former is ridiculous, whereas in the case of the latter it is totally useless.

Throughout all this time, AQU Catalunya has promoted or at least done its best to promote the use of this valuable source of data, the like of which is actually only available to very few university systems. The more general reports produced initially have in time evolved into more in-depth reports on degree programmes, analysis and sectoral presentations; the launching of Winddat as a platform for monitoring degree programmes; etc. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that there is still a long way to go and one objective of the Agency’s current management therefore needs to be continuous work in this direction. Little will be achieved through improvements to the quality of data unless there is greater involvement in actually using the data. This means continuous work by the Agency towards an end that it cannot achieve on its own. So basically I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before.

In this regard, AQU Catalunya goes one step further through, for example, the organisation of specific events and workshops like the one held recently on training for the teaching profession in primary and secondary education; the drawing up of transversal reports on study programmes, such as the one drawn up recently on the Master of Teaching in Secondary Education; the forthcoming launch of a platform to disseminate information on the quality of university degrees, etc. As everywhere else in the world, however, the key will undoubtedly be the internal and external analysis of the data in accreditation procedures. In particular, in what is an essential process in the system, the vast amount of existing data and indicators on degree programmes (employment, satisfaction, etc.) needs to be made available to the stakeholders in a way that is as easy and practical as possible, so that the work of academics is just to analyse the data and make enhancement proposals. The goal may still appear to be a long way away, but I am of the opinion that, bit by bit, we are edging our way forwards.

This will hopefully lead in the medium term to the regular and efficient use of the data and indicators that the university system in Catalonia has been able to produce and manage and in turn enable the best possible decisions to be made.


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