Around 25 delegates at the European Quality Assurance Forum in Tallinn came to the workshop Ole Helmersen and I facilitated as part of our role in the Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality (SPEAQ) project team. The target audience of the conference meant that a majority of participants were in quality management roles. In contrast, the workshops I co-facilitated in Southampton and Edinburgh had mainly academic and student participants.
The project as a whole seeks to bring together academics students and quality managers in the Quality Assurance process. One of the ways in which we do this is through a dialogue sheet whereby people think of questions they would ask to assess the quality of everyday objects or services ranging from spanners to sofas to hospitals (my colleague Laurence Georgin has written more a detailed post about the workshop). They then go through the questions to discuss which questions they could also ask about higher education institutions or course programmes.
In terms of feedback from participants three emergent themes which struck me, which have been less evident in previous workshops. These differences are a consequence of both the fact that most of the participants were quality managers and the different academic systems in which they work.
- Participants brought up the question of internal processes, which are, of course, a key part of their job role. However as end-users of a product (whether as a patient in a hospital, a user of a spanner or a student on a higher education course), internal quality processes are not considered or addressed unless a problem emerges which gives course for an end user (or his/her representatives) to question internal quality processes.
- The durability of a product: a sofa may seem to be good quality at the point of purchase, but what happens if it falls apart a year later? Is an academic course durable? What if fails after purchase, (e.g. during the course or after graduation), despite seemingperfectly adequate for a length of time?
- Poor teaching: Is poor teaching quality a quality issue? On one hand the obvious answer is ‘yes’, but responsibilities for bringing poor performers up to standard usually lies with senior academics (Heads of Departments, Deans etc.,), not quality assurance managers. These questions also arise if ‘quality issues’ are a consequence of individual teacher illness or disability. In a multi-national setting cultural, historical and organisational structures can lead to different processes and outcomes.
The workshop powerpoint slide and files will be available in the few weeks.