Kick-Off Event "External Gaze" - How Can the Professional Field and Alumni Strengthen Educational Quality?

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The "External Gaze" took place on 22/10 as an online seminar in which the indispensable role of external parties in quality education was examined.

Through the years, thousands of students have passed through the halls of Ghent University. To make sure that the study programmes that lead to their diplomas continue to be up to international quality standards, Ghent University has been developing its own system of internal quality assurance in phases: the aptly-named Quality Assurance Conduct 2.0 . Study programmes stand to gain a lot by regularly assessing whether their programme still adequately prepares students for the demands of the professional field by inviting prominent figures from that field, alumni and other external parties, e.g. international peers, to examine their work and curriculum. This exchange of knowledge and perspectives - the external gaze - is a crucial part of Quality Assurance Conduct 2.0. The kick-off event on the 22nd of October tried to answer the question of how study programmes can put this external gaze into practice.

Everybody’s Business

The first speaker was Lucien Bollaert, international expert on quality assurance in higher education and new member of the Ghent University Education Quality Board. Bollaert shed light on the role of external parties in Quality Assurance Conduct 2.0 by placing it in a broader vision on quality. He talked at length about the new meaning of the concept of ’quality’ which - in contrast to before - is now viewed as a dynamic and evolving concept wherein the needs of stakeholders form the starting point. These days, quality is everybody’s business. Besides this, he expounded upon the concept of ’quality culture’ based on recent research in the field of quality assurance (in higher education) which views certain aspects, such as leadership qualities in study programme supervisors and the appreciation of education, but certainly also peer involvement, as crucial building blocks of quality culture.

The Ghent University System & Inspirational Cue Cards

Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij, director of Educational Affairs, spoke of the way that the external gaze is structurally embedded in Quality Assurance Conduct 2.0 via university-wide education objectives and study programme-specific objectives in the education monitor. When Quality Assurance Conduct 2.0 was put together, the Quality Assurance Team (DOWA) developed a number of tools that study programme committees can use to put theory into practice. A prime example of this, the inspirational cue cards , was presented by dr. Janis Vanacker. These cards offer an overview of potential actions a study programme can undertake to involve external parties in its education policy and quality assurance.

In Practice

Speakers from three very different Ghent University study programmes talked at length on how the exchange of knowledge and perspectives is structurally embedded in the day-to-day workings of their study programme. Their account illustrated perfectly how theory can be put into practice.

MaStat Day

Jan De Neve, part of the Department of Data-Analysis (Faculty of Phychology and Pedagogical Sciences), spoke about the Master of Statistical Data Analysis Day - MaStat Day for those in the know. This initiative puts MA students, alumni, representatives from the professional field and academic peers in the same room. A selection of MA students are asked to present their master’s dissertation, there are a number keynote speeches and a networking event.

Prior to the proceedings, both the representatives from the professional field and academic peers are asked to fill in a short questionnaire. The purpose of this is to ascertain whether the programme still adequately prepares students for (the demands of) the professional field. The questions form a basis for informal conversations between the external parties present at the gathering and members of the study programme committee. In short, MaStat Day allows the programme to achieve multiple objectives in one go: it puts a spotlight on MA research, it increases the visibility of the professional field and it efficiently and methodically gathers valuable input on the state of the study programme.

Resonance Council

Paul Gemmel, chairman of the study programme committee Management and Policy in Healthcare (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), gave a presentation of the inner workings of the Resonance Council. This council is made up of representatives from the different governments, consultancy firms, directors and/or members of the board of directors of organizations in the healthcare sector, of umbrella organizations; and offers concrete recommendations in the case of both large and small issues, such as the re-examination of the intake profile, the finality of the study programme or the possible shortage of master’s dissertation subjects due to the increase in number of students. Besides this, the council is also particularly suited to being a forum for international benchmarking.

The example of the master’s dissertation subjects actually very concretely illustrates how the external gaze can lead to a win-win situation. Namely, by working out additional subjects together with external parties from the professional field the study of which is valuable to both parties. After all, this way of working allows people in the professional field to systematically engage academic expertise while the study programme itself can continuously count on the know-how from the professional field.

Career Days with Alumni Speed dates

The final presentation was given by Bart Van de Putte, chairman of the study programme committee for Sociology (Faculty of Political and Social Sciences). Sociology is a study programme which is strongly focused on research and has a very diverse outflow of students to the job market. But students also, at times, wrestle with the unclear nature of the job profile they end up with on the job market. To address this problem, the faculty created Career Days during which, among other things, a prominent activity was the speed dates with alumni. During the speed dates the almost-graduated students are placed facing a group of alumni that had graduated no later than 2 - 5 years prior. This allows them to be able to speak with people that have recently been in their position to discuss the realities of the study programme and what life can be like after graduation.

Prior to the speed dates, the study programme supervisors invite the participating alumni out for a business lunch. This lunch offers them a good opportunity to exchange thoughts on the programme in an informal setting. This initiative has proven fruitful for the programme in many ways: for the students, being able to speak with alumni is an important method to clarify one’s view on the focus of the study programme; for the programme itself, it can lead to small and large programme reforms.

Do you want to feel inspired by ideas to involve the external gaze in the quality assurance of your study programme? All information (including the inspirational cue cards) is available in the education tip Embedding the External Perspective in Study Programmes.

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