3.1 Using the quality system in strategic management

Auditointiryhmän arvio

Quality management is closely linked with UTU’s strategic management

The University of Turku’s quality policy is public and forms a solid basis for the quality system. The quality policy is available on the University’s website. The quality policy emphasises the importance of university culture, purposeful management, competent support services and structured quality management in the University’s activities. According to the audit visit, the quality policy guides UTU’s activities and reflects compliance with its objectives at various levels of the University. In the big picture, the quality system supports UTU’s profile.

The preparation process for Strategy 2030 in 2019–2020 was highly participatory. It included several stages where the University Board, the University community and external stakeholders could engage and comment on the draft strategy. The audit showed that the participatory strategy process had resulted in excellent community engagement around shared objectives. During the audit visit, the different groups interviewed identified the strategic objectives and their role in taking them forward. The audit team, therefore, concludes that UTU staff recognises the connection between their work and the HEI’s strategy.

The strategy has also given a boost to six policy programmes that realise the strategic emphases: Digitalisation Programme, Personnel Policy, International Programme, Equality Plan, Cultural Policy and Language Policy.

On the other hand, the participatory strategy process generated many perspectives, many of which were incorporated into the strategy. As a result, the University’s strategic portfolio consists of 91 policy actions, which the audit team considers a very large number. The audit visit revealed that UTU is in the process of prioritising the strategy. According to University management, all units do not intend to use all 91 instruments. Instead, the units can prioritise areas that need the most development. The audit team strongly supports strategic focusing and prioritising.

The University of Turku’s quality and steering systems are closely linked. The document titled The Principles of Steering clearly describes how the University’s management system is based on the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) framework for continuous improvement. The management system comprises strategic planning, annual planning, monitoring, reporting, evaluation and development activities. UTU has strengthened the link between management and quality assurance by recently establishing its the Unit of Strategic Planning responsible for coordinating the strategy process and quality system.

More coherence across faculties is encouraged in strategy execution

The implementation and monitoring of UTU’s Strategy 2030 is being promoted in various ways at different levels. It was evident from the interviews that the deans promote implementing the strategy in the faculty and the heads of department in their units. Furthermore, the university-level management, steering groups and various councils are essential in advancing and promoting strategic foci in UTU’s core duties and support services. The Board monitors the implementation of the strategy on an ongoing basis, especially in the context of financial decisions.

The annual planning processes ensure that the strategy’s objectives are translated into action at the unit level. In annual reports, the units assess the previous year’s performance and set targets for the following year. Based on the annual plans and reports, UTU management holds annual target negotiations with the faculties and independent units. The management gives the faculties and independent units feedback based on the negotiations. The annual reports, statistics and other reports serve as a basis for the monitoring reports.

In general, there is good cooperation between the University’s faculties. However, there is ample space for improvement in furthering cooperation in the strategy’s execution. The audit visit raised the issue of UTU’s internal funding model and the Rectorate’s opportunities to lead faculties in developing multidisciplinarity. Interviews revealed that the internal funding model does not sufficiently promote cross-faculty research. In addition, there is little internal strategic funding available to faculties. The University of Turku’s top management considered external infrastructure funding available from the Academy of Finland every second year and its allocation to multidisciplinary research as an important solution. The University’s management also stressed the competence of UTU leaders and the ability to create funding possibilities within the University’s internal and external funding mechanisms.

The Management Group, services and leaders are assessing the achievement of the strategy’s objectives. The Strategic Planning Unit monitors the implementation of the strategy regularly and reports the implementation to the UTU Board annually. The Strategic Planning Unit recently conducted a stocktaking of the 91 actions and was consequently able to indicate by a traffic light system (red, yellow, green) how these are proceeding.

UTU should strengthen its strategic planning to become more evidence-based

The information generated by the quality system is used in the management of the University. Planning, monitoring and reporting are carried out in the Steering Management System (SMS), which a UTU Data Warehouse supports.

Based on the self-assessment report and the audit visit, the University of Turku wants to strengthen its knowledge-based management and information systems. The audit visit revealed that faculties and departments strongly need up-to-date data and indicator information to support their management. In line with the area for improvement identified by UTU in its self-assessment report, the audit team recommends that UTU strengthen its strategic planning to become more evidence-based, data-driven and transparent.

The University has launched a knowledge-based management project. The project has four phases: first, user needs were identified, then data was transferred into a user-friendly and dynamic format using the Power BI system. The third phase is putting information into practice to use data in decision-making. The fourth phase evaluates the system’s performance and ensures its effectiveness in developing activities. The knowledge-based management project has already progressed to the second and third phases of Power BI data production and its use in decision-making. The audit team encourages UTU to complete the knowledge-based management project and fully integrate it into UTU’s management. In this project, UTU will also benchmark other Finnish universities, which the audit team endorses and finds useful.