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:

  1. 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.  
  2. 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. 
  3. 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:

  1. Specify the needs and roles of external stakeholders vis-à-vis the programme. 
  2. Specify the needs of the programme. 
  3. Analyse and select relevant stakeholders. 
  4. Choose, thoughtfully, a (combination of) methodology (or methodologies) that allow for a structured dialogue with external stakeholders. 
  5. 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:

1. Each programme should review the content component of the programme – at the very least the programme competencies, the programme overview, the evaluation and the end level – with a broad range of external stakeholders. 

  • Programme X organises an alumni-event on a yearly basis. In the margins of the event, a focus group conversation with alumni is organised, with the aim of presenting the alumni with some questions in the context of quality assurance.
  • Recently, programme X created an advisory board to consult the professional field in a structured manner. Programme graduates are employed in various professional fields. Therefore, the advisory board consists of representatives of the chief sectors employing these graduates. The advisory board meets on a yearly basis, or more frequently in the context of a major programme change. 
  • The programme also organises two working vists to two Erasmus partners to review the content components and to identify potential learning points. 

2. On a yearly basis, the study programme committee should discuss the results of the programme-specific surveys of the professional field, or other structurally involved stakeholders, and of centrally organised surveys of recently graduated students and alumni.

  • Programme X discusses the results of the centrally organised alumni survey during the study programme committee. 

3. The programme should conduct a programme review. This means at least 3 international, independent academic peers, who have a broad view of the programme, should review the content quality of the programme. They should do so independently or in panel, once every 4 years, or after each major programme change. 

  • In the margin of a research conference, a member of the teaching staff of programme X is planning a consultation with a teacher/representative of a leading and comparable international programme. During the consultation, the content components of the programme will be reviewed. 
  • The programme also organises two working visits to two Erasmus partners to review the content components and to identify potential learning points. 

1. Each programme should review the content component of the programme – at the very least the programme competencies, the programme overview, the evaluation and the end level – with a broad range of external stakeholders. 

  • The faculty of programme Y has an active, faculty-wide alumni association at its disposal. Via this alumni association, the programme maintains contact with alumni regarding programme-specific surveys, or regarding participation in a feedback session on a proposed programme change. 
  • Programme Y organises a bi-yearly survey of the internship mentors involved in the programme’s internships. This survey offers, among others, interesting information regarding whether or not students reach the programme competencies. 
  • Programme Y created an advisory group of externals from the professional field. This advisory group consists of about 5 members, and (together) represents the chief sectors in which graduates find employment. The advisory group meets with the study programme committee on a yearly basis to discuss the two most important content-related matters of the coming academic year. The advisory group is also always asked to give feedback on major programme changes. 
  • Together with the other programmes in the faculty, programme Y periodically goes through an international accreditation procedure. In the context of this procedure, it is reviewed to what extent the content components of the programme meet international standards. 

2. On a yearly basis, the study programme committee should discuss the results of the programme-specific surveys of the professional field, or other structurally involved stakeholders, and of centrally organised surveys of recently graduated students and alumni.

  • Programme X discusses the results of the centrally organised alumni survey during the study programme committee. 
  • Programme Y organises a bi-yearly survey of the internship mentors involved in the programme’s internships. This survey offers, among others, interesting information regarding whether or not students reach the programme competencies. 

3. The programme should conduct a programme review. This means at least 3 international, independent academic peers, who have a broad view of the programme, should review the content quality of the programme. They should do so independently or in panel, once every 4 years, or after each major programme change. 

  • Together with the other programmes in the faculty, programme Y periodically goes through an international accreditation procedure. In the context of this procedure, it is reviewed to what extent the content components of the programme meet international standards. 

 

1. Each programme should review the content component of the programme – at the very least the programme competencies, the programme overview, the evaluation and the end level – with a broad range of external stakeholders. 

