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«Using EFQM in higher education: Ten years of experience with programme auditing at Hanzehogeschool Groningen Evert Bisschop Boele, Hiltje Burgler, ...»

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Evert Bisschop Boele, Hiltje Burgler, Henriette Kuiper

Using EFQM in higher education:

Ten years of experience with programme auditing at

Hanzehogeschool Groningen

Evert Bisschop Boele, Hiltje Burgler, Henriette Kuiper

This article gives an overview of ten years of experience with programme auditing

at Hanzehogeschool Groningen. Hanzehogeschool Groningen is one of the bigger

Dutch hogescholen (officially translated as “universities of applied sciences”). Ten years ago, it has set up an internal quality assurance system. It is an EFQM-based programme audit system in which every educational programme is audited once every three years on process quality. The programme audit system is linked on the one hand to the steering philosophy and planning and control cycle of the university, on the other hand to the Dutch external quality assurance system of programme accreditation every six years. The article describes the features of the programme audit system used by Hanzehogeschool Groningen. Although hard facts on the effectiveness of the system are currently not available, there are indications that the system leads to a

rise in quality awareness within the institution. Five success factors are mentioned:

facilitation and management support, a bottom-up approach, orientation on programme improvement, the use of a higher education-specific model, and linking the internal quality assurance system to the institution’s steering mechanisms. The article concludes by highlighting six points for further discussion, such as the relationship between internal and external quality assurance, the independence of auditing from management, and the quality assurance of internal quality assurance.

1 Introduction Although the quality of Dutch higher education has a good reputation and standing on the whole, there is also criticism (see e. g. OECD 2007), and it is feared that on the long run it cannot cope with growing international competition (Ministerie van OCW 2007, p. 3–7). For that reason, the international position of Dutch higher education is heavily debated – also in light of the Bologna and Lisbon processes. Matters of governance and internal and external quality assurance are central in this debate.

94 Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung, Heft 1, 30. Jahrgang, 2008 Hanzehogeschool Groningen Since the famous government paper “Higher Education: Autonomy and Quality” (Ministerie van OCW 1985) and the introduction of the current higher education act in 1993, more and more autonomy has been granted to higher education institutions (Zoontjes 2007, p. 10–11). In quality assurance, this has meant that the institutions themselves became responsible for putting in place a system of quality assurance. This took the form of a site visit system (‘visitatiesysteem’; Inspectie van het onderwijs/Auditdienst 2005, p. 17–18). The VSNU (Vereniging van Universiteiten in Nederland (Association of Universities in the Netherlands), the representative organisation of Dutch research universities) and the HBO-raad (Hoger beroepsonderwijs-raad (Higher Professional Education Council), the representative organisation of Dutch universities of applied sciences) developed a system in which each programme was scrutinized on a regular basis (generally once every five years) by an external committee. The committee looked into the quality of the programme, including the internal quality assurance procedures of the programme.

In line with the European turn towards accreditation systems, since 2003 the Dutch site visit system has been replaced by an accreditation system (Inspectie van het Onderwijs 2005). The formally independent Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organisation NVAO (Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie) grants accreditation to programmes once every six years on the basis of a visitation report drawn up by a so-called quality assessment agency, which bases its report on a self-evaluation report by the programme and a sitevisit. On the basis of NVAO accreditation, national funding by the Ministry of Education can be gained. The system is criticized at present because of the costs and the bureaucracy of programme accreditation. It may therefore in the future be (partly) replaced by a system of institutional accreditation (Ministerie van OCW 2006), but this is still dependent on how trustworthy government and society in general deem the higher education institutions in matters of quality.

In the site visit system and the current accreditation system, attention is paid to the internal quality assurance procedures of the programme. Neither NVAO nor the Ministry of Education prescribe anything in detail here – higher education institutions are expected to have a sound system of internal quality assurance in place, but it is up to the responsibility of the individual institutions how this system looks like.

In the sector of the universities of applied sciences, some of the bigger institutions have been using EFQM-based systems for their internal quality assurance for quite some time.

This article focuses on the experience of one of them, Hanzehogeschool Groningen, with EFQM programme auditing. After presenting the institution (section 2), its steering Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung, Heft 1, 30. Jahrgang, 2008 Evert Bisschop Boele, Hiltje Burgler, Henriette Kuiper philosophy and planning and control system are described (section 3). This is followed by a general description of the EFQM programme auditing system (section 4) and a description of the way this functions within Hanzehogeschool Groningen (section 5).





Section 6 shortly discusses whether it is already possible to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of programme auditing. The article concludes by a description of important success factors (section 7) and points for further discussion (section 8).

