Responsibilities of the Quality Council
The Quality Council was established by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) to oversee quality assurance processes for all levels of programs in its publicly assisted universities, as of March 1, 2010. The universities have vested in the Quality Council final authority for decisions concerning all aspects of quality assurance.
Nature of Its Expert and Independent Judgments
There are three levels of assessment for quality assurance: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary assessment occurs at the unit level where the program itself engages in the development of new programs and self-reflection and self-study of existing programs, calling upon those who participate to assess their contribution and experience (faculty, students, staff, and graduates).
Secondary assessment involves the authorities to whom the program reports, who engage in the assessment as well, calling upon independent experts to assess the evidence — this is expert or peer review. That review must be at arm’s length from the unit and done by qualified persons. Secondary assessment also includes quality assurance at the institutional level. The results of this secondary assessment must be communicated to the program, responded to, and acted upon. The second-level oversight must provide assurance that the primary assessment steps have been appropriately carried out.
The Quality Council engages in tertiary assessment; it does not conduct primary or secondary assessments. Those are up to the institution. Rather, the Quality Council provides assurance to the system that the processes are sound; to the institution itself, other institutions, potential students, students, employers, and funders both public and private. It is a vehicle of public accountability to those who have an interest in the experience of those who enter, undertake and graduate from the program.
In order to best perform tertiary assessment, it is important that the Quality Council’s membership include those with experience in primary and secondary assessment. It is not that they re-do the earlier assessments; rather, they are able to ascertain whether those assessments were comprehensively well done (that the main issues are addressed) and independently assessed (that the appraisers are arm’s-length and knowledgeable). Well done also means well received. Not that the conclusions and recommendations are always welcomed; but that each has been reasonably considered and an appropriate plan has been developed to effect program improvement. What is praised is continued and strengthened; what is in need of improvement is in fact improved.
The Quality Council typically approves new programs and monitors their implementation and subsequent reviews; assesses significant changes, and audits the quality assurance mechanisms within institutions. Since this activity is always tertiary appraisal, it is fundamentally an audit function. Audits result in forms of approval or disapproval: either permission to commence (in the case of new programs) or to continue, sometimes with conditions (a clean slate is the desired outcome for an institution).
When the Quality Council is not convinced of the quality of an institution’s recommendations, appraisals, and/or monitoring, then at the program level, the Quality Council has the authority to:
- Not approve the commencement of a new program, or to suspend admissions into an existing program
At the Institutional level, where there may be concerns on policies and practices that arise through an audit, the Quality Council has the authority to:
- Require a report on steps taken where the deficiencies are minimal
- If more serious, issue directives with a response within a short timeframe about steps to be taken, followed by a report on completion of those steps
- Where these measures are not satisfactory, provide or forward a report to the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents (OCAV) and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) and initiate rolling and/or accelerated audits of all institutional internal quality assurance processes
- Finally, if these measures fail, then decline to approve, or suspend enrolment in, particular programs where processes are deficient, and/or suspending the institution’s ability to create new programs