28 October 2019 • Arie Verhoef
Looking back on a year of self-evaluation
In just a few months, a panel from the NVAO will decide if our university of applied sciences passes the Institutional Audit (ITK). We spent the last year evaluating ourselves, to assess where we stand on quality assurance. This makes us well prepared. Should we lose sleep over the ITK? This, and much more, is what we asked our Board members Rajash Rawal and Hans Camps.
In order to pass the ITK audit, THUAS started a process of self-evaluation exactly a year ago. We invested much time and effort in that. Was it worth it? Rajash Rawal reacts with an exclamation mark: “Absolutely! We’ve seen how dynamic our university is. We’ve seen how much effort our people put in moving this organisation forward. We’re proud of that. This process has given us the opportunity to share experiences and understand each other’s language.”
Hans Camps agrees, with one side note. “The question if it was worth it, is a strange one. It presupposes that this process has been finished. But you’re never done looking in the mirror. It’s part of our organisation. And yes, it’s always worth reflecting on the quality of our education and our operations.”
“We have critically reflected on what we have done to achieve our strategic goals and our ambitions. We have taken account of the views in our faculties and service departments on these matters, and on the issues that need addressing in the near future. This way, we believe that our quality assurance is in order.”
One year ago, Rajash Rawal stated that honesty is essential during a process of self-evaluation. How certain is the Board that people have actually been honest in their feedback on the organisation, as well as in their self-reflection? Rajash Rawal: “That’s hard to say. People who have proofread the self-evaluation document said they recognised our organisation in it.”
Hans Camps: “You should ask us this question again after the ITK has been done, because it’s up to the panel now to judge if our people recognise the picture we’ve painted. It would only benefit our organisation if everybody would permanently take an honest look at themselves and at the organisation.
Like a soundbite
Employees, students, and external stakeholders of THUAS have participated fully in the preparations for ITK over the past year. But they did not contribute directly to writing the self-evaluation report. Rajash Rawal: “As members of the Board, we’ve chosen to draft the self-evaluation report ourselves. It’s the Board’s critical reflection after all, on how we’re doing as a university of applied sciences. What I’ve enjoyed most in the process, were the dialogues that we’ve had in all layers of our university. I’m quite curious to what extent our people can relate to the final version of our self-evaluation report. I recommend everybody read this document, of course.”
‘What I enjoyed most, were the dialogues’
“I enjoyed working with people I’ve never worked with before. To enable people to tell their stories and to learn the dynamics of our organisation. I realise this sounds like a soundbite, but it’s really how I see it. In these dialogues, it would usually take some twenty minutes before people would – or dared to – say what was on their heart. But they did raise these issues. I thought the dialogues were very good. I believe the people I’ve spoken with have been really open, also in their critical feedback towards us.”
Elephant in the room
Hans Camps: “In a large organisation like ours, there’s lots of diversity. There’s no bland uniformity here, fortunately. It’s important to keep our common denominator in mind.” Rajash Rawal: “Our university has the ambition to be welcoming towards everyone. We take that very seriously. That means that everyone’s voice must be heard. That only makes us stronger.”
Have you never thought: where has the common denominator gone? Hans Camps: “No, it wasn’t our challenge to discover if there would be a common denominator in our organisation. We know we have one. Our challenge is to translate it to the organisation as a whole. That’s our main job as a Board. To make sure everyone can keep doing good things in their own position, whilst all of us carry out THUAS’s profile.
Swedish teenage girl
Back to the discussions throughout the university. Rajash Rawal observed that the world citizenship theme tended to be the elephant in the room. He rushes to explain: “People expect us to give a definition of world citizenship that does not exist. Things change rapidly. Just a year ago, the world wide climate movement hadn’t even started yet, orchestrated by a Swedish teenage girl. Ever since, climate has become a very important aspect of our world citizenship theme. Programmes reflect on that in their curricula. You can’t foresee something like this. That makes it so hard to define this theme.”
‘The world citizenship theme tended to be the elephant in the room’
Self-evaluation. Reflection. Institutional Audit. Most people might have a hard time visualising these concepts. Metaphors might help us understand. Is the ITK anything like a yearly car check-up? An inspection of a monumental building? And what if we fail the ITK: will the car be sent to the scrap-heap, or will the building be condemned?
Rajash Rawal laughingly explains that he prefers a food metaphor. “I love food. Imagine a salad, for instance, of which you know the quality of the tomatoes, the peppers, the avocado and the lettuce to be very good. The ITK could well be the dressing that makes the salad as a whole taste even better. It shows that, as an organisation, we’re more than the sum of the programmes combined.”
THUAS, as a learning and knowledge community, is constantly under way, and wants to keep reflecting. The ITK preparations provide a good example of that. During the next months, we’ll find out if it’s been enough. Rajash Rawal and Hans Camps are very confident of the outcome. That would be a welcome external reward for the effort that everybody at THUAS has put into quality assurance. Moreover, it’s essential to keep having the discussion on quality assurance. Because – quoting Hans Camps one final time – “you’re never done looking critically into the mirror.”