1.2 Quality Assurance in Ontario

Rigorous quality assurance has long been a priority for Ontario’s publicly assisted universities. As early as 1968, Ontario conducted external appraisals of new graduate programs. In 1982, Ontario initiated periodic external appraisal of approved graduate programs through the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies (OCGS). By submitting all new and continuing graduate programs to external quality appraisal, Ontario universities were trailblazers in the area of systematic and system-wide quality assurance in higher education.

Ontario remained among the leaders in quality assurance by regularly reviewing its quality assurance programs and procedures. In 1999, the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) commissioned Dr. George Connell, a former chair of COU and former president of the University of Toronto, to do an external review of the operations of OCGS, which subsequently implemented a number of the recommendations.

In 1996, COU adopted procedures for external auditing of university processes for reviewing undergraduate programs. The audits were to be conducted by the Undergraduate Program Review Audit Committee (UPRAC) and managed by the executive director of OCGS, under the direction of the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents (OCAV). Much of the impetus for this initiative was the publication of the report of the Task Force on University Accountability (the Broadhurst Report), which also re-affirmed the central role of boards of governors in accountability and the assurance of quality.

OCGS adopted its statement of Graduate University Degree Level Expectations in January 2005. This was followed in December 2005 by COU endorsing the Guidelines for University Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations (UUDLES) developed by OCAV (see Appendix 1). The Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents subsequently incorporated UUDLES into its UPRAC Review and Audit Guidelines with an implementation date of June 2008. OCAV’s adoption of the Degree Level Expectations set out the academic standards of Ontario’s universities. Each university is expected to develop its own institutional expression of the undergraduate and graduate Degree Level Expectations and to have them applied to each academic program.

In 2006–07, the Council of Ontario Universities commissioned Dr. Richard Van Loon, a former chair of COU and former president of Carleton University, to do a comprehensive analysis of the long-established OCGS procedures. The recommendations in Van Loon’s 2007 report included establishing a new quality assurance body under the direction of OCAV and aligning the quality assurance processes for undergraduate and graduate programs.

The new quality assurance body is called the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance (the Quality Council). The Quality Council was established by OCAV in 2010 and its work is supported by an Appraisal Committee and Audit Committee. Its operations are managed by a secretariat, headed by the Executive Director of Quality Assurance. (See Appendix 2 for more information on this organization’s Mission, Mandate and Operating Principles.)

Building on well-tested processes, the work of the Quality Council ensures that Ontario continues to have a rigorous quality assurance framework. This Council operates at arm’s length from universities and the government to ensure its independence. Moreover, in establishing the Quality Council, OCAV fully acknowledges that academic standards, quality assurance and program improvement are, in the first instance, the responsibility of universities themselves. This Framework recognizes the institution’s autonomy to determine priorities for funding, space, and faculty allocation.