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When Quality Assurance Meets
Innovation in Higher Education
A QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project
Final Report Launch
14 May 2024
The context in which we operate
• Ethos of new public management and marketisation
• Made explicit in HERA 2017
• Increasing and diversifying provider base in England – ‘high-quality disruption’
• Divergences in regulatory approach
• OfS, DFENI, HEFCW, SFC
• Accelerating technological disruption
• COVID-19 and the ‘online pivot’
• AI, used by students and providers
• Data capture and prediction
• Adverse financial outlook
• Tuition fees declining in real terms
• Less welcome environment for international students
• Rising cost of living.
Raised some interesting questions…
• Is there a conflict – or at least a tension – between QA and innovation?
• Under what conditions does QA best support innovation?
• Do new providers ‘do’ quality differently?
Methodology
• Literature review
• How is quality assured, and how is QA perceived?
• What does ‘innovation’ mean in this context?
• Does QA inhibit or support innovation?
• Is technology driving change in QA practices?
• Survey exploring experiences of innovation and QA amongst UK higher education professionals
(n=176)
• What is driving innovation in HE?
• Which QA domains most impact/most positively impact innovation?
• Six focus groups (n=25)
• How do QA and innovation interact?
• How might QA better support innovation?
• Case studies of innovation and QA (n=6).
Literature review themes
• Embedding a student-as-consumer lens has made innovation more difficult
• Increasing QA influence is received negatively (and with resistance) by academics
• Innovation less likely to be successful when it is externally-driven (top-down?) and active QA –
associated with reduced agency and creativity
• COVID-19 stimulated innovation in L&T practice and in QA practice; the latter has not been routinely
leveraged by universities
• Mistrust between academics and administrators both a root cause and an outcome of contemporary
higher education.
Survey themes – QA an established
but ambivalent role
• Participants fairly evenly spread across QA, academic, enhancement and development,
professional services
• Almost 2/3 participants describe QA as being hybrid local/centralised, and more than a quarter in
fully centralised
• Good understanding that QA is an integral part of HE: vast majority participants across all functions
consider themselves as having responsibility for both assuring and enhancing quality
• Ambivalent story as to whether QA supports innovation and whether QA is responsive. In the
context of innovative practice, QA is a facilitator, a gatekeeper, and a distractor.
Survey themes – innovation in L&T
and in QA
• Most significant source of L&T innovation is incremental – ongoing reflection and refinement by
module leaders. New modes of delivery and new courses also important catalysts of innovation
• Most commonly reported motivators for innovation are student centred: improving student
satisfaction, promoting inclusivity, and to meet the needs of a changing student body
• Quality assurance domains with biggest impact on innovation are both top-down and bottom-up:
learning & teaching strategies, transformation strategies, capability of staff members
• Survey respondents reported that COVID-19 led to simplified processes and fast-track decision-
making, and 2/3 reported that at least some of these process changes had been retained. 3/4
respondents using data and learning analytics as part of QA/enhancement.
Focus Groups – different worlds but
shared passion?
• Reflected on the extent to which L&T innovation could be managed strategically, given that it relied
on individual creativity, capability and capacity
• QA staff identified as being in the middle of employer-driven, student-driven and staff-driven
innovation
• Financial context is impacting support for innovation and the need for it to be well-focussed,
• “...you can have the best, most interesting idea, but if it’s not going to make money it’s not going to happen … and lots of
great ideas don’t make money”
• Academic reputation is on the line, as well as their wellbeing and ability to stay fresh
• QA/enhancement can empower academics: importance of supporting innovation
champions and myth-busting
• Huge amount of passion, commitment and enthusiasm to do thing better.
Focus Groups – need for a reset?
• QA colleagues themselves described the combination of busy people and lots of (admittedly often
‘archaic’) paperwork as being one of the reasons creativity can be stifled
• Vicious circle - QA colleagues can be too absorbed in the nitty-gritty, but even when they try to lift
their heads and be more strategic in supporting innovation, get pulled back in responding to
academic wanting to change fields on forms
• QA described needing to ‘reset’ their relationship with academics – BUT many ‘things you can't do’
can be folklore and myth
• Encouraging academic colleagues to engage QA early enough, and to make evidence-based
proposals
• Some providers moving towards multi-functional teams in portfolio development. Layers,
levels and silos reduce agility and increase people being in their own bubble.
Calls to action
• Appropriately resourced and empowered QA teams who are intimately connected with
academic innovation through carefully thought-out structures and processes
• Leaders and colleagues must harness the passion for high-quality innovative practice that we have
affirmed exists in their institutions. We have shown that QA can be agile and innovative in itself –
build on this.
Recommendations: People
Promote understanding
Build trust
Break down the myths
×
Recommendations: Structure
Review structure
Plan for success
Go beyond benchmarks
×
Recommendations: Process
Seek agile QA processes
Enhance quality, don’t just assure it
Build space to fail
And finally…
• Thank you to everyone who took part – the project team has been overwhelmed
by the response to our work.
