UCL News


Provost's Long View: Preparing for QAA Review - a chance to showcase the best of UCL

28 May 2015

We have recently received confirmation that UCL will be subject to review by the Quality Assurance Agency in May 2016.

Portico This may sound a little strange, but I am actually looking forward to the review, for reasons that I will explain. The QAA is the UK-wide agency responsible for monitoring and advising on the standards and quality of UK higher education. As part of a common framework for quality assurance, all universities agree to be subject to an independent review by QAA every six years or so. UCL was last reviewed in 2009 and so we are definitely due a visit.

I have been President & Provost here at UCL for a year and a half now and, as I have written and said many times, I am continually impressed by the commitment to excellence that I see all around me at UCL. This review is an opportunity for us to throw a spotlight on what we do well to support our students and to deliver the very best teaching and learning experience.

What does the review involve?

It's important to note that this is a peer review process. UCL will engage over a number of weeks with a review team of six senior academics, students and professional services staff from other UK universities. That team will gather evidence about education at UCL and write a comprehensive report about their findings. A core part of the report will be the judgments on our management of the following four areas:

  • Academic standards
  • The quality of student learning opportunities
  • Published information
  • Enhancement.

As with any review process, the most important part will be the Self-Evaluation Document that we produce; this is our opportunity to explain how we operate at UCL, why we operate the way we do and why we think that our culture, systems and processes deliver the best-quality education to our students. In saying that, though, I think it is equally important that we are open and reflective, taking the opportunity to look hard at ourselves and explain the areas where we think we could do better or go further. There's certainly no point trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the QAA peer review team.

We will want to explain some of the features that make UCL unique, such as our location in London, our global standing, our recent merger with the Institute of Education and the fact that we are the only multi-faculty university in the UK with a majority postgraduate population.

To lead us through this process, I have asked Professor Anthony Smith to chair a strategy group to oversee preparations and report regularly to me and the Senior Management Team.

A chance to celebrate excellence

When I joined UCL and as we were developing UCL 2034, I was determined to make sure that we took every opportunity to reflect a strong commitment to excellence in everything we do, including education and learning. Theme two of UCL 2034 asserts our commitment to UCL being "a global leader in the integration of research and education, underpinning an inspirational student experience".

Back in January, I wrote about the excellent UCL Arena and Connected Curriculum initiatives in development at UCL that aim to sharpen our focus on research-based education, to raise the profile of the excellent teaching our staff deliver and to recognise the very best that UCL has to offer our students.

As part of our preparation for the QAA review we will have an opportunity to reflect on the progress of these initiatives and explore some of the deeply embedded practices and approaches to teaching, learning and assessment that exist at UCL, which have helped to shape our reputation and to safeguard the standards and quality of our courses.

Listening to our students

The student voice is a very important feature of the review process. There will be a student on the review panel and UCLU, our students' union, will have an opportunity to present its own submission to the panel. The reviewers will want to hear about ways in which we listen to our students and respond to their feedback. In particular, it will be important to show how well the Student Academic Representation (StARs) initiative has taken hold as a model for student representation and engagement across UCL, demonstrating the ways in which UCL and UCLU can and do work in partnership.

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed with the UCLU to host an open meeting with students where they could ask anything they liked about any topic to do with UCL. I hope it will be the first of many, because I found it genuinely enlightening and helpful to hear directly from students about the issues that are important to them, the features of UCL that they like most and those elements that they find most annoying!

I know this type of event will only supplement the discussions and debates that take place in departments and faculties between students and staff. Working together to make sure our students have an excellent experience will be a very important feature of the review and I look forward to telling the panel about our brilliant students and the ways in which we work in partnership with them.

Keep it grounded

Of course, I am bound to want to trumpet the excellence in teaching and learning at UCL. But the QAA review process is also about demonstrating that we have fundamentals right; that we are continually focused on standards; that we have effective and efficient regulatory framework; that we creating modules and courses that are coherent and meet UK expectations and those of professional bodies; that we support and develop our staff to be effective teachers and supervisors; that we listen and respond to our external examiners; that we work in partnership with our students; and that we provide clear and accessible information for students wanting to make choices about their studies.

I think we have a strong story to tell here about our commitment to excellence, but we might also want to take a reflective look at our processes to see if they are as efficient and as 'joined-up' as they could be.

An opportunity not to be missed

If we consider the attention we paid to the REF in the run up to 2014, I think we would be selling ourselves short if we did not give as much attention to this QAA review process in 2016. In my opinion, it is just as important and, in terms of reputation, the stakes are just as high.

I would encourage as many of you to get involved in this process as possible. If you would like to know more, you can contact the Academic Services team at academic.services@ucl.ac.uk

Professor Michael Arthur

UCL President & Provost

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