April 2017


Experience and reflections on the assessment of additional dimensions

Jordi Riera - Vice-rector for Academic Policy and Deputy Rector, Universitat Ramon Llull

AcreditacióOn the occasion of the seminar held at the headquarters of the Aragon Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education/ACPUA, “Assessment of the internationalisation and other dimensions of programme excellence”, in which the Director of AQU Catalunya, Dr. Martí Casadesús, took part, I also had the opportunity to speak as vice-rector for Academic Policy at the Universitat Ramon Llull, as we had previously participated with AQU in assessment procedures involving additional dimensions.

Within the context of my presentation I was able to share our experience as a university in participating in the assessment of a series of additional dimensions, which are assessed on an optional basis that is complementary to the compulsory procedure of accreditation for all recognised degree programmes.

The setting in motion of procedures involving programme accreditation has undoubtedly been one of the most important challenges that the universities have had to deal with since the launch of the Bologna process, and as a result of which more that 450 degree programmes run at higher education institutions in Catalonia have undergone the accreditation process.

In line with the main leading actors within the scope of action of AQU Catalunya at international level and in accordance with the European standards and guidelines for quality assurance, the Agency has developed a framework for review that goes beyond the mere assurance of a minimum number of quality principles and detects good practices and highlights excellence in higher education institutions. It is from within this context that a series of additional dimensions have arisen in three specific areas, namely entry into work (professional development) and employment outcomes; research-teaching linkages; and internationalisation. These three dimensions represent an acknowledgment and distinction in recognition of the excellence and high level specialisation of a given programme in one or more of the three additional areas that represent its scope of performance.

The Universitat Ramon Llull's commitment to the quality assurance of its study programmes and its use of the Agency's various different quality labels led to the university becoming one of the first to carry out the assessment of these additional dimensions, more specifically two additional dimensions in seven degree programmes being run at URL. The Faculty of Social Education and Social Work Pere Tarrés received a favourable recognition in 2015 for the Entry into work (professional development) and employment outcomes dimension for the group of four recognised programmes run in the faculty, two Bachelors and two Masters programmes. At the same time (2015), the ESADE Business and Law School received a favourable recognition for Internationalisation for three degree programmes that were accredited, one Bachelor and two Masters programmes.

The experience of participating in these processes has been noteworthy for various reasons. Firstly, there has been a direct and beneficial impact on the two participating institutions, which serve as the context for each degree programme with this distinction, in that a thorough analysis has been possible of a particular aspect (the additional dimension/s) in which the programme already stands out because of its good results, leading to a process of enhancement that increases the value of the dimension as a strength that underpins both the programme and the faculty/institution. At the same time, links are also strengthened with the entities involved in assessment (the faculty/school and the QA agency) and all the stakeholders involved (work experience/placement centres, students, alumni and employers).

Secondly, this assessment procedure has provided us with feedback on a specific dimension from a group of academic experts of recognised standing who are external to the university and whose perspective is objective, rigorous and highly committed to international quality standards.

Thirdly, it provides universities with an AQU Catalunya quality label, which bestows an additional value to a degree programme within the university system in Catalonia and that, as a direct consequence, positively impacts the outcome of review and evaluation in other procedures within the context of the VSMA framework.

In spite of the apparent benefits, however, this process is not exempt from difficulties for universities wishing to opt for one or several additional dimensions. There is the need to make an additional effort, which has to be dealt with mainly by those who are more directly involved in the programme and who have already had to handle a mandatory comprehensive review process in the programme accreditation stage. In addition, given that this procedure has to be implemented on completion of the actual programme accreditation procedure, a faculty may have to simultaneously deal with the assessment of the additional dimensions of degrees that have already been accredited together with the accreditation of new programmes in the same faculty.

Furthermore, and as announced by AQU Catalunya, from the 2016-2017 academic year onwards this procedure is to be carried out in addition to the ordinary accreditation of degree programmes with the setting up of ad hoc committees for each dimension, which will also involve an added economic cost for the universities. Given the effort for all those involved in these procedures, it is our opinion that there should be some kind of official and final recognition at the level of resolutions being issued by the Ministry and the Spanish Council of Universities (Consejo de Universidades) of the results of the assessment of these additional dimensions, aside from recognition by the QA agency (AQU Catalunya).

From a more forward-looking perspective, we believe that further reflection is necessary regarding the pace of these complementary processes in new and existing legal frameworks to prevent universities and QA agencies from being over-stretched, or at least to mitigate this. In this regard, we firmly support and are decisively committed to the application and development of regulations and guidelines stemming from chapter 3, article 14 of Royal Decree 420/2015, 29 May, concerning the setting up, recognition, authorisation and accreditation of higher education institutions and their faculties and schools, which regulates the institutional accreditation of public and private HEIs, as a natural development of the current model for programme accreditation.

A large part of successfully underpinning the sustainability of a procedure of this type lies in the positive development and recognition of the institutional accreditation of HEI faculties and schools, which in turn leads to greater effectiveness and efficiency in dealing with the challenges that face the university system in Catalonia.


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