International committee assesses education, internationalisation and quality agreements
MAASTRICHT. “Do you know what the committee said: ‘If we were eighteen now, we would all want to study at Maastricht University’.” Rector Rianne Letschert repeats with a broad grin the words of the chairman of the NVAO committee that investigated the education, quality agreements and internationalisation at the UM last week. The (preliminary) results can be guessed: good, good, and good.
No, it really wasn't plain sailing, says rector Letschert afterwards. The panel's questions were “very sharp, getting down to the nitty-gritty,” but as the week progressed, the faith in a good result grew. Last Friday, the six-strong international committee led by Professor Janke Cohen-Schotanus from Groningen was positive about the way in which the quality of the Maastricht education was safeguarded (InstellingsToetsKwaliteitszorg, or Institutional Quality Care Test). The internationalisation efforts also received praise, which means that the extension of the internationalisation certification, a European mark of quality, is a fact. Furthermore the panel was pleased with the quality agreements within the UM: spending the money that came from the abolishing of the student funding system, the so-called studievoorschotmiddelen. This happened during a short meeting to which the press was not invited. The panel carried out its work on behalf of the Dutch-Flemish accreditation organisation, (Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie, NVAO), which safeguards the quality of education in the Netherlands and Belgium. The judgement is a preliminary one, as the final report will be published in January.
“It was highly exceptional. They were full of praise for the sincere enthusiasm, the openness, the discerning capabilities, the team spirit, and the commitment of staff and students – over 180 - with whom they had spoken. They noticed that the lines within the university were short, that there is a lot of coordination between faculties. In their minds, the faculties are not islands, something that is often claimed internally.” And no, they emphasised, “as a university you cannot organise that much positivity. You don't have people on a string.” As an example, Letschert refers to the closing session of the EDview symposium about the future of PBL, which the committee attended. “Everybody in the hall was able to give their vision of the afternoon’s programme and PBL using text messages. Anonymously. All reactions were immediately displayed on a large screen. It could be anything, but again there was a lot of enthusiasm, commitment as well as humour.”
The experts were impressed with the Maastricht vision on education, says Letschert. “They felt that we were too modest in our own evaluations. ‘Every university says that they provide student-focused education, but you can substantiate the uniqueness of your concept’, they said. Show it to the world. The committee was pleased with EDLAB being the pivot in the discussion on educational innovation. But also with our continuing drive for educational research.” The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was complimented by the committee. Letschert: “A few years ago, the faculty received seven yellow cards, largely because the quality control of theses in the various study programmes was not up to scratch. FASoS has improved its education and quality control processes to such an extent that such issues are now prevented.”
Was there no criticism at all? Letschert: “Yes there was. We need to further develop our management information system. How do you know if you have reached your objectives? How do you measure this? The UM wants to turn out students who are independent, responsible and capable of critical thinking. We do so through PBL, by increasingly linking education with research, by internationalisation, by appreciating students who are active outside the curriculum and giving them a certificate. How will you know in five years’ time if this has been successful? And when will we feel that we have done a good job? When hundreds of students have gained a diploma? That’s something we have to work at.”