Quality of education

At VU Amsterdam, the approved policy on education and the quality assurance of teaching and learning has been included in the Manual for Quality Assurance of Teaching and Learning. This Quality Manual sets out the frameworks within which programmes and faculties implement their policy on education. All relevant quality topics are discussed in the Quality Manual.

How does the Quality Manual come about?
The Quality Manual follows the policy adopted by the Executive Board at the level of the institution. That policy is established in close consultation with the faculties and the participation of the Joint Assembly. It goes without saying that, where applicable, the Joint Assembly’s advice or permission is sought. The Quality Manual is edited by the Department of Educational Policy, Quality Assurance and Process Management within Student & Educational Affairs, while the Quality of Education Steering Group makes recommendations regarding its content. The Quality Manual serves as a guide for faculties when drafting and executing their own quality assurance of teaching and learning.

What information does the Quality Manual contain?
The Quality Manual addresses various topics, such as educational organization, internationalization, teaching evaluations, curriculum, work placement and thesis, lecturers’ professionalization, student counselling, and examinations and assessment. Each chapter contains a description of the topic dealt with in that chapter, followed by the quality requirements and recommendations as worded by VU Amsterdam with regard to that topic.

Where can I consult the Quality Manual?
Internally, the Quality Manual is easily accessible by students and teaching staff in both Dutch and English through the Digital Teaching Dossier and VUnet. The Quality Manual is a dynamic document in the sense that it is continually renewed in line with the most up-to-date policy. 

Manual for Quality Assurance of Teaching and Learning

When is reporting required?

The cycle at the level of the degree programme
Education is provided within the degree programmes. Over the course of the internal annual cycle, programmes report on this education provision and the results and make plans for improvement. The Faculty Board approves the plans and supervises their implementation. As part of the external six-year cycle, degree programmes are accredited once every six years on the basis of a decision by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) following an external inspection. Since 2014, it has been standard procedure for an internal midterm review to be conducted halfway through this external cycle to determine the state of affairs since the previous inspection and to assess the quality of the graduation assignments.

The cycle at the level of the faculty and service departments
The focus placed on education by the Faculty Boards and the Directors of Services is primarily intended to create the preconditions for good education. Over the course of the internal annual cycle, faculties report on the implementation of their educational tasks and make plans to improve these tasks. The Executive Board approves the plans and is responsible for supervision.
Alongside the annual cycle, an internal assessment of the quality assurance of teaching and learning has been conducted once every three years since 2014. Over the course of this internal three-year cycle, two internal assessments take place between the recurring, six-yearly external institutional assessments. The internal three-year cycle takes the form of an audit at the faculty and service department level.

The cycle at the institutional level
During the internal annual cycle, the Executive Board directs education policy at the institutional level (as laid down in the Quality Manual) on the basis of the Strategic Plan and the associated implementation plan; it also reports on management activities and makes plans to improve these activities. The Supervisory Board approves the plans and is responsible for supervision. The institution’s quality assurance is assessed during the external six-year cycle at the level of the institution. The institution as a whole is re-accredited on the basis of a decision by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders, following an inspection conducted by an external audit committee.

Which instruments are used?
VU Amsterdam uses three instruments in the internal quality assurance cycle at the programme level.

Midterm review
For each VU degree programme a midterm review is conducted halfway through the accreditation period, aimed at improving the quality of the programmes. By means of peer review the current situation in the degree programme is examined and it is determined what improvements, if any, could be made. The midterm review is also part of VU Amsterdam’s internal quality assurance system and demonstrates the extent to which the Executive Board manages the quality of education that the university provides.
The midterm review forms a standard part of the six-year accreditation cycle that applies to degree programmes. Safeguards are in place within this cycle to ensure that investment in the quality of the programme is an ongoing endeavour and not a short-lived effort in the lead-up to accreditation. The midterm review enables any issues which there may be in the degree programmes to be identified early, reducing the potential for unexpected points of criticism when the formal external quality inspection is carried out.

Self-evaluation report consultancy group
The quality of a self-evaluation report is an integral part of a successful inspection. That is why, before the self-evaluation is finalized, the programme receives advice about potential areas for improvement. This advice is provided by a group of readers under central coordination. VU Amsterdam has opted for ‘peer assessment’ by this ‘self-evaluation report consultancy group’ to ensure that participants can take full advantage of – and learn from – each other’s expertise.
Assessment of the self-evaluation report by the consultancy group has a dual purpose. Firstly, improvements can be made through peer learning and by sharing expertise while reading, commenting on and discussing the self-evaluation report. Secondly, the programme is supported by sound recommendations from a variety of perspectives from outside the programme/faculty in question. The product of the session is a set of recommendations on ways to improve the final version of the self-evaluation report.

