Academic Quality Audit
TA team from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) visited the University from 6 to 8 May 1998 as part of an Academic Quality Audit of the University of Aberdeen. The Audit Report, which was published by the QAA in October 1998, can be downloaded as a Word for Windows document.
The Report's conclusions have been reproduced below verbatim, together with the Auditors' points for commendation and points for further consideration. The University's initial response to the latter is provided in bold text.
The Audit Report acknowledges the University's commitment to quality assurance and enhancement by having in place efficient, systematic and robust procedures for the effective management of the quality of provision of teaching and of academic standards. Nevertheless, the University is not complacent and we will be addressing the Auditors' points for further consideration, as indicated in bold text below.
Conclusions (Numbers relate to numbered paragraphs in the report)
81. Since its last institutional audit in 1991, the University has implemented a number of significant changes to its framework for assuring quality and academic standards. A major development has been the review of the Boards of Studies in 1995-96 and the consequent introduction of a new structure for the monitoring and maintenance of academic standards and the quality of teaching and learning. This new approach, based on Academic Standards Committees and Internal Teaching Reviews, although only relatively recently developed and implemented, is embedded effectively within the University. Support for staff development and the encouragement of innovation in teaching and learning is provided by the Centre for Learning and Professional Development, which has also been created since the 1991 audit. A further major strand of development since the original audit has been the grouping of central services into more cohesive units, and the introduction of a review cycle of support services.
82. In taking forward these developments, the University has engaged effectively with its staff and students to create a very positive ethos, supportive of the assurance of quality and standards, with the principal aspects of the University's strategy widely known and supported in the University community and operated effectively.
83. The University framework for assuring quality and standards continues to evolve within a blueprint set out in the University's Strategic Plan 1997-2001. One objective of this further evolution is that responsibility for quality in teaching should be wholly devolved to the departmental level, with audit of its effectiveness remaining a central University responsibility. The University is making good progress towards its target and it can reasonably be anticipated that the departments will have the capability of accepting devolved responsibility for the maintenance of quality and academic standards.
84. The gathering and dissemination of information required for monitoring academic standards is carried out in a systematic and robust manner. The institution's own analysis of the information on teaching and learning performance enables it to ensure effective management of quality of provision of teaching and of academic standards. The mechanisms for securing the quality and standards of the collaborative provision were also found to be secure.
85. There are acknowledged areas for further development in which the University has already made progress. These areas include, the strengthening of mechanisms for the identification and sharing of good practice throughout the University, and the continuing development of more explicit frameworks for the identification of academic standards through further work on objectives and learning outcomes.
Points for commendation
86. The auditors wish to commend the University for the commitment of academic and academic-related staff of the institution to the quality assurance and enhancement framework, and in particular for:
(i) the contribution of academic-related staff to quality assurance and enhancement (paragraphs 23, 27, 52 and 80);
(ii) the quality of the relationships between students and staff of the University at all levels (paragraphs 29, 30, 74 and 80);
(iii) the active involvement of the most senior staff in the University on a regular basis in action to support quality assurance and enhancement (paragraphs 30, 74 and 80);
(iv) the role of Employer Liaison Groups in the development of teaching and learning at departmental level (paragraph 46);
(v)the operation and continuing development of the common assessment scale and grade spectrum in the assessment processes (paragraphs 49-50);
(vi) the moves towards the development of a cohesive structure to integrate the activities of student support services (paragraphs 55-58);
(vii) the high standard, availability and utilisation of the Academic Quality Handbook (paragraph 73);
(viii) the effective communication of strategic aims and new directions throughout the whole institution (paragraph 79).
87. As it continues to develop its processes for the assurance and enhancement of quality and academic standards, the University may consider it advisable to:
(i) extend the use of external participants in Internal Teaching Reviews (paragraph 39);
The University Committee on Teaching and Learning (UCTL), in 1997, considered appointing external subject experts to Internal Teaching Review Panels but decided to await the outcome of discussions on the future of external quality assurance within the UK. Following a sector-wide consultation between March-May 1998, the QAA announced its plans for a new UK quality assurance framework in October 1998. The UCTL will re-visit the question of external participants in Internal Teaching Reviews during 1998/99.
(ii) invite the University Committee on Teaching and Learning to initiate a debate on explicit standards in terms of explicit outcomes at subject level (paragraphs 47-48);
This will be undertaken during 1998/99.
(iii) speed up action on practical aspects of the declared policy of the extension of resource-based learning (paragraph 69).
The filling of staff vacancies in the Centre for Learning and Professional Development will allow this to be taken forward as a priority in 1998/99.
88. In addition, the University may consider it desirable to:
(i) promote a more proactive approach to the dissemination of good practice in teaching and assessment (paragraphs 31, 38 and 68);
This will be reviewed in 1998/99. In particular, the good practice which is identified in Internal Teaching Review Reports will be collated and disseminated to all Departments; and the appointment of new staff in the Centre for Learning and Professional Development (see above) will allow it to adopt a more proactive approach to further assist staff in sharing innovation and good practice, as recommended by the Auditors.
(ii) systematise the circulation of reports arising from external accreditation visits (paragraph 45);
Although accreditation reports inform planning and review at the departmental level, they were not routinely considered centrally prior to the Audit Visit. The University Committee on Teaching and Learning (February 1998) agreed that Heads of Department should forward accreditation reports to their Dean, with a commentary on the action to be taken; and that Deans should refer issues to the relevant Academic Standards Committee for information or action as deemed appropriate. This process will be systematised during 1998/99, as suggested by the Audit Team.
(iii) review its approach to the provision of study skills (paragraph 59);
A study skills course has been compulsory for all first-year MA and BD students since 1996, and takes place at the beginning of the first half-session. Study skills are embedded within courses for all other students. A modified, voluntary, course was available for all students who entered the University with advanced standing in September 1998 i.e. new entrants who entered years 2 or above. The University Committee on Teaching and Learning will review the provision of study skills during 1998/99, as suggested by the Auditors.
(iv) ensure that the Codes of Practice on undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research are visible to all staff (paragraph 67);
The two Codes of Practice have been available on the University's Web-site since September 1997. However, in response to the Audit Team's suggestion, all Heads of Department have been specifically asked to draw the attention of the two Codes to all staff within their Department.
(v) take steps to increase the perception amongst staff of the recognition accorded to teaching when making promotions to Senior Lecturer, perhaps by making more explicit the scores given in the system used for promotion (paragraph 70).
The Promotions Committee will address this issue during 1998/99.