University ready for large scale inspection

After months of preparation, the time has finally come this week: the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) will visit TU/e for an institution-wide quality assessment. The last time the university was subjected to such a large-scale inspection was six years ago. The institutional audit will take place in parallel with the evaluation of the university’s plans for the so-called quality agreements. These plans were rejected at ten other universities and institutions of higher education.

The practice sessions during which TU/e students and staff members, divided into groups, prepare themselves for the arrival of the accreditation organisation using practice questions, are in full swing. TU/e was allowed to determine the composition of the groups for itself, the NVAO only provides the framework – for instance that a teacher and a student have to take part.

During the visit to the university, the NVAO delegation tries to verify whether TU/e has an effective system with which it can assure the quality of its programs. The organisation does not evaluate the quality of the individual programs, but the way in which the institution monitors the quality of its education, and whether the institute fosters a culture of excellence.

Preparing for the panel’s questions

Next Thursday and Friday, NVAO delegates will question more than fifty students and staff members, divided into four groups, about how TU/e ensures the quality of its education. Yoram Meijaard, Master’s student of Information Security Technology and a former active member of the University Council, will meet with the NVAO delegates in the ‘Development’ group this Friday. Meijaard: “The best way to look at that is ‘continued development.’ How do you make sure that you keep improving certain elements?”

Meijaard is positive about the practice session of Monday last week. “One of the things we were told was that the Flemish members of the NVAO delegation aren’t necessarily familiar with our education culture. One of the practice questions we had to answer was ‘what happens if a course within the Bachelor College doesn’t meet the expectations?’ I was concerned beforehand that the Executive Board would tell us which answers they wanted us to give, but that wasn’t the case at all. They are really going to ask our opinion. And that’s only right, things can simply go wrong sometimes – what matters is how you improve from that point on. Personally, I believe most things run smoothly at the university, I am confident.”

Challenge based learning

The other three groups center on the university’s vision of education (Plan), Implementation (Do), and Evaluation and Monitoring (Check). TU/e alumnus Tom Selten is on the latter panel. He was active at Solar Team Eindhoven and currently works for Lightyear, which was founded by the original members of the Solarteam. In addition, Selten was active at TU/e innovation Space. “One of TU/e’s objectives is to bring the university and the business industry closer together. I can tell more about this from my own experience. Lightyear is a perfect example of how a student team continued to develop with help from the university."

Design-Based Learning groups played an important role during my studies, but I personally believe that challenge-based learning offers more advantages, as you can see at innovation Space. There, problems are approached more from different disciplines, and they are more practice-orientated. For example: how do you deal with the drinking water problem in village X. I believe the university can do even more to better connect with the business industry. It’s a good thing that TU/e is working at it, but we aren’t there yet.”

Self-reflection

TU/e already provided the NVAO with self-reflection at an earlier stage in the form of a document in which it evaluates the past six years and looks forward to the education vision for 2030. This document explains, among other things, how the university strives to preserve the ‘personal university culture,’ despite the growth. It also elucidates how the Bachelor College and Graduate School are set up, mentions the university’s intention to reduce the work pressure among its staff, and clarifies certain measures with which the university expects to cope with future growth.

Lilian Halsema, head of education policy and one of the authors of the document: “We can show that we’ve been working constantly on improvements, on developments based on a clear vision, and on innovations towards the future. One of the things we reflect on in this document, is the Bachelor College, and as we move into future, our focus lies on the shift from teaching to learning, and on challenge-based learning.” The document has been scrutinized by several individuals, including program directors and members of the University Council. Halsema: “Some comments questioned whether the document was critical enough. We certainly raise some issues towards which we are self-critical, but the dominant feeling is pride.”

Lex Lemmens, dean of the Bachelor College and co-author of the self-reflection document, feels confidant that the NVAO’s advice will be positive. “Population is more diverse, success rates have increased, and we have a lower dropout rate. We didn’t just address the successful issues, but our points for improvement as well. One of our concerns, for example, is the coherence between the basic, major and USE courses. Students still often think of them as separate parts instead of an integrated whole. Another issue is that we want to encourage every student to study abroad during the Master’s phase, because that number of students is slowly declining.”

Luuk Meeuwis, Master’s student of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, is a member of the steering group Institutional Audit Quality Assurance (ITK) and participated in the assessment procedure for the plans. “The plan was largely satisfactory; it was more a question of details.”

Advance funding for higher education

This process took place in parallel with the preparations for the audit of the university’s plans for the quality agreements 2019-2024, in particular the advance funding that institutions spend on the improvement of education. This is not related to the accreditation. Between 1986 and 2015, students received a basic grant from the government, which they didn’t need to reimburse after graduating. That grant has been replaced by a student loan, a system whereby students can take out a loan from the government. The generated income flows back into institutions of higher education and universities to improve the quality of education. The (plans for the) investments are subject to various conditions. The money has to be used in any event to help improve the quality of education.

These plans were rejected at several other institutions of higher education and universities. Lex Lemmens: “You could think of it as an exam. You need to achieve an almost perfect score and the dean needs to give the right answer.” Laughing: “And your friends failed their exams.” Lilian Halsema: “We try to learn from the other institutions. We can explain how we spend the money. One of the conditions is that is goes directly to the improvement of education for students, and that is the case at our university.”

Cursor will publish an extensive article on its site soon about the digital education project BOOST, one of the projects on which the advance funding for higher education is spent.

Five panel members, a project coordinator and an NVAO secretary will visit TU/e coming Thursday and Friday (10 and 11 October) to speak with over fifty staff members and students. They will visit TU/e again between 25 and 27 November to specifically address certain topics and departments. Which departments and topics the NVAO intends to address specifically will be announced at a later stage. TU/e expects to hear to outcome of both the institutional audit quality assurance and the evaluation of its plans for the quality agreements by early 2020.

Raise a topic

Staff members and students who would like to raise a topic with the NVAO panel can do so next Thursday at 19:00 hrs. For more information about this, and information on how to register, go to this site.

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