Mock inspection

The main objective of holding a mock inspection is to prepare well for a real inspection. During the mock inspection, a mock inspection panel queries all delegations with a role in the real inspection. This provides a good opportunity to practise this together and to devise and test concrete, appealing examples. The mock inspection panel generally consists of three colleagues who are not involved in the degree programme but who do have experience with the accreditation process. Examples are Directors of Education or Programme Directors who have themselves just had an inspection or will soon have one. Thus the mock inspection offers a secondary objective – an opportunity for programmes to learn from one another. Members of the mock inspection panel first read the programme’s self-evaluation report and subsequently question the delegations about certain notable aspects of the report or about matters that were addressed in previous inspections. The delegations learn from the experiences of previous inspections while the panel members get to know the structure, approach and examples of another degree programme.

How are risks identified?
VU Amsterdam’s policy on quality of education explicitly addresses risk management related to the quality of education. As such, risk management and risk detection are an intrinsic part of the integrated approach to quality of education.
The risk detection process aims to safeguard the quality of education. Integrating this into the quality assurance system gives risk detection an intrinsic place in the planning and control cycle at the programme, faculty and institutional levels.

Memorandum on Risk Management in Education
The memorandum on Risk Management in Education explains how VU Amsterdam organizes risk detection in education, explicitly stating that everyone involved in education is personally responsible for detecting and managing risks. The only truly effective way to avoid unacceptable risks is through positive cooperation between all relevant parties. This shared involvement is also clear from the decision to make this memorandum a ‘living document’ that will be updated regularly on the basis of experiences related to risk management in education and within the programmes.

Teaching evaluation is the systematic collection of information with the aim of gaining insight into the current quality of the education provided and into ways of raising that quality. The primary objective of teaching evaluation is to make improvements to teaching and learning. In the first instance, this relates to the course or curriculum being evaluated, particularly using the qualitative feedback and suggestions for improvement yielded by the evaluation. Secondly, teaching evaluations can be used to monitor how trends develop with regard to courses within a programme. Quantitative assessments from the evaluation in particular help to achieve this aim.

Student evaluations

  • Electronic evaluations
    Electronic student evaluations are conducted via VUnet using VU-wide questionnaires; lecturers can use VUnet Teaching Evaluations to customize their questionnaires. Students complete electronic evaluation forms on VUnet. VUnet gives both lecturers and students access to the results of the evaluations, and lecturers can respond to students. VUnet teaching evaluations are available to evaluate courses and the curriculum as well as work placements and theses.
  • Qualitative evaluations
    VU Amsterdam has extensive experience with the evaluation of teaching by means of the standard student evaluation questionnaires. However, quantitative, standardized evaluation questionnaires can offer only limited suggestions for concrete actions that lecturers and programmes can take to improve the education they provide. For that reason, VU Amsterdam also encourages the use of additional, qualitative evaluation methods alongside the online student evaluations, such as panel discussions, cohort representation or interim evaluations through various online tools.
    These methods make it possible to ask relevant questions geared towards specific educational components (e.g. the effect of a new teaching method or form of assessment), to ask more far-reaching questions about the background of a person’s experiences and views, and to catalogue opportunities for improvement together with the discussion partners. In addition, these methods can be used during the teaching period: the results can be used while the course is ongoing to make adjustments where necessary, to provide extra support with regard to elements that have turned out to pose difficulties, or to explain more effectively why a particular approach has been taken. A positive side effect of regular discussions and peer review is that they can contribute to the cohesion, the learning and working climate, and the culture of quality within the degree programme.
  • National Student Survey
    The outcome of the National Student Survey is one of the means through which VU Amsterdam weighs students’ opinions when taking educational policy decisions. The National Student Survey is a comprehensive questionnaire regarding educational aspects at the programme level, conducted by Studiekeuze123 at universities and universities of applied science in the Netherlands. This survey makes it possible to compare and rank contributing institutions. The outcome is published annually. The National Student Survey includes questions about aspects such as general satisfaction, course content, general and academic skills, guidance and supervision, lecturers, assessment, study load, study facilities, and the provision of information.

Peer evaluations
Lecturers’ didactic expertise affords them a unique perspective on the quality and the level of the education. This means that fellow lecturers are well placed to offer suggestions to help their colleagues improve their teaching. They can do this in several ways, for example by reviewing and commenting on each other’s teaching materials, course descriptions, and assessments. Lecturers may also attend a lecture in order to provide feedback. Peer review is one of the pillars of the VU Assessment Framework for safeguarding quality in assessment. Fellow lecturers take on the role of sparring partners to continually improve the method and content of assessments and to supplement the reflections of the lecturer receiving the feedback.

Alumni feedback provides both valuable input for better information about degree programmes and concrete suggestions for potential adjustments to the education provided. Alumni are asked to what extent the programme meets the needs of the professional field. In addition to questions about professional competencies, alumni are asked about our students’ academic development. Coordinating aspects such as programmes’ final attainment levels and the requirements of the professional field ensures that graduates are sufficiently prepared to enter the job market.

