Introduction

Quality assurance is a shared responsibility between the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance (the Quality Council – see Appendix 1) and Ontario’s publicly assisted universities. This collaboration ensures a culture of continuous improvement and support for a vision of a student-centred education based on clearly articulated program learning outcomes. Quality assurance processes result in an educational system that is open, accountable, and transparent.

Quality Assurance: Context

Quality assurance of university academic programs has been adopted around the world and is widely recognized as a vital component of every reputable educational system. Considerable international experimentation in the development of quality assurance processes, along with increasing pressure for greater public accountability, has raised the bar for articulating Degree Level Expectations and learning outcomes in postsecondary education.

In 2009, Ontario universities created a task force to update their system for quality assurance that reflected the latest international standards. This resulted in the approval of the Quality Assurance Framework in 2010, which included the creation of an arm’s length, oversight body – the Quality Council. Ontario universities continue to show significant leadership and a firm commitment to cultivating a culture of quality in education. This is attested to by the long history and priority for rigorous quality assurance in Ontario universities that preceded the Quality Assurance Framework (click here to see the History of quality assurance in Ontario).

Quality Assurance: Today

Recommendations resulting from a 2018 External Expert Review Panel (the Review Panel) have informed an evolution of the 2010 Quality Assurance Framework. In its Report, the Review Panel acknowledged “the desire [of Ontario universities] to expand the focus of quality assurance beyond that of the institutions demonstrating compliance with the established standards of quality to that of encouraging investments in quality improvement”. The Panel further recommended that the Quality Assurance Framework should continue to reflect international trends in higher education quality, focusing on the primary agents for assuring quality, institutions, and on the confidence that can be placed in their operation.

The Review Panel suggested that the next iteration of the Quality Assurance Framework should reflect an evolution from the 2010 Framework, in light of the fact that there already exists an excellent basis for this next stage. More particularly, the Panel recommended that the Quality Assurance Framework include two parts: Principles and Procedures (or Protocols). This principled approach to quality assurance would allow for a wider scope for interpretation and application and also provide recognition of the wider diversity in institutional strategies, special missions and mandates (for example, bilingualism) and student populations that is being encouraged by governments, institutions and others. By bringing Ontario’s universities quality assurance practices into line with the latest international quality assurance standards, the Quality Assurance Framework also facilitates greater international acceptance of institutes’ degrees and improves graduates’ access to university programs and employment worldwide. With this latest iteration of the Framework, Ontario universities continue to be placed in the mainstream of quality assurance both nationally and internationally.

Accordingly, the Quality Assurance Framework includes the Principles that guide and inform every aspect of quality assurance, and a more detailed set of Protocols that are a prudent set of rules of best practice.

Care has been taken in evolving the Quality Assurance Framework for Ontario universities to balance the need for accountability with the need to encourage innovative curricular design. In particular, if quality assurance measures become too onerous or restrictive, they can become impediments rather than facilitators of continuous program improvements. Ontario universities and the Quality Council have kept this issue in mind in order to produce a Quality Assurance Framework that supports innovation and learning improvement while enabling transparency and accountability – i.e. quality assurance that produces quality enhancement.