Guidance for the accreditation market. Results of the CHE Forum on 15 April 2008
Since March 2008, German universities and Fachhochschulen have been able to select from a range of methods for the external audit of the quality of their teaching and learning. Depending on the size and academic direction of the institution, as well as on the development status of the intra-institutional quality management system (QM system), it is sensible to choose from a range of methods. To help determine the right direction, accreditation council representatives, agencies and the CHE-Centre for Higher Education Development have been analysing the cost-benefit-ratio of the individual methods and the initial results of QM system audits in Germany and Switzerland were presented.
System accreditation is linked with high demands und will be carried out in stages. The respective HEI has to prove in a pre-test that it steers teaching and study quality effectively with the help of a QM system. It it passes this stage, it can face the actual certification procedure. If the latter is positive for the HEI, it receives a seal of approval initially for six years with an interim test after three years. Agencies are maintaining a low profile in terms of the cost of this complex procedure. It is clear, however, that HEIs that are not able to demonstrate an operational QM system for teaching and studies will have to raise considerable financial, personnel and time resources to establish a QM system. In return, many participants believe that the investment promises sustainable, long-term improvement in quality.
HEIs wanting to check the status of their QM system before considering a full ”system accreditation“ can use the quality audit method, which is an institutional evaluation method that has been in use for quite a while in other European countries including Switzerland. It was tested in Germany in 2007 as part of a cost-free pilot project. Participating HEIs included the Fachhochschule Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, the vice-president of which Manfred Hamann assessed as helpful the external feedback relating to the QM system of his Fachhochschule. He said that the internal cost for the HEI of about 55,000 euros would have been a worthwhile investment. The agency fees for quality audits will probably amount to around 40,000 euros, says Rainer Künzel, head of the Agentur ZEvA agency, while Reinhold Grimm, head of the accreditation council, says that the process being a recognised pre-test for the system accreditation makes it a more attractive prospect.
More than 160 participants discussed choosing the right accreditation method
The programme and cluster accreditations have been surprisingly well received. Even though, according to a CHE study programme, accreditation caused considerable costs (about 27,000 euros for the work needed internally in addition to agency fees of 13,000 euros per study programme), it turned out to be of considerable benefit in terms of study reform, said CHE head of project Sigrun Nickel. This type of accreditation will remain attractive, especially for private HEIs, emphasised Antonia Gohr at Jacobs University Bremen. In contrast to public HEIs, private HEIs must undergo institutional accreditation by the scientific council and the programme and cluster accreditations are useful complements to this. These methods are also the better alternative for smaller public HEIs for whom the establishment of a complex QM system is not worth the investment said Christoph Heumann of the ASIIN agency.
Further Information can be found in the publications stated below.