International peer review benchmarking for quality higher education
Released at the Australasian Association of Institutional Research Conference in Wellington in November, the report – International peer review benchmarking for quality higher education: Proof of concept 2015 summarises the results of a proof of concept exercise on international process benchmarking, hosted by Ako Aotearoa. The exercise culminated in a workshop in Wellington in July 2015 attended by Auckland University of Technology and Lincoln University from New Zealand, Australian participants - The University of Tasmania, Swinburne University of Technology and Victoria University, Melbourne, and from England, the Arts University Bournemouth and Birmingham City University.
The entire process and workshop were facilitated by Dr Sara Booth from the University of Tasmania and supported by the Office of Teaching and Learning, Australia, the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, Australia, the Academic Quality Agency for New Zealand Universities and the Higher Education Academy in the UK.
Organisational benchmarking can take many forms and can be driven by a range of agendas. Universities and other tertiary institutions often invest considerable time and resources into benchmarking processes designed for funding, accountability or reputational benefit. Generally these focus on data collection about inputs, outputs and, very occasionally, outcomes. They tend to be highly summative.
But the benchmarking trialled here is different. This is process benchmarking designed to foster self-assessment, evaluative conversations and quality improvement. It offers an opportunity for institutions to reflect on what they are doing in a structured way. In doing so, they can compare what they are doing and how they are thinking about an issue or objective for improvement with other institutions. Furthermore, undertaking an international exercise allows institutions to explore tacit national assumptions about ways of developing services for the benefit of learners. Often unpacking the different terms we use in similar contexts is one of the most valuable things we can do.
A big challenge for any exercise of this type is to balance the effort involved in doing the work with the potential value add. One of the attractions of this methodology is that it is not over-onerous to prepare and, as set out in this report, the potential gains are significant.
While the project focussed on universities and international peer review, the basic methodology is, we believe, entirely applicable to all tertiary providers and does not necessarily require international collaborators. What it does require is positive collaboration between institutions based on openness, collegiality and mutual trust.