Embedding the External Perspective in Study Programmes
In accordance with the new Quality Code for Higher Education (2019), Ghent University places great store by the input of external parties on its study programmes' education policy and quality assurance. Each study programme is expected to take a number of actions, that allows them to embed a wide-ranging external perspective in a structured manner.
What Are Minimal Requirements?
The entire set of actions undertaken by a study programme in the context of the external perspective should meet the following three criteria:
- Each study programme seeks out a broad range of external stakeholders (minimally including the professional field, alumni, and international peers) to review its content-related components – including (at the very least) its programme competencies (learning outcomes), curriculum, assessment and exit level.
- On an annual basis, the Study Programme Committee is to discuss the results of programme-specific surveys of the professional field, or of other structurally involved stakeholders, and of institutionally organized alumni surveys, as they become available in the Education Monitor via UGI. These surveys form a starting point for self-reflection and analysis.
- The programme is to conduct a programme review. This entails that at least 3 international, independent, academic peers with a broad view on the programme, are asked to review programme content quality, either individually or in a panel. Such a programme review is to take place once every 4 years (or in the context of a major curriculum revision). The focus of the programme review is to check whether or not programme competencies (learning outcomes), curriculum, assessment, and exit level are up to standard.
Peers are preferably international authorities in the field.
Independent peers are experts who are transparent on any existing collaboration ties with the study programme that is under review. They sign a declaration of impartiality and independence stating that they will conduct the programme review in an independent and objective manner. A template is provided by the Education Department (DOWA).
The Professional Field and Alumni Perspective vs. the Perspective of International Peers
The Quality Code for Higher Education identifies two stakeholder groups as mandatory sounding boards for reviewing study programmes' content-related components:
- the professional field, alumni, employers' organizations;
- international peers/experts.
It goes without saying that these stakeholders groups all carry a different expertise and different perspectives:
Regional vs. International
- professional field partners and (most) alumni often represent locally/regionally embedded organizations and companies, and thus offer local/regional perspectives;
- international peers, with a variety of possible affiliations, offer an international perspective.
Perspective of the Professional Field vs. Academic Perspective
- professional field representatives/partners can introduce a job market point of view into the study programme. Among other things, they can provide information on the employability and professional aptitude of graduates.
- international peers can review a study programme's content from an academic perspective.
Feedback vs. Programme Review
- study programmes are expected to gather feedback from the professional field and alumni in a structural manner;
- study programmes are also expected to seek out international peers for a thorough content-based programme review. Such International experts are well-positioned to determine whether or not a programme's content meets international standards, and whether or not the programme is sufficiently evidence-based.
Study programmes are asked to gather external input, reflect on this input, and then determine whether or not they will act upon it.
Gathering and reflecting on the input of (all the above types of) external parties is mandatory. However, well-substantiated arguments can be made why that input does not (immediately) result in changes to the study programme.
Possible Actions to Take in the Context of the External Perspective: An Overview
There is a variety of possibilities for embedding the external perspective in study programmes' (quality improvement) policy. The idea is for study programme committees to selects a number of actions that, taken together, meet the criteria mentioned above.
Engaging the Professional Field or Alumni
- establish a professional committee / advisory board;
- invite external members into existing bodies of consultation;
- use existing network events with the professional field to add a separate feedback moment;
- organize specific alumni events or events with professional field, and add a discussion with a quality assurance component;
- organize alumni surveys or professional field surveys (@);
- organize surveys for other external parties involved in education (@);
- organize focus group sessions with recent graduates / alumni (@);
- involve the professional field in the Master’s dissertation process, or invite representatives of the professional field as members of Master's dissertation juries;
Actions Towards Realizing an International Programme Review
- Wield international frameworks as a guideline for programme reform, or as a touchstone for an existing programme (@)
- Have a selection of master’s theses reviewed by international peers, or include an external peer in the jury of each master’s thesis (@)
- Survey incoming/outgoing students (@)
- Connect a programme review to activities in the context of teaching staff mobility
- Connect a programme review to an international conference
- Organise a meeting with international partner programmes to conduct a programme review (@)
- Organise a working visit at an international partner programme to conduct a programme review
- Have the programme be accredited internationally
The External Perspective and Its Link with Ghent University's Strategic Education Objectives ‘Stakeholder Involvement’ and ‘Internationalization’
Programmes have a lot to gain by creating synergies between the external perspective for quality assurance purposes and existing processes related to the Strategic Education Objectives mentioned above.
