Flemish higher education institutions will bear greater responsibility for safeguarding the quality of their programmes. A new feature is that, with effect from 1 September, Universities of Applied Sciences and universities will be subjected to an institutional review every six years. A positive result obviates the need for having each individual programme assessed by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). The system has been substantiated following close consultations between NVAO, the Flemish government, Universities of Applied Sciences, universities, and students.
The new Quality Assurance System 2019-2025 comprises all the instruments required to monitor the quality of higher education in Flanders, The greatest innovation is the obligation on the part of Universities of Applied Sciences and universities to develop a system to safeguard the quality of their programmes themselves, and to give public account of such a system. This will add to the ownership exerted by the Flemish higher education institutions.
‘However, this does not give them carte blanche,’ states Axel Aerden, Director of the Flanders department. ‘The institutions will call on a mix of internal and external experts to safeguard the quality of their programmes. Such experts will mainly come from the professional field and the education domain. The institutions are free to determine how this involvement will be substantiated but they cannot claim that they can do without them. This external involvement is essential.’ Furthermore, institutions that themselves safeguard the quality of their programmes must publish information on the quality of programmes on their own websites. This information must reflect each programme’s strengths as well as any points for attention in a highly accessible and concrete manner.
Every six years, NVAO will conduct an institutional review to assess the institution’s performance in this respect. The review analyses the institution in its entirety: on the one hand, how it is working on the quality of its programmes, and on the other, how it is implementing, monitoring, and adjusting its educational policy. The review panels will focus specific attention on the involvement of external experts and the publication of public information. A positive outcome means that the institution will no longer need to have every programme assessed separately by NVAO. Institutions that receive a warning will be re-assessed after three years. A negative conclusion following an institutional review? In such cases, NVAO will once more assess each programme individually.
Axel Aerden: ‘Universities of Applied Sciences and universities will now really own their quality assurance systems. This means that they will no longer perceive working on the quality of programmes as a separate process or a burden, but rather as an evident component of everyone’s duties. Responsibility for such tasks must not be outsourced. We have included explicit requirements to that effect in the quality assurance system.’