Guidance on Site Visit Format for External Reviewers (Sections 2.2.1 and 5.2.1)

In May 2023, the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) was modified to make the option of virtual site visits available on a permanent basis for external reviews of proposed new programs and Cyclical Program Reviews.

While Section 2.2.1 of the QAF requires that external reviewers must be satisfied that an off-site mode of review is acceptable, universities may want to consider the following on a case-by-case basis as they determine the format they wish to propose for the review:

  1. An in-person site visit may be preferred if:
  • The review includes a tour of specialized university spaces/facilities (e.g., lab space);
  • The program to be reviewed is significantly struggling or its review has been significantly delayed. In such cases, an in-person review may be able to assess in more depth the context and circumstances leading to the program’s issues than a virtual visit can allow for;
  • It is felt that virtual logistical considerations are becoming overly onerous, or will lead to reviewers missing out on information that the university considers to be of special importance;
  • External reviewers reside in very disparate time zones and therefore scheduling virtual meetings may be challenging;
  • The university wishes to build in additional dedicated time for less formal conversations between reviewers, and/or university representatives.

2. A virtual site visit may be preferred if:

  • The university is experiencing difficulties in securing a wide enough pool of external reviewer candidates;
  • External reviewers have special scheduling considerations that make the contiguous 1 – 2 day in person site visit impractical/impossible;
  • The university wishes to include a broader selection of delegates in its meetings with external reviewers (e.g., students, faculty and/or employer groups) that may have conflicting schedules and thus not be able to participate in an in-person site visit;
  • Travel costs for external reviewers are particularly onerous to the department/institution;
  • The university is seeking to reduce its environmental footprint.

Note that hybrid reviews are also possible, if the external reviewers agree that a hybrid site visit is acceptable.

3. Desk Reviews:

  • The QAF definition of Desk Review was amended to allow for this type of review to replace the external reviewers’ in-person or virtual site visit in the New Program Approval process and Cyclical Program Review process for certain undergraduate and master’s program reviews, such as professional master’s programs, fully online, etc.
  • Note that the QAF definition of a Desk Review stipulates that this can only replace an in-person or virtual site visit under certain conditions.

4. Other considerations when deciding the format of a site visit:

  • If organizing a virtual site visit, it is important to keep in mind the time zones in which the external reviewers are situated, ensuring that equal participation by all reviewers is feasible;
  • Many universities find it helpful to arrange pre-meetings/orientation videoconferences between external reviewers ahead of a virtual site visit, in order to allow reviewers to get comfortable with each other, and/or ask any questions ahead of the review proper;
  • If held virtually, site visit meetings may have to be arranged over a longer period of time in order to obtain adequate input from university delegates, versus an in-person review, which tends to be more intensive and concentrated in length. These scheduling considerations are important to keep in mind when deciding which format (virtual, online, or desk review) is preferred
  • The decision to propose a site review in person or virtually ultimately rests with the Provost (or delegate) at the institution, and external reviewers must be satisfied that the virtual option is acceptable. It is important that each university chooses the method that it thinks will result in the strongest possible external reviewers’ report for each program under review.