Aalto’s quality system is comprehensive and systematic
The audit team commends Aalto University for a comprehensive and well-functioning quality system. Aalto’s long-term evaluation programme clearly demonstrates the systematic use of internal and external evaluations to enhance Aalto’s activities and regular cycles of improvement. The strategic annual University Preview, University Review, and University Dialogue processes form the core of the quality system, encompassing all of Aalto’s core duties; education, research, artistic activities and societal engagement and impact.
Regular external evaluations complement Aalto’s quality system: Research, Art and Impact (RAI) and Teaching and Learning Evaluation Exercise (TEE) conducted in 7–9-year intervals and as well as regular reviews conducted by the Scientific (and Artistic activities) Advisory Boards (S(A)AB). Furthermore, the School of Business regularly participates in external AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS accreditations and has acquired a rare Triple Crown status.
During the audit visit, the team gained abundant evidence of how information generated by the quality system helps the Aalto community to identify development needs in core duties and how the evaluation and feedback data is used to manage Aalto successfully. Through the systematic annual Preview-Review-Dialogue processes, feedback from RAI and TEE evaluations and S(A)AB reviews, Aalto updates strategies, priorities, goals and overall portfolio. With this evaluation data, Aalto University can continuously monitor and develop the quality of its degree and other educational provision, research, innovation and artistic activities and support services and improve its societal impact. Overall, there is strong evidence that the PDCA cycle is implemented in all of Aalto’s core activities.
The quality system is being systematically developed
Quality management is steered by the Aalto Management Team, which convenes fortnightly. The Leadership Support Services prepares the Evaluation Programme. The operative Quality Management team manages the operations and meets formally monthly and casually every Friday.
Aalto monitors and develops its quality system annually in connection with the University Review. Feedback is collected from all staff members each year on the Preview-Review-Dialogue process itself, how it can be improved and whether the annual timetable works. This process works well and ensures broad participation in developing the university’s quality system. For example, in the last annual University Review, the operative Quality Management team learned that services needed attention and resourcing because end users found the system too time-consuming. Based on staff feedback, the workload created by the quality system was lightened, and common templates were revised. The workload created by the quality system needs constant attention from leadership.
Aalto also utilises feedback from FINEEC audits. Since the previous FINEEC audit in 2016, the KPI dashboards were introduced, the Aalto Handbook format was changed from pdf to electronic format and school-level handbooks were combined into a common handbook.
Based on the SER and audit visit, there is ample evidence that good practices are shared via the intranet and through regular meetings of the Development team, the university-level Quality Management team and department quality teams, and EDI Committee. However, the audit team agrees with Aalto’s conclusion in the SER that even more systematic methods could be introduced to identify and share good practices.
Participatory quality culture
Significant evidence was contained within the SER and showcased during the audit visit of Aalto’s participatory and open-quality culture. Aalto’s quality culture promotes participation, open discussion and continuous improvement of the university’s activities and operations. One example mentioned in the interviews was the Quality Party at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture to develop and renew the course provision, including broad student participation. In other schools, such as Business, the quality culture is driven by accreditation bodies, whose processes must be followed. This allows for continuous improvement, learning and action. The staff and leadership in this school were very positive about this process. Overall, the progress in improving participatory quality culture has been commendable and in line with the feedback received in the previous FINEEC audit.
Several channels are available for Aalto community members to give feedback and influence strategic choices and decision-making, thus influencing the development of operations. External stakeholders and Aalto alumni can contribute to and enhance Aalto’s activities at different levels; for instance, as members of the Board, on school-level advisory boards, and as partners in research and artistic activities. Furthermore, student feedback, course and programme development and student representation in different working groups are essential to the quality system.
However, interviews with students revealed that many feel they could be better integrated into the preparatory decision-making processes. Similarly, staff workshops identified a lack of transparency on how staff input can influence high-level decision-making. As a result, the audit team recommends Aalto better showcase the importance and value of community input, perhaps with direct evidence of how it has affected essential decisions.