Scholarly Quality: Australia's Monash University Joins the Quality League. (Passport)

Article excerpt

Until recently, Australia was one of few countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development without a national quality assurance system to monitor the quality of its higher-education activities. That changed in March 2000, when the government formed the Australian Universities Quality Agency. The purpose of AUQA is to conduct periodic audits of the quality assurance procedures at Australian universities and state accrediting agencies.

Australian universities, like those the world over, have experienced extensive change over the past decade. An explosion in student numbers, more diverse student demands, funding cuts, weighty impact of information technology, increased competition, and growing presence of the commercial world in many facets of higher education have created unprecedented pressures on universities.

Change, a fact of life in most areas of the public and private sectors, is a new and highly challenging phenomenon for people working in universities. Academia has been slow to change, and a constant struggle rages to maintain quality programs and services. It's fair to say that not all people working in universities welcomed the news that they would be audited for quality.

Monash University, whose main campus is located in Melbourne, Australia, decided to take a proactive role in developing its approach to quality. Though relatively small in comparison to many American universities, Monash is the largest and most diverse university in Australia. It has a staff and student population that totals more than 60,000 people; 10 departments (several of them larger than that of other Australian universities); eight campuses (two overseas); and many joint-venture domestic and international partnerships. Monash is a member of the Australian Group of Eight universities, which represent the older, more established Australian universities. All focus strongly on research.

In late 2000, Monash established the Centre for Higher Education Quality, with a mission to "lead and support the development of quality assurance and improvement in all areas of Monash University's operations." Quality advisors were appointed by the new director of CHEQ to represent the key activities of academic programs, research, and support services--such as Staff and Student Services, Information Technology Services, and Financial Resources Management.

The creation of a quality advisor for support services is unusual in a sector in which quality is traditionally seen as the business of high-profile academic programs and research areas. The rationale behind creating that position was that the quality of academic programs and services increasingly relied on the quality of their internal support services.

Most of the professional staff in CHEQ--five in all--have organizational staff development backgrounds. Their primary task: to help put quality systems in place and nurture a commitment to quality assurance and improvement. CHEQ developed a quality policy to serve as a sound theoretical basis for action. A set of quality values and principles was adopted as university policy, with the "quality cycle" as its centerpiece.

The quality cycle draws from the quality management movement (which provides structures and processes for continuous organizational improvement) and the action research and learning cycle (which similarly emphasizes the importance of having organizational processes to facilitate observation, reflection, and learning) to focus on planning, acting, evaluating (monitoring and reviewing), and improving.

The plan

Alignment of faculty and support services operational plans with the Monash vision and strategic plan, "Leading the Way, Monash 2020, "and other institutional operational and functional plans is ongoing, with faculty and support services developing their own plans to articulate the way they'll assist Monash in achieving its overall strategic direction-- enabled by the identification of performance indicators to measure progress towards key objectives. …