Professional field advisory boards
Alumni from the professional field make up programmes’ professional field advisory boards. Professional field advisory boards take on an advisory role in safeguarding the quality of programmes and the degree to which these prepare students to meet the needs of the job market. Bringing the professional field into contact with the people who shape the education that students receive produces a useful outline of the developments in the various sectors of the field. This gives faculties an understanding of the wishes and potential requirements of the various professional fields as they relate to recent graduates. In turn, programmes can take these insights into account when designing their curricula.

Alumni surveys
Surveys held among alumni provide an understanding of career development, the degree to which students are prepared for the job market, and the academic development provided by VU Amsterdam. These surveys also offer information on the degree of alignment between a programme’s final attainment levels and the requirements set by the professional field.

National Alumni Survey
This nationwide, bi-annual instrument surveys recent Master’s graduates and promotes a better understanding of how graduates enter the job market and how their programmes help them do this.

VU Amsterdam Alumni Monitor
In addition to this survey, it is helpful to gain insight into the course of a person’s career and its relationship to the programme that he or she completed, and to discover how many of our alumni are academics who act in the way promoted by the vision for education. The VU Amsterdam Alumni Monitor has been developed to provide faculties with insights into graduates’ career patterns.

Every degree programme or group of degree programmes at VU Amsterdam has a Programme Committee. The Programme Committee is made up of both students and staff, who jointly provide solicited and unsolicited advice on all matters concerning teaching within the programme, such as the curriculum, quality assurance, student guidance, and the Academic and Examination Regulations.
Programme Committees are participatory bodies with right of approval on specific components of the Academic and Examination Regulations.
Programme Committees are valuable because they enable students and lecturers to consult one another in a relatively informal setting about the areas in which degree programmes could improve and because they are able to communicate directly with the students and lecturers of a programme.

VU Amsterdam has a Programme Committees Guide regarding the establishment and operation of Programme Committees (in Dutch, VUnet, login required).

The Examination Board has a crucial and statutory responsibility in programmes’ quality assurance. The Examination Board has a duty to assess the quality of programmes at the level of the individual student and to safeguard the quality of examinations.
VU Amsterdam has an Examination Boards Guide (in Dutch, VUnet, login required), regarding the establishment and operation of Examination Boards. The chairpersons of the Examination Boards consult across VU Amsterdam to align their working methods and to arrive at VU-wide agreements.

The University Teaching Qualification (UTQ) is a minimum requirement for all academic teaching staff job levels and has been a condition for permanent employment since 2010. In addition to basic didactic skills and multicultural competencies, the UTQ covers VU Amsterdam’s Educational Vision and lecturers’ personal reflection on their academic conduct.

In addition, VU Amsterdam offers a course towards a Senior Teaching Qualification (STQ) as a continuation of the UTQ. The objective of the STQ programme is to empower senior lecturers and potential senior lecturers in the various roles they perform in teaching, thereby reinforcing the quality of teaching.

Educational Leadership Course (ELC)
VU Amsterdam has organized the internal Educational Leadership Course (ELC) since 2016. The objective of this course is to substantively improve and shape educational leadership at the strategic level.

English proficiency is a basic precondition for lecturers who teach in English. The English-language skills of all lecturers who teach in English are assessed. If a lecturer does not achieve the score required, they will undergo further training.

A connection between teaching and research characterizes the academic world. VU Amsterdam connects research and teaching not only in the curriculum, but also explicitly in its policy on academic career paths. All academics, including academics whose career is primarily focused on teaching, must have a foundation in research and seek to maintain this throughout their career. Likewise, it is impossible to have an academic career without demonstrable experience of, and proof of proficiency in, teaching.
That is not to say, however, that an individual staff member’s achievements in teaching and research should be equal at all times. Achievements in teaching and research may vary in proportion to one another, and it is possible for performance in one area to compensate for the other.

In 2015, VU Amsterdam adopted the Teaching Performance Framework, making it one of the first universities to improve the balance between teaching and research in academic careers. This framework has since been incorporated in VU Amsterdam’s tenure track policy, and a growing number of faculties have included it in their appointment and promotion policies. This contributes to the following:

  • increased recognition and visibility of teaching and teaching performance in an academic career
  • improvement of support for the professional development of researchers in the domain of teaching
  • a boost to the career prospects of researchers who have devoted their career to ensuring quality and innovation in teaching, up to the highest levels of the organization.
VU Amsterdam offers researchers the opportunity to pursue a career up to the level of full professor if they demonstrate a particular commitment to teaching. In that case they must demonstrate excellence or play a leading role in teaching within the job profile of a full professor. In doing so, the University recognizes key positions in teaching up to the highest academic level within the organization. VU Amsterdam has already appointed several professors with a teaching profile (in Dutch).