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The University of Zurich strengthens its quality assurance tools and links them with each other.
With its strong research track record and range of study programs, UZH is a driver of social and technological change. It is home to many great minds from almost all disciplines, all striving to help shape the world of tomorrow. But how UZH as an institution adapts to a constantly evolving social environment is another matter. How should it organize itself to remain agile? How can it safeguard proven practices but evolve to meet the requirements of the future at the same time?
A well-designed quality development system is beneficial in this regard. UZH has now implemented such a system, refining its quality assurance tools and linking them with each other. “We are now better positioned to exploit the benefits of these tools for strategic management purposes,” explains Deputy President Gabriele Siegert. She feels that the role of the University’s Executive Board in quality management is primarily a supporting one. “It wouldn’t make sense to dictate to the individual organizational units precisely what priorities they need to set,” she says. “It’s much more preferable to collaborate on defining quality goals. This further strengthens the principle of participatory management, which is already traditionally well-established at UZH. As a result, the faculties and departments assume greater responsibility for planning their own future.”
Evaluations are a key component of the quality assurance system. UZH has been evaluating all its units, including the Executive Board of the University, on a regular basis since 2001. The third evaluation cycle, which will continue until 2026, began in the Fall Semester of 2018 at UZH. Some new aspects have been introduced for this cycle: The evaluation processes at UZH will be more flexibly designed and more closely tailored to the needs of the units being assessed, as Susanne Fischer, head of the Evaluation Office at UZH, explains. “In their evaluations, the faculties, departments and Central Services units will now be able to focus on the issues that are most relevant to their planning,” she says. Thus the emphasis is shifted away from the tasks of monitoring, appraisal and justification toward more forward-looking planning.
The newly introduced strategy and development meetings have also been realigned to be more future-oriented. Those responsible for departments and institutes meet with their respective dean at least twice per evaluation cycle to discuss the current situation of their department or institute and its longer-term planning. Similar meetings take place twice a year between faculty deans and the Executive Board of the University. In these meetings, it is important that the participants are able to form a clear picture of the current status of the organizational unit in question in terms of performance, resources and structures. The success of this depends heavily on the quality of the data generated in the quality processes.
The same applies to data on the quality of teaching and learning. This data will be now be made available in its entirety in the “Quality Management Teaching and Learning” process. It includes course observations (at individual course level), the monitoring of teaching and learning (at study program level), and the “Quality Index Teaching and Learning” (at the level of the individual disciplines). “This data provides the basis for a dialogue between all those involved regarding the strengths, weaknesses and quality objectives of the courses offered, as well as the strategic alignment of the study programs,” says Jana Ebermann from the Academic Program Development office. She stresses the importance of quality meetings in this context. Overall, the new features of the third evaluation cycle at UZH are designed to enable better use of quality assurance tools for the purpose of strategic management. When it comes to quality development at UZH, Gabriele Siegert would like to see people taking a scientific approach, venturing into new territory and keeping a critical eye on the effects of action taken. “We need to acquire experience, then draw the right conclusions from it,” she says, adding: “UZH does not operate like a machine. It is a learning organization.”