3.1 Using the quality system in strategic management

Assessment of the audit team

The quality system is closely linked with the strategic management

Aalto University’s quality policy is public, described on Aalto’s intranet and open internet pages. The policy encompasses four themes: 1) pursuit of excellence in all activities, 2) broad community participation towards a common purpose, 3) continuous review and improvement of activities and management and 4) systematic and shared ways to deliver quality and effective activities.

The quality system is the set of electronic tools Aalto uses to implement their quality policy. The senior leadership team and Board demonstrated their strong commitment to the quality policy through their daily implementation of the quality system in strategic management.

Aalto University’s annual strategic processes, i.e. University Preview, University Review and University Dialogue, combine the strategy and quality system implementation. Aalto University’s living strategy is constantly being developed through these processes. In University Preview, emerging and development trends shaping the operating environment are analysed. In University Review, strategy implementation during the previous year is examined. In the final phase, University Dialogue, the goals for implementing the strategy are set for the next 1 + 3 (+ 10) years. This process ensures that the information produced by the quality system is used in the university’s management.

The SER describes utilising the information produced by the quality system in the higher education institution’s management and strategy implementation. Clearly defined and systematically maintained Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are used to evaluate research, education, impact and enablers. Aalto’s KPI manual is updated annually in connection with the University Review process based on feedback from the Aalto community.

The quality policy is promoted by utilising the quality system in all daily activities within teaching and learning, research, cross-cutting approaches, impact and enablers across the university. There is good evidence of how Aalto’s quality system supports successfully implementing its core duties. Within education, for example, qualitative programme reviews at the school level and quantitative indicators – such as numbers of graduates and postgraduates – are used to feed into objectives for the next four years and future development processes.

The senior leadership team expressed that the University Preview of the annual clock is the most valuable aspect of the quality system for implementing the university’s living strategy because it allows them to understand the changes needed by the Aalto community. Similarly, the University Review phase permits the team to reflect on and evaluate how they achieved their plans in the previous year.

Based on the interview with the Board, they monitor Aalto’s strategy implementation through a president’s review in each of their meetings, in which they learn what is working well and not so well and the performance of core activities. An example of an area that needed improvement was the services resource model, which was brought to the Board’s attention. A revised model was devised and ultimately approved. This regular and open communication of information amongst leadership is another key aspect of the successful management of the university.

After the annual Review phase, Aalto management summarises the results using a university template and prepares a tailored package for dissemination to individual schools and departments.  This informs the topics that need to be discussed in the University Dialogue phase. It allows staff members to review feedback, including programme reviews. Schools can decide how they will update their action plan, target setting and infrastructure investments.

Numerous measures are in operation to ensure staff members know the connection between their own work and Aalto’s strategic objectives

Indeed, there was broad awareness among staff throughout the university of their responsibilities and roles. The predominant mechanism is through Aalto University’s biannual My Dialogue process. This process ensures that community members recognise the connection of their individual goals, well-being and competence development to the university’s goals.

Aalto has devised other well-functioning approaches to increase broad awareness of the synergy between their work and the university’s strategic objectives. For example, some schools have ‘Meet the dean’ events five times a year, which provides frequent opportunities for staff to reflect on how their activities and efforts align with Aalto’s objectives or how they should be modified accordingly. Another measure is the Aalto Handbook, which details the universal quality system across campus. Individual schools supplement the handbook by providing their own specific information for staff on their webpages.

During audit interviews discussing EDI issues, both students and staff members brought up the need for more systematic measures facilitating a sense of integration and inclusion of more diverse groups into the university operations and culture. This includes international students and points to a need for Aalto to differentiate this large and heterogenous group to ensure their needs are met.