SPEAQ workshop at European Quality Assurance Forum, Tallinn

Around 25 delegates at the European Quality Assurance Forum in Tallinn came to the workshop Ole Helmersen and I facilitated as part of our role in the Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality (SPEAQ) project team. The target audience of the conference meant that a majority of participants were in quality management roles. In contrast, the workshops I co-facilitated in Southampton and Edinburgh had mainly academic and student participants.


Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, Tallinn

The project as a whole seeks to bring together academics students and quality managers in the Quality Assurance process. One of the ways in which we do this is through a dialogue sheet whereby people think of questions they would ask to assess the quality of everyday objects or services ranging from spanners to sofas to hospitals (my colleague Laurence Georgin has written more a detailed post about the workshop). They then go through the questions to discuss which questions they could also ask about higher education institutions or course programmes.


Delegates at another table

In terms of feedback from participants three emergent themes which struck me, which have been less evident in previous workshops. These differences are a consequence of both the fact that most of the participants were quality managers and the different academic systems in which they work.

  1. Participants brought up the question ofinternal processes, which are, of course, a key part of their job role.  However as end-users of a product (whether as a patient in a hospital, a user of a spanner or a student on a higher education course), internal quality processes are not considered or addressed unless a problem emerges which gives course for an end user (or his/her representatives) to question internal quality processes.
  2. The durability of a product: a sofa may seem to be good quality at the point of purchase, but what happens if it falls apart a year later? Is an academic course durable? What if fails after purchase, (e.g. during the course or after graduation), despite seemingperfectly adequate for a length of time?
  3. Poor teaching: Is poor teaching quality a quality issue? On one hand the obvious answer is ‘yes’, but responsibilities for bringing poor performers up to standard usually lies with senior academics (Heads of Departments, Deans etc.,), not quality assurance managers. These questions also arise if ‘quality issues’ are a consequence of individual teacher illness or disability. In a multi-national setting cultural, historical and organisational structures can lead to different processes and outcomes.

The workshop powerpoint slide and files will be available in the few weeks.

Dr John Canning, Senior Academic Coordinator, LLAS, University of Southampton

Lessons from the USA: Update from Tallinn


Sylvia Manning from the US Higher Learning Commission was this morning’s keynote speaker. She began with an historical overview of accreditation in the USA. Historically government has played a lesser role in Higher Education than in Europe. It was not until after WW2 when the federal government began to supply funding for war veterans that government interest in accreditation really began.

One of the important tends in US higher education has been the rise of ‘for-profit’ universities. In order to receive federal funds universities has to be accredited in all the states in which they operate (accreditation is regional in the USA). This was not a problem for the larger ‘for-profits’ e.g. University of Phoenix, but an unexpected consequence was that smaller colleges, especially those engaged in distance learning were left in limbo. Professor Manning gave the example of a student in the armed forces taking a distance learning course accreditation in the state where the army base is located. However, if the student is then relocated to another base in a state in which their college is not accredited they are no longer able to access federal student loans.

Professor Manning asked her audience to draw their own ‘lessons’ from the USA situation. The keenness of the current UK government for expanding accreditation  in the private sector and the emergence of ‘for-profits’ present many challenges for quality assurance in the UK.

Dr John Canning, Senior Academic Coordinator, LLAS, University of Southampton

Live from Tallinn: Does QA lead to enhancement?

I promised that I would blog and tweet from the European Quality Assurance Forum.

This evening we were treated to a keynote address from Jethro Newton (University of Chester) on the question, ‘Does quality assurance lead to enhancement?’ One of his central points is there has been very little actual research into this question.

Professor Newton also used the term ‘Quality Revolution’ to describe the changes in QA since the early 1990s. A member of the audience challenged him on this – it does seem to suggest something more radical than actually happened.

Dr John Canning, Senior Academic Coordinator, LLAS, University of Southampton