2 Hanzehogeschool Groningen

Hanzehogeschool Groningen is a Dutch university of applied sciences (hogeschool) based in the city of Groningen, which has about 180,000 inhabitants. It is one of the about forty universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands. Together with the thirteen research universities they form the higher education system of the Netherlands. Within the Dutch binary higher education system, the universities of applied sciences have the specific task to deliver professionally-oriented higher education and, since a few years, to carry out applied research. They are broadly comparable to the German Fachhochschulen, but more teaching-oriented with only a small percentage of their academic staff holding doctoral degrees. Compared to German Fachhochschulen, they provide for a broader range of subjects, covering the complete range of higher professional education in the sectors economics and business administration, engineering and technology, agriculture, social welfare, health care, education (teacher training), and fine and performing arts.

The research capacity of the universities of applied science is a recent development. The idea is that universities of applied science carry out applied or practice-based research. In Hanzehogeschool Groningen, as in many universities of applied science, the choice has been made not to separate education and research – research is done by teachers in part of their appointment. In this article, therefore, when we mention “teachers”, this should be read as “teachers/researchers”. Nevertheless, the article confines itself to the use of EFQM in the quality assurance of educational programmes. Quality assurance of research in universities of applied sciences is currently being developed in the Netherlands and would deserve separate attention (see for example Borgdorff, Van der Vos & Van Staa 2007).

With 23,000 students, nineteen schools (equivalent to departments or Fachbereiche), about sixty Bachelor and fifteen Masters programmes, Hanzehogeschool Groningen is one of the bigger universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands. Subjects range from engineering to law, from sports studies to nursing, from marketing and management to arts and music.

–  –  –

3 Quality assurance at Hanzehogeschool Groningen Over the years, Hanzehogeschool Groningen has strongly developed its steering philosophy and planning and control cycle. The basis of the steering philosophy is its orientation on results, which has led to the implementation of a four-year planning and control cycle on PDCA-basis. The PDCA-cycle, also known as the Deming-cycle after its inventor dr.

W. Edwards Deming (Hardjono/Bakker 2001: 96–99), is basically a feedback loop. PDCA stands for “plan, do, check, act” and is based on the idea that quality rises if one repeats the four steps of the cycle continuously. For example, in education this involves to plan an educational module, teach the module (do), check if the teaching has been in conformity with the plans and has lead to results, on that basis make adaptations in the module (act), plan the next execution of the module, etc.

Planning instruments such as formats for the institutional strategic plan, the school strategic plans and school annual plans, and management agreements between the executive board and the deans of the schools have been developed and are in use. This “planning side” is complemented on the “check side” of the PDCA circle by instruments for monitoring and control such as a whole set of instruments to measure stakeholder satisfaction and concrete financial and operational results. Results are presented in a so-called management dashboard. The management dashboard, recently put into use and constantly ameliorated, is a specially developed information technology tool for management (executive board and deans of schools) showing the current results regarding the major performance indicators at a glance. In addition to this, effort has been put into standardising the key central support processes.

Steering philosophy and planning and control cycle are of course means to an end. The

general objective of Hanzehogeschool Groningen is expressed in its mission statement:

“Hanze University Groningen produces enterprising, socially responsible and internationally oriented professionals, and contributes to knowledge circulation in North Netherlands” (Hanzehogeschool Groningen 2005, p. 18). In its “Framework for Quality Assurance”, Hanzehogeschool Groningen has defined quality as “the degree to which [it] … is successful in achieving its objectives to the satisfaction of itself, the government, the students, and prospective employers” (Hanzehogeschool Groningen 2007, p. 1). Three basic

principles govern the framework for quality assurance:

● the primary processes – education and applied research – are central, ● quality assurance is system-oriented, i.e. it focuses on the organisation as a whole, including the supporting processes, and

–  –  –

● quality assurance is closely related to the steering philosophy and the planning and control cycle of the institute (Hanzehogeschool Groningen 2007, p. 5–6).

Hanzehogeschool Groningen has chosen to implement an internal quality assurance system based on EFQM auditing at the level of the educational programme. The audits show whether the way the processes within programmes – and at a higher level, schools – are run are quality-oriented. The audits are thus process-oriented and educationcentred; how they work and what the relationship is with external quality assurance will be explained in more detail in the following sections.

Fundamental to the work on quality assurance is the idea that quality is a concept that should be owned by every single individual in the community of Hanzehogeschool Groningen. Quality is dependent on the professionalism of every individual; every individual has to feel responsible to deliver his or her proper quality. This may mean different things for the teacher, the caretaker, the student, the dean of a school or the member of the executive board. What unites them, however, is that maintaining and improving quality is a fundamental goal for everybody. We will come back to this later in this article.

4 The EFQM/INK model for universities of applied sciences



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