3.3 Functionality and development of the quality system

Auditeringsgruppens bedömning

The university’s quality system ensures a systematic approach to quality management

The UL has a comprehensive quality system, including the university level, faculties and academies, and services. There are established and clear annual processes to identify objectives and development priorities, planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation covering both the university and faculty levels. At the core of the process are the university’s mission, vision and strategic objectives, and the annual priorities and targets set in the Annual Work Programme.

The UL and its faculties and academies annually self-assess the progress made in implementing the strategy and the annual plan. All study programmes also carry out a self-assessment annually or at least biannually (see also the discussion in chapter 1.3). The annual process in place, with self-assessment and openly highlighting improvements and successes as well as threats, weaknesses, and measures in connection with those in the annual Business and Quality Assurance Report is to be commended.

The process covers education, research and development, artistic activities, transfer and application of knowledge, other operations, and quality system management and development. There is evidence that the process supports the university in meeting its strategic ambitions and enhancing its activities. The process engages various levels and actors as well as the numerous bodies of the university. There was also evidence of systematic follow-up and a continuous cycle of improvement in line with the PDCA. As the core process of the quality system, this succeeds in creating a common structure, setting priorities and targets, and following up activities in an otherwise diverse and decentralised organisation.

Other key processes of the quality system include different surveys (students, graduates, employees), internal enhancement-led visits, as well as external national and international institutional and programme accreditations and evaluations. The enhancement-led visits with their aim to support the UL faculties in their efforts to boost quality, exchange of practices and strengthening cooperation within the UL appear as a very positive initiative. As a process it could also respond to some of the needs highlighted in this report to enhance collaboration and cross-faculty learning. The enhancement-led visits were, however, little mentioned during the audit visit, indicating that their role in the quality system could be strengthened and better communicated. The enhancement-led visits could also engage staff more widely in the faculties and academies.

The university’s quality system covers the education and teaching of the university well. Research and societal engagement and impact could be more clearly incorporated in the description of the quality system which is now more focused on education. Especially the area of societal engagement and impact needs to be better incorporated in the management and quality system, as discussed in Chapter 2.1.

While the quality system and the information produced by it helps the university to recognise development needs and to enhance its activities in a goal-oriented manner, there were indications of shortcomings not always picked up by the system. In terms of the overall quality system of the university, the Act-phase and the subsequent follow up of actions taken needs to be improved in the PDCA cycle.

The university’s structure challenges the effectiveness of the common quality system

As mentioned previously in this report, the UL faculties and academies are very autonomous. The fragmented nature of the university organisation challenges the effectiveness of the common quality system. There is a complex committee structure with meeting heaviness and mirrored systems at the faculty and university levels. Due to the organisation of the university, there is overlap in quality management at different levels creating ineffectiveness in the system in terms of decision-making, resources used and quality management in general. Based on the audit visit, it was not always clear who is responsible for institutional-level shortcomings and challenges in relation to the quality of activities. At the faculty level, the system can appear burdensome, although the quality system allows for different practices and faculty-specific applications.

The audit team recommends that the university looks for synergies in its existing structures, processes and responsibilities related to quality assurance and enhancement to overcome overlaps and to some extent inefficiency in its use of resources. By clarifying the organisational structure, common quality system, responsibilities, and by streamlining processes the university could make its quality system more effective. Leaner structures would allow more resources in faculties and academies to be used for the core activities of research and education. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the strengths of the system, that is, its flexibility in meeting the needs of the diverse faculties and the broad engagement of staff and students in the processes, is guarded.

Quality culture of the university is participatory and open

The university shows maturity in its capabilities for self-reflection, not being afraid of highlighting its weaknesses and areas for enhancement openly. The audit visit confirmed that there is a strong desire for development at different levels of the university. The individuals met by the audit team expressed confidence in the university’s status as an excellent university, and there was a shared ambition to stay at the cutting edge and take the university forward.

One of the key objectives of the UL’s quality system has been to strengthen the quality culture at the university. The UL has, among others, used training, self-assessments, and enhancement-led approaches to support the faculties and staff members in this. The university appeared to have embraced many of the key principles of the enhancement-led approach in its quality work, such as engagement, ownership, interaction, and collaboration. The university has provided good opportunities for staff, students, and external stakeholders to engage in quality enhancement of the university’s activities through various formal and informal structures. According to the audit visit, students’ voices are well heard at the university and faculty levels. Students are well represented in the official bodies of the university and their opinions are also heard, for instance, in the habilitation processes.

The university has several quality committees, and the deans meet regularly with the university management. The advisory boards of the faculties have an important role in bringing external insights. Their presence ensures that a wide range of perspectives and expertise is integrated into the decision-making processes. The audit team recommends that advisory boards are established in every faculty.

The university’s quality system has been developed in a systematic manner. As mentioned in the self-assessment report, the university has developed and upgraded the quality system significantly over the last decade. The audit visit confirmed that the university is flexible and receptive to feedback from the faculties and academies, staff, and students, and is continuously trying to improve its quality processes to meet the needs at different levels of the university where possible.