Part Two: Protocols for Ontario Universities
The principles in Part One of the Quality Assurance Framework outline in broad terms the practices that govern and justify the quality assurance processes by which all Ontario’s publicly assisted universities have agreed to be bound. The Protocols in Part Two are the more specific and detailed practices that flow from the Principles articulated in Part One.
The primary purpose of quality assurance is accountability, a purpose that forms the foundation of the Quality Assurance Framework (both Parts One and Two), as well as every Institutional Quality Assurance Process (IQAP), which is the university’s local expression of the Quality Assurance Framework. Accountability refers to each university’s demonstration, through its IQAP, that it is engaged in quality assurance and the continuous improvement of its programs and the learning experience of students in those programs. Quality assurance is a function of and balance between internal and external processes and procedures.
Universities are autonomous and have internal quality assurance processes and practices that are designed to maintain and improve the quality of their programs. These are aimed at ensuring that the university is fulfilling its purpose as well as meeting international standards of higher education in general and those of the various disciplines and professions in particular. Internal quality assurance, as indicated by the Framework, includes such important aspects as learning outcomes, self-assessment (followed by external peer assessment for the purposes of validation), student and other stakeholder feedback, and implementation plans. That is to say, the improvement of the student experience should be a function of internal quality assurance through internal review and monitoring processes.
External quality assurance refers to a range of quality monitoring activities and procedures that the Quality Council undertakes to determine whether a university is itself meeting agreed upon quality assurance processes and practices. The main purpose of external quality assurance is to provide accountability to both internal and external stakeholders.
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. Ontario’s 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.
Throughout the New Program and Cyclical Program Review Protocols, continuous improvement is a required goal, especially in the areas of program-level learning outcomes and the assessment of the student achievement of these learning outcomes. The monitoring of a new program and the outcomes of a Cyclical Program Review (i.e., the Implementation Plan) are also essential elements of continuous improvement within the New Program Approval and Cyclical Program Review Protocols. Universities are also encouraged to articulate plans for continuous improvement that do not necessarily flow from the approval process for a new program or from a Cyclical Program Review. Section 1.4 of the Quality Assurance Framework identifies possible areas in which continuous improvement outside of the formal quality assurance processes may be considered and summarized.
The Quality Council’s work is supported by an Appraisal Committee and an Audit Committee, with the Council’s operations managed by a Quality Assurance Secretariat. Opportunities to recognise past performance and adjust oversight accordingly appear throughout the Protocols and these will continue to evolve. Additionally, given that there can be significant differences in institutional capacity for quality assurance across institutions, resources and support from the Quality Council and the system as a whole will be directed, as necessary, to those institutions that continue to face challenges in meeting the standards of the framework.