Quality culture in Flemish higher education opens door to new quality assurance system

Monday, September 11, 2017 — After almost three decades of external quality assurance at programme level, the quality assurance system of Flanders has shifted from external quality assurance mainly organised at the level of programmes towards external reviews at the institutional level. All universities and university colleges have chosen to engage in a pilot that intends to grasp the effectiveness of an institution’s educational policy model and the conduct of quality at the level of teaching and learning. On 11th September 2017 the individual outcomes and general conclusions of the very first round of institutional reviews were presented in Brussels.

After almost three decades of external quality assurance at programme level, the quality assurance system of Flanders has shifted from external quality assurance mainly organised at the level of programmes towards external reviews at the institutional level. All universities and university colleges have chosen to engage in a pilot that intends to grasp the effectiveness of an institution’s educational policy model and the conduct of quality at the level of teaching and learning. By introducing these changes, the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) intends to amplify the institutions’ autonomy of quality assurance and reinforce the further development of quality cultures.

On 11th September 2017 the individual outcomes and general conclusions of the very first round of institutional reviews were presented in Brussels. All institutions have a clear vision and educational policy. Quality is on the agenda at all levels. Institutions have found the right balance by  developing central policies that are rooted in initiatives at programme level. In particular, institutions actively respond to societal challenges and the regional environment. Diversity in all its facets is high on the agenda. Talent coaching and guidance on an individual basis is seen as the key to success, for excellent students as well as for students that need additional support. Institutions have made huge efforts in the development of their own conduct of quality to assure quality of teaching and learning at programme level.

On the basis of the institutional reviews, NVAO now has confidence in the ability of institutions to take ownership of quality assurance of programmes. Nevertheless, there are still challenges ahead. The most important one is the continuous, systematic and documented involvement by institutions of stakeholders, peers and experts. More autonomy implies increased public accountability. Institutions should do more to ensure public accessibility to information on the quality of education, and review committees emphasize to do this in an efficient manner.

Flemish Minister of Education Hilde Crevits expressed her confidence in the results and in NVAO. An upcoming evaluation will lead to new legislation in 2018 which will introduce a system of institutional reviews in 2020.