  • On a yearly basis, programme Z organises a speeddate between students and alumni. In the margins of this event, those responsible for the programme conduct a focus group with a number of alumni, featuring, among other things, employability and content-related questions on the programme. 
  • On a yearly basis, programme Z organises a poster conference, during which master’s theses are presented to externals. During this conference, representatives of the professional field are always invited. Prior to this conference, a consultation with the partners of the professional field is organised. Through this consultation, the programme can keep in touch with new trends in the professional field. The partners from the working field offer, from their perspective, feedback on the content of the programme. 
  • Independently, programme Z organises a meeting between those responsible for the programme and three important, international partner programmes. During the meeting, the programme review is conducted: the programme competencies, the study programme overview, the evaluations and the final level of the four participating programmes are critically compared. Prior to the meeting, information on the content of the programmes is exchanged. A number of master’s theses from the partner are evaluated. During the meeting, mutual advices are formulated, and good practices are exchanged. 

2. The programme should conduct a programme review. This means at least 3 international, independent academic peers, who have a broad view of the programme, should review the content quality of the programme. They should do so independently or in panel, once every 4 years, or after each major programme change. 

  • Programme X discusses the results of the centrally organised alumni survey during the study programme committee. 

3. The programme should conduct a programme review. This means at least 3 international, independent academic peers, who have a broad view of the programme, should review the content quality of the programme. They should do so independently or in panel, once every 4 years, or after each major programme change. 

  • Independently, programme Z organises a meeting between those responsible for the programme and three important, international partner programmes. During the meeting, the programme review is conducted: the programme competencies, the study programme overview, the evaluations and the final level of the four participating programmes are critically compared. Prior to the meeting, information on the content of the programmes is exchanged. A number of master’s theses from the partner are evaluated. During the meeting, mutual advices are formulated, and good practices are exchanged. 

 

Making the actions pertaining to the external perspective visible in the educational monitor: an example

  • If your programme as a plan of action, or an overview table, make sure to include this in the monitor. This can be done as an attachment or via a link, preferable in the section on “grounding the external view’ (part 2) and in the “essential information”. 
  • Also include the output of independent actions (reflections, reports, results of a survey, …) in the monitor. Below, you will find, applied to ‘programme X’, an example of the way in which this can be registered. 
  • Note: there is no ‘set’ manner of approach for this. The way in which you register items in the monitor can also depend on the way in which your programme/faculty is organised. 

 

Example by means of fictional programme X

Processes/actions How is the visible in the monitor?

Programme X discusses the results of the centrally organised alumni survey during the study programme committee. 

  • The recurrent processes related to alumni involvement (discussion surveys / organisation of events / methodologies of focus groups) are mentioned in “DO” of section 2, chapter 2.1, “grounding the external perspective”. 
  • The conclusions of the discussion of the alumni survey are included in the OC report. During the CHECK of the TARGETS related to the external perspective, a link (in the field “discussion of results) to the report of the discussion in the OC  should be included. 
  • During the CHECK of the TARGETS pertaining to the external perspective, a report of the focus group is added as an attachment. 
    • If the input of the alumni gave rise to suggesting points of improvement, in the ACT of the domain to which the improvement pertains, a reference should be included to the report of the OC or the focus group. 
On a yearly basis, programme X organises a an alumni event. In the margins of this event, a focus group with alumni is organised.

Programme X recently created an advisory board to have discussions with the professional field in a structured manner.

  • The functioning of the advisory board is succinctly mentioned in “DO” of part 2, chapter 2.1.
  • Reports of the yearly meetings of the advisory board are, preferably, included on the team site of the OC. 
  • During the CHECK of the TARGETS pertaining to the external perspective, a link to the advisory board report is included. 
    It is also possible to link to the report of the discussion of the OC and/or other quality assurance bodies (e.g. programme meeting, Quality Assurance Coordination Unit) in which the findings of the advisory board are discussed. 
    • If the input of the board gave rise to suggesting points of improvement, in the ACT of the domain to which the improvement pertains, a reference should be included to the report of the OC or the focus group. 
 
 

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UGent Practices

Last modified Feb. 15, 2022, 8:53 a.m.