4. Protocol for Major Modifications (Program Renewal and Significant Change)
A fundamental element of accountability in quality assurance is continuous improvement, which signals that quality assurance is never static. Continuous improvement is the ultimate goal of the ongoing and fluid work of universities as they create living documents that meet evolving standards and measures of quality in their programs. The Quality Assurance Framework is designed to ensure that the educational experiences students have are engaging and rigorous, but also that the programs through which those experiences are provided are routinely monitored and, if necessary, revised. Continuous improvement of those facets of education that most directly impact the academic experiences of Ontario students is fundamental to quality assurance and, thus, continuous improvement factors significantly in the Quality Assurance Framework.
Program renewal is an important feature of ongoing and continuous quality assurance. To encourage active evaluation, renewal, and change, as appropriate, the quality assurance process provides for annual reporting on program renewal. Further, program renewal and significant changes to a program – which are referred to throughout as major modifications — are articulated through a robust quality assurance process which does not require but may include the Quality Council’s approval.
The fundamental purpose for the Protocol is the identification of major modifications to existing programs, and their approval through a robust quality assurance process. This process does not require but may include Quality Council approval, so as to assure the universities, the public, and the government of the ongoing quality of all of the university’s academic programs.
Major modifications are made by institutions in order to:
- Implement the outcomes of a cyclical program review;
- Reflect the ongoing evolution of the discipline;
- Accommodate new developments in a particular field;
- Facilitate improvements in teaching and learning strategies;
- Respond to the changing needs of students, society, and industry; and/or
- Respond to improvements in technology.
Such modifications provide an opportunity for continuous improvement, improving the student experience and staying current with the discipline.
Each university itself is best placed to determine when a major modification should be made. The purpose of this protocol is to assure stakeholders, including the university, students, the public, and the government of the ongoing quality of the institution’s academic programs.
While universities themselves are best placed to determine the degree of change that is being proposed, the distinction between major modifications and new programs can, at times, be difficult to determine (see Guidance). The Council has the final authority to decide if a major modification constitutes a new program and, therefore, must follow the Protocol for New Program Approvals.
(See Principles 1, 2, 7 – 9, and 12 – 15)
Major modifications typically include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following:
- Requirements that differ significantly from those existing at the time of the previous cyclical program review;
- Significant changes to the program-level learning outcomes that do not, however, meet the threshold of a new program;
- Significant changes to the program’s delivery, including to the program’s faculty and/or to the essential physical resources as may occur, for example, where there have been changes to the existing mode(s) of delivery (g., different campus and/or online / hybrid delivery – see below);
- Change in program name and/or degree nomenclature, when this results in a change in learning outcomes; and/or
- Addition of a single new field to an existing graduate program. Note that universities are not required to declare fields for either master’s or doctoral programs. Note also that the creation of more than one field at one point in time or over subsequent years may need to go through the Expedited Protocol (see Guidance).
Universities are required, within their IQAP, to provide their internal definition of what constitutes a “significant change” in the requirements, program-level learning outcomes, or faculty and/or the essential physical resources associated with the program.
The Quality Council strongly recommends that the IQAP identify an arbiter or authority whose responsibility it will be to determine whether a proposed change constitutes a “significant change” and hence a “major modification” to an existing program or is, in fact, a minor modification (see Sections 4.1 and 4.2) or a new program (see Protocol for New Program Approvals).
Each university will set out within its IQAP the information required and steps to be taken internally for its own approval process for such major modifications. As appropriate, this will include a requirement for the internal approval process to ensure that the proposed modification is in alignment with the relevant program-level learning outcomes. Further, the internal review and approval process should include an assessment of the impact the proposed modification will have on the program’s students. Input from current students and recent graduates of the program should be considered as part of the development of the Proposal, with the Proposal including a statement on the way in which the proposed major modification will improve the student experience (see Guidance).
Major modifications to existing programs do not require submission of a Proposal to the Quality Council. However, a university may, at its discretion, request that the Quality Council review a proposal for a major modification to an existing program. Unless the Quality Council determines that the proposed modification is, in fact, a new program, the review of the proposal will occur through the Expedited Approval Process. Accordingly, the IQAP will also provide for the preparation of the Proposal to be submitted to the Quality Council for those cases when the university wishes to request a Quality Council Review. In such cases, this Proposal requires:
- Description of, and rationale for, the proposed changes; and
- Application of the relevant criteria, as outlined in Framework Section 2.1.2, to the proposed changes. The university will determine which criteria are deemed relevant for each Proposal and, to meet their own needs and in recognition of the diversity in institutional strategies, institutions may include their own quality assurance requirements, including for example, consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion, special missions and mandates, and student populations that are being encouraged by governments, institutions, and others.
When changing the mode of delivery of a program to online for all or a significant portion of a program that was previously delivered in-person, consideration of the following criteria is strongly encouraged as part of the approval process for the proposed major modification:
- Maintenance of and/or changes to the program objectives and program-level learning outcomes;
- Adequacy of the technological platform and tools;
- Sufficiency of support services and training for teaching staff;
- Sufficiency and type of support for students in the new learning environment; and
Note: the simplest outcome of process is a document that identifies all major modifications to programs. More important than the document itself is the way in which the process encourages and values ongoing and continuous assessment and modification where appropriate of programs. Further, it demonstrates to the institution at large and its stakeholders the value the institution places on this kind of self-assessment.
The IQAP will set out the intra-institutional steps that will apply to the quality assurance of other program changes that do not necessarily rise to the level of a major modification. These would minimally include: changes to an existing Emphasis, Option, or Minor Program; the creation of a new micro-credential(s) (see Definitions); undergraduate certificate(s) (see Definitions); and laddering, stacking or similar options (see Guidance), or comparable elements that do not require Quality Council appraisal and approval. However, it is important for the purposes of transparency and consistency that the IQAP indicate how such changes will be made and quality assured.
4.2 Program Closure
The IQAP will specify the conditions under which a program closure will be considered as a minor or major modification and the process that is to be followed accordingly. All program closures will be reported in the Annual Report to the Quality Council (as per Section 4.3).
4.3 Annual Report to the Quality Council
Each university will file an Annual Report (see Guidance) to the Quality Council that provides a summary of major program modifications and program closures that were approved through the university’s internal approval process in the past year. The Quality Council reviews these reports to ensure compliance with the Quality Assurance Framework, as well as to compile data for its own Annual Report, which is widely distributed to the internal and external community, including the provincial government.
4.4 Selection for Cyclical Audit
Major modifications are not normally selected for the institution’s Cyclical Audit (see Section 6.2.4).