When Quality Assurance Meets
Innovation in Higher Education
A QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project
Final Report Launch
14 May 2024

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When Quality Assurance Meets Innovation in Higher Education - Report launch webinar

  • 1. When Quality Assurance Meets Innovation in Higher Education A QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project Final Report Launch 14 May 2024
  • 2. The context in which we operate • Ethos of new public management and marketisation • Made explicit in HERA 2017 • Increasing and diversifying provider base in England – ‘high-quality disruption’ • Divergences in regulatory approach • OfS, DFENI, HEFCW, SFC • Accelerating technological disruption • COVID-19 and the ‘online pivot’ • AI, used by students and providers • Data capture and prediction • Adverse financial outlook • Tuition fees declining in real terms • Less welcome environment for international students • Rising cost of living.
  • 3. Raised some interesting questions… • Is there a conflict – or at least a tension – between QA and innovation? • Under what conditions does QA best support innovation? • Do new providers ‘do’ quality differently?
  • 4. Methodology • Literature review • How is quality assured, and how is QA perceived? • What does ‘innovation’ mean in this context? • Does QA inhibit or support innovation? • Is technology driving change in QA practices? • Survey exploring experiences of innovation and QA amongst UK higher education professionals (n=176) • What is driving innovation in HE? • Which QA domains most impact/most positively impact innovation? • Six focus groups (n=25) • How do QA and innovation interact? • How might QA better support innovation? • Case studies of innovation and QA (n=6).
  • 5. Literature review themes • Embedding a student-as-consumer lens has made innovation more difficult • Increasing QA influence is received negatively (and with resistance) by academics • Innovation less likely to be successful when it is externally-driven (top-down?) and active QA – associated with reduced agency and creativity • COVID-19 stimulated innovation in L&T practice and in QA practice; the latter has not been routinely leveraged by universities • Mistrust between academics and administrators both a root cause and an outcome of contemporary higher education.
  • 6. Survey themes – QA an established but ambivalent role • Participants fairly evenly spread across QA, academic, enhancement and development, professional services • Almost 2/3 participants describe QA as being hybrid local/centralised, and more than a quarter in fully centralised • Good understanding that QA is an integral part of HE: vast majority participants across all functions consider themselves as having responsibility for both assuring and enhancing quality • Ambivalent story as to whether QA supports innovation and whether QA is responsive. In the context of innovative practice, QA is a facilitator, a gatekeeper, and a distractor.
  • 7. Survey themes – innovation in L&T and in QA • Most significant source of L&T innovation is incremental – ongoing reflection and refinement by module leaders. New modes of delivery and new courses also important catalysts of innovation • Most commonly reported motivators for innovation are student centred: improving student satisfaction, promoting inclusivity, and to meet the needs of a changing student body • Quality assurance domains with biggest impact on innovation are both top-down and bottom-up: learning & teaching strategies, transformation strategies, capability of staff members • Survey respondents reported that COVID-19 led to simplified processes and fast-track decision- making, and 2/3 reported that at least some of these process changes had been retained. 3/4 respondents using data and learning analytics as part of QA/enhancement.
  • 8. Focus Groups – different worlds but shared passion? • Reflected on the extent to which L&T innovation could be managed strategically, given that it relied on individual creativity, capability and capacity • QA staff identified as being in the middle of employer-driven, student-driven and staff-driven innovation • Financial context is impacting support for innovation and the need for it to be well-focussed, • “...you can have the best, most interesting idea, but if it’s not going to make money it’s not going to happen … and lots of great ideas don’t make money” • Academic reputation is on the line, as well as their wellbeing and ability to stay fresh • QA/enhancement can empower academics: importance of supporting innovation champions and myth-busting • Huge amount of passion, commitment and enthusiasm to do thing better.
  • 9. Focus Groups – need for a reset? • QA colleagues themselves described the combination of busy people and lots of (admittedly often ‘archaic’) paperwork as being one of the reasons creativity can be stifled • Vicious circle - QA colleagues can be too absorbed in the nitty-gritty, but even when they try to lift their heads and be more strategic in supporting innovation, get pulled back in responding to academic wanting to change fields on forms • QA described needing to ‘reset’ their relationship with academics – BUT many ‘things you can't do’ can be folklore and myth • Encouraging academic colleagues to engage QA early enough, and to make evidence-based proposals • Some providers moving towards multi-functional teams in portfolio development. Layers, levels and silos reduce agility and increase people being in their own bubble.
  • 10. Calls to action • Appropriately resourced and empowered QA teams who are intimately connected with academic innovation through carefully thought-out structures and processes • Leaders and colleagues must harness the passion for high-quality innovative practice that we have affirmed exists in their institutions. We have shown that QA can be agile and innovative in itself – build on this.
  • 12. Recommendations: Structure Review structure Plan for success Go beyond benchmarks ×
  • 13. Recommendations: Process Seek agile QA processes Enhance quality, don’t just assure it Build space to fail
  • 14. And finally… • Thank you to everyone who took part – the project team has been overwhelmed by the response to our work.
  • 15. When Quality Assurance Meets Innovation in Higher Education A QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project Final Report Launch 14 May 2024