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Image: Imagebilder FH Linz A1E03319_©_Atzlinger

Track 5: Quality — A Stabilising Factor in a Changing World

With track chairs Daniela Nömeyer & Anne Gannon

New social, economic and political tendencies and trends not only affect and fundamentally change consumers, markets and trade relations, but also affect higher education institutions (HEIs). Environmental changes together with innovation and disruption trigger rapid and unplannable dynamics. Just think of the crises of recent years, such as climate change, pandemic, war and energy shortages. Never before have so many of our organisations been engaged in change processes and change projects so continuously and in such a short time as in the last few years.

For the quality management of HEIs, this means being able to react quickly to external global needs, to continue adding value in research collaborations and to prepare future graduates for the uncertain nature of work and life.  At the same time, we need to future proof our HEIs, evaluating internal structures and developing mechanisms to ensure they remain fit for purpose in the context of ongoing change and uncertainty. Tolerance for ambiguity, resourcefulness, confidence and adventurousness have become new and sought-after professional competencies for those working in higher education.  Once traditional institutions are being challenged to think and respond differently, they might achieve as good or even better results with less planning. Does an emerging paradigm of unplan-ability stand in contrast to the long-proven “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle in quality management? At least that would be the thrust of agile approaches.

In addition, there is an internal over-formalisation in many universities due to enormous and growing external over-regulation and compliance requirements (just think of the upcoming reporting requirements in the area of sustainability and SDGs). Can QM provide a balance between enabling quality culture and bureaucracy here?

It is critical to have quality assurance processes that are stable and fit for purpose, but also allow for experimentation, creativity and innovation. This track addresses the questions of how much higher education QM should, can, or must, adapt both its formal structures, processes and reporting systems in addition to enabling cultural change to respond to changing needs.

  • How do we make QM itself agile and how can QM help shape the agile university? Can applicable standards and guidelines be interpreted in a context-sensitive way?

  • How do we validate, verify and certify processes and systems whose decision-making processes we can no longer comprehend?

  • How do we design management systems that meet the formal requirements and at the same time function efficiently and without excessive bureaucracy and excessive data collection? Which tools and systems can create synergies here? How do we find the right balance between necessary change and necessary stability?

  • How can labels, reporting systems and standards contribute to implement and measure societal/ecologic changes?

  • How can internal and external quality requirements (eg., reporting systems, labels and standards) be combined with those for sustainability? Which KPIs and metrics can be helpful?

  • How do we prepare our higher education professionals to influence and enable change and to develop their confidence and capabilities in shaping a changing and agile institution?

  • How to ensure quality against the background of increased diversification and privatisation?

  • What data will be needed in the future for a meaningful use of learning analytics? How can data protection and privacy be sufficiently ensured in the implementation of learning analytics?

  • How do we incentivise and encourage engagement with quality enhancement? What mechanisms can we use to create and develop strong communities of professional practice to enable greater focus and visibility on the enhancements which are occurring within our institutions?

This track is chaired by:

Daniela Nömeyer

University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria

Anne Gannon

University College Cork

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