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August 3, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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President’s Column

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This month, Victoria University of Wellington will undertake an independent evaluation of its academic processes. The evaluation is part of a ‘fourth cycle’ of academic audits at New Zealand universities. Previous academic audits at Victoria took place in 1996, 2000 and 2005. The first audit cycle encompassed a whole-of-institution audit, while the second centered on research, and the third on teaching and learning. The 2009 audit is again a whole-of-institution audit. Thus, while it is an ‘academic audit’, it may include any aspect of the University.

Academic audits are undertaken by the New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit (NZUAAU), which is responsible for audit processes and the enhancement of quality in universities. The NZUAAU was founded in 1993 as an independent body owned by the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC). The Unit has a governing Board which is appointed by the NZVCC but is operationally independent. This Board includes a student representative nominated by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA), filled this year by NZUSA Co-President Jordan King.

The audit process necessitates the production of a self-review audit portfolio within which the institution assesses progress made toward those goals and objectives on which the audit focuses. This portfolio also identifies areas which the institution needs to improve on, and details how these improvements are to be accomplished.

Victoria’s Academic Audit Portfolio 2009 covers the following areas:

  • Teaching and learning
  • Research
  • Student experience
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • Academic and general staff
  • Institutional quality assurance
  • Management and administrative support
  • Community engagement
  • External academic collaborations and partnerships.

The audit panel (formed and trained by the Unit) examines the portfolio and relevant supporting documents (such as the institution’s strategic plan), then undertakes interviews in an on-site audit visit to seek corroboration of evidence in the portfolio and other materials provided, and to inform an audit report. The resulting report commends good practice and makes recommendations intended to aid the institution in its own programme of continuous improvement of quality and value enhancement in the activities identified by the Unit. While universities are not obliged to follow the recommendations put forward by the Unit, it is expected that these recommendations be paid consideration.

Upon publication of the audit report, the Unit and the university then discuss the preferred procedures to be used in the audit follow-up and monitoring of activities.

After the 2005 third cycle audit report was released, it was discussed at the University’s Academic Board, with all recommendations being accepted in principle. Victoria’s Academic Audit Portfolio 2009 notes that procedures for tracking progress on the recommendations made in 2005 were implemented, and that an interim report on progress was made to the NZUAAU in August 2007, and also to the Academic Board and the University Council.

The Academic Audit Portfolio 2009 details those recommendations where substantive action has been taken, and those “where development is still underway” against the 2005 audit.

For instance, the University states that substantive action has occurred on recommendation 21, where the panel recommended “that the University carries our further work in the area of postgraduate student support with a view to improving consistency of support across the University.”

VUWSA is also pleased to note that the University reports that substantial progress has been made in recent years concerning the inclusion of student perspectives in academic programme reviews. These reviews are undertaken on a regular basis and provide valuable feedback on areas which programmes are doing well at, and areas for improvement.

Meanwhile, the University indicates that recommendation 19: “The panel recommends that the University develops ways to ensure timely feedback to students on the outcomes of teaching and course evaluations” (concerning the evaluations that students fill out for courses and teaching staff at the end of every trimester, but that students do not receive any formal feedback on at all), is an area “where development is still underway”.

The Unit’s audit panel is to undertake on-site review interviews with members of the University community in mid August. Interviewees are to include members of University Council, management, academic and general staff, and student representatives. A selection of VUWSA’s class representatives have been invited to participate in these interviews, along with Julene Marr (President, Postgraduate Students’ Association), Victor Manawatu (Tumuaki, Ngai Tauira), and myself.

VUWSA looks forward to participating in the audit process, and to reflecting on the panel’s observations concerning Victoria once the Unit’s report is released. While the audit isn’t quite to Victoria what Salient is to the VUWSA Executive, VUWSA encourages this opportunity for the University to be evaluated. VUWSA anticipates working with the University as appropriate to achieve the 2009 audit’s recommendations in order to help ensure that we can build and maintain the best institution possible.

In solidarity and service,

pressig

E-mail Willemijn Vermaat, University Academic Quality Officer, for a copy of the Academic Audit Portfolio 2009, or check out the Unit’s website for further information about the Unit and its work. Universities audit reports are also publicly available on the Unit’s website.

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