5. Protocol for Cyclical Program Reviews

The Cyclical Program Review of existing programs is the key quality assurance process aimed at assessing the quality of existing academic programs, identifying ongoing improvements to programs, and ensuring continuing relevance of the program to stakeholders. The self-study and external assessment provide internal and external perspectives on the institutional goals, program’s objectives, program-level learning outcomes, and graduate outcomes. Degree Level Expectations, combined with the expert judgment of external disciplinary scholars, provide the benchmarks for assessing a program’s standards and quality. The internal review of the externals’ reports by the university identifies changes needed to maintain the quality of the academic programs through the Final Assessment Report, which includes an Implementation Plan. The required program changes identified in the Implementation Plan become the basis of a continuous improvement process through monitoring of key performance indicators. Primary responsibility to execute the Implementation Plan lies with the leadership of the program (at the program or departmental level) with identified timelines and communication among stakeholders, including students and the public.

Objectives

One fundamental element of accountability 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 Protocol for Cyclical Program Reviews 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 Protocol for Cyclical Program Reviews.

Scope

While it is clear in a New Program Proposal what the term “program” refers to, it is often less clear what defines a program when considering the unit of review, or “scope”, of a Cyclical Program Review, or a subsequent audit of a program’s cyclical review. In a Cyclical Program Review, for example, the self-study often refers to multiple degree options, undergraduate and graduate, and various streams or concentrations within the program. This may result in confusion as to what exactly the evaluation criteria are being applied to, and to what the external reviewers’ recommendations are directed. Additionally, the Cyclical Program Review’s Implementation Plan requires clarity as to the precise scope of the unit of review, if for no other reason than that of assigning responsibility for implementation of its various recommendations.  And finally, the audit process requires clarity as to what constitutes a program in order to determine the scope of its assessment. For these reasons, institutions must define the scope of the program to be reviewed in the Cyclical Program Review process.

Programs which have been closed or for which admission has been suspended are out of scope for a Cyclical Program Review.

In reviewing a joint program and other inter-institutional programs, the IQAPs of the participating universities granting the degree should be considered. See Guidance for important aspects to consider in conducting joint program reviews.

Process

The institution is responsible for ensuring that programs are evaluated on a cycle not to exceed eight years. The process will assess the quality of existing academic programs, identifying ongoing improvements to programs, and ensuring continuing relevance of the program to stakeholders. The self-study and external assessment provide internal and external perspectives on the institutional goals, program’s objectives, program-level learning outcomes, and graduate outcomes.

The Quality Council’s Protocol for the conduct of Cyclical Program Reviews has five principal components (for further detail on a) through e), see Sections 5.1.3 – 5.4.2, inclusive):

  1. Self-study;
  2. External evaluation (peer review) with report and recommendations on program quality improvement;
  3. Institutional evaluation of the self-study and the External Review Report resulting in recommendations for program quality improvement;
  4. Preparation and adoption of plans to implement the recommendations and to monitor their implementation; and
  5. Follow-up reporting on the principal findings of the review and the implementation of the recommendations.

Below are the minimum process requirements for the cyclical review of undergraduate and graduate programs. To meet their own needs and in recognition of the diversity in institutional strategies, institutions may include their own quality assurance requirements in addition to those set out below, 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.

These requirements apply whether or not those programs are supported by government funds (see Flow Chart 3: Overview of the Protocol for Cyclical Program Reviews).

(See Principles 1, 7 – 15)

Annually, the institution will submit copies of the Final Assessment Reports, together with the associated Implementation Plans, or an omnibus report on Cyclical Program Review activity, to the Quality Council for review (see Section 5.4.2). An Executive Summary of the process along with the Implementation Plan and associated monitoring reports should be published on the institution’s website for each completed cyclical review.

Outcomes

The key outcome from a Cyclical Program Review is the Final Assessment Report and associated Implementation Plan. The internal review of reports by the university identifies changes needed to maintain the quality of the academic programs through the Final Assessment Report, which includes an Implementation Plan. The required program changes identified in the Implementation Plan become the basis of a continuous improvement process through monitoring of key performance indicators. Primary responsibility to execute the Implementation Plan lies with the leadership of the program (at the program or departmental level) with identified timelines and communication among stakeholders, including students and the public.