The Link to the Broader Stakeholder Policy
Stakeholder involvement (cf. the Education Monitor) implies that study programmes run processes and undertake actions by means of which internal and external stakeholders are systematically includes in education (policy) decisions.
These processes and actions aimed at including externals (professional field, alumni, …) can have different end goals, for example:
- exchanging information;
- setting up a joint(research) project;
- installing or guiding learning processes (e.g. in the context of internships, Community Service Learning)
- Formulating advices for the study programme committee
- Verifying the programme’s intented learning outcomes
Many programmes already have ongoing processes that involve externals in educational practice and/or policy-making: they are excellent channels to, in function of educational quality assurance, verify essential content components (such as the study programme) as well.
If it is necessary, in the context of your programme, to create a new/updated plan on stakeholder involvement, this situation should be approached systematically, for example, according to the following steps:
- Specify the needs and roles of external stakeholders vis-à-vis the programme.
- Specify the needs of the programme.
- Analyse and select relevant stakeholders.
- Choose, thoughtfully, a (combination of) methodology (or methodologies) that allow for a structured dialogue with external stakeholders.
- Evaluate the created stakeholder policy, and revise where necessary.
The link to internationalisation
To realise the international external perspective, programmes can create new actions, or they can rely on (existing) initiatives in the context of internationalisation. Both activities related to staff mobility, and student mobility, offer several possibilities.
Within existing/known networks, appropriate international peers/partner programmes can be identified. Possibilities include:
- Networks at the level of the programme, the faculty, or the institution
- Networks of related international programmes
- International research networks
The data available to faculties via eQuaTIC, can also be used for the screening of potentially interesting external partners for the programme review.
The DOWA department of Internationalisation offers faculties diverse means that can be employed for the programme review:
|Means||What can they be used for?|
Organisation and support of Erasmus (OS) in the context of Erasmus + Key Action 1 “Learning Mobility for Individuals” and Organisation International Mobility (OIM) outside of the Erasmus zone
|For preparatory visits, welcoming activities, etc.|
Erasmus teaching staff mobility in the context of Erasmus+ Key Action 1 “Learning Mobility for Individuals” + Teaching staff mobility in the context of the Ghent University “Birak-funds” (for use outside of the Erasmus zone).
Primarily for the support of teachers who have a short-term teaching assignment in a partner institution.
Via similar channels, financial support for ATP members of staff is also available for visits to partner institution of participation in organised staff weeks.
Within U4Society/Enlight there is – stemming from Ghent University – a continuous call for applications to support the mobility of students and staff.
For individual outgoing, short-term mobility to the 4 partner institutions for research and teaching purposes.
And for joint initiatives in which at least 2 partner universities are involved (synopsia, seasonal schools, excursions).
Via the cooperation with the universities of Lille and Kent, funds are made available via a yearly call.
For cooperation initiatives with regard to teaching and research.
The regional platforms of Ghent University (China Platform, Africa Platform, Russia Platform, CESAM platform and ASEAN+ platform) offer opportunities for support
|For specific types of cooperation from Ghent University with partner institutions from the countries/regions involved.|
The regulations for the spending of these budgets also allow for these funds to be used for improving the quality of cooperation with the institutions involved, if approved by the Faculty Committee Internationalisation, and, if relevant, the International Relations Office.
Realising the external perspective: concrete examples
If the study programme committee has selected and initiated various actions to internalise the external perspective, then what can the sum of these actions eventually look like? What is “enough” to meet the 3 criteria? Three fictional examples: