Evaluation of the first system-wide analysis

This analysis was the first in the series scheduled for the period 2020-2026. Therefore, we regard it as a pilot for the years ahead and based on our experience, we are making some suggestions for the future. Furthermore, we are evaluating several elements from the NVAO Assessment Framework for System-wide Analyses.

Organisation and process

The first system-wide analysis was conducted in a unique year, dominated by the many restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the process commenced at a later date than foreseen. This led to considerable pressure of time and to tight timing, which had, e.g., the agreements regarding a proper process-based approach and the supply and exchange of substantive input run parallel to one another. In the start-up phase of such exercises, it takes time to get to know each other, to coordinate methodologies, and to find a modus operandi. Cf. the paragraph on “Tasks and roles”.

Nonetheless, the group was able to present a fine result, and even online working turned out to be feasible. However, physical meetings can offer more possibilities, especially in terms of peer-to-peer events. Based on the evaluation of the process, it would be good for a subsequent system-wide analysis to provide more room, in the period preceding the peer-to-peer event, for meetings and mutual exchange among the participating higher education establishments regarding the cases and the theme. The colleagues who submitted the good practices cases based on their experience clearly expressed such a need. It had inspired them and encouraged them to take part. Now, contacts were ultimately limited to an exchange in a preparatory sub-group and half an hour per case at the peer-to-peer event.

Substantive approach

With respect to the key question that has been formulated, in the initial phase it was already established that shifting the focus from working on the basis of a research question to a focus on the exchange of good practices on the basis of the key question would align more with the set-up and the process of the ongoing analysis. The first step involved the presentation of literature and sources by the participating higher education establishments and a survey of existing good practices. This constituted the basis for the analysis: what good practices are there, what challenges does this theme pose, what tips for the future or for others (who want to take this up) can we identify, et cetera. Although this has generated interesting insights, some of the participants regarded the fact that we could not pursue this any further as a missed opportunity. A more thorough literature search or additional research activities – such as obtaining information from the professional field – may have produced additional insights. However, this was not possible within the set-up of the system-wide analysis and within the time available.

The tight timing and the pressure of time have also kept us from regularly stepping back and paying explicit attention to the expectations set out in the framework. That we have nonetheless done a thorough job is demonstrated by the fact that we have managed to meet all the expectations in this final report. All the same, the definition of general lines, the identification or estimation of trends and evolutions is a component that should be accommodated separately in the process. Interim explicit referrals to the framework, in order to keep the right focus, will foster this.

A tangible result of this system-wide analysis is that the many consultations on the content of the good practices, on the process, and on the approach to this system-wide analysis have already resulted in an expansion of each partner’s network or have deepened existing contacts among the higher education establishments and between the institutions and NVAO and/or international partners. This in itself is highly conducive to future collaboration projects, within or beyond the context of a system-wide analysis.

Tasks and roles

The collaboration between the participating higher education establishments and NVAO proceeded in an open and constructive dialogue, which is obviously essential to a good result. In each phase of the process, the partners collectively sought a good approach. Initially, the roles of NVAO and the participating institutions were not clear. A consideration for the future is that the facilitating role of NVAO is an added value. The NVAO support staff continuously moderated, bridging gaps and facilitating collaboration in an atmosphere of trust. Furthermore, due attention was paid mutually to the workload for both NVAO and the institutions. The partners acknowledged the quest for balance between the input provided by the institutions and the necessary direction by NVAO, which helped greatly to find such a balance. For the future, we recommend that the division of roles between NVAO and the participating higher education establishments should be set down in even more explicit terms, on the basis of the framework and the experience gained through this analysis. Along with the estimated scope of the expected engagement of the institution, this will clarify the mutual expectations. Such guidelines will also be of use to institutions when deciding whether or not to participate.

Involvement of partners

We have reviewed this analysis with several partners: NVAO staff, staff from UAS services and programmes, and external (international) peers. Representatives of student bodies have not been involved. Perhaps this can be considered as an option for the future, in order to have the key question substantiated from a student perspective as well. However, students have been involved in setting down the calendar of topics to be covered in the annual system-wide analyses up to 2025-2026. The public announcement event also offers an opportunity to actively involve student representatives.

The professional field has not been involved in the review either. Nonetheless, the professional field is an important stakeholder in higher education. Especially in relation to the theme of Co-creation with the professional field, its involvement would have provided added value. The group did harbour the ambition of involving the professional field and concrete ideas were voiced to substantiate this. However, the limited room within the time frame also proved an obstacle in this respect, eventually forcing us to give up this ambition.

Peer-to-peer event

An important component of the system-wide analysis is the peer-to-peer event. This also constitutes a milestone in the process, as organising the event requires the availability of sufficient quality material. The participants perceived the peer-to-peer event as extremely valuable. It has generated several lessons to be learned, which can optimise its added value.

The input of the international peers is highly valuable: they reviewed the cases submitted from a distance and from an international perspective. Requesting feedback from two peers for each case often ensured balanced feedback featuring supplementary insights. It would be advisable to allow more time for a sufficient consideration of the peer feedback.

As the peer-to-peer event demands a great deal of effort from all those involved, yet provides substantial added value, it is important to allocate sufficient resources to this event.

  • The framework provides for a minimum of two international peers at the event. We have found that two would not suffice for this theme, especially with a view to placing the theme in a broader international perspective. The input of international peers is highly valuable.
  • The peer-to-peer event must allow sufficient room for individual discussions. For the future, it appears to be important to explicitly plan time for drawing conclusions from the peer feedback.
  • Participation in the peer-to-peer event is restricted to a maximum of three staff per higher education establishment. This does not suffice, especially for institutions submitting several good practices. Furthermore, we have found that in several discussion groups, the number of participants was too small to warrant a discussion from various perspectives and based on a variety of experience.
  • A combination of online and physical discussions will enable working with multiple external parties (also in terms of finances).

The selection of peers largely determines the extent to which their feedback generates new and relevant insights. Consequently, the peer selection process also requires due attention (and time). If need be, the option of recruiting peers from national networks can be considered, as knowledge of certain practices can be conducive to a more in-depth analysis. In addition, it would have been interesting if we could have drawn more on the international NVAO network, alongside our own international contacts, to recruit peers.

End product

The organisation framework states that system-wide analyses provide insight into the state of affairs regarding a certain aspect of educational policy, which is disseminated to the higher education community. This overview report presents a sample sheet of existing, appropriately diverse good practices in the area of co-creation with the professional field. The good practices are inherently limited in scope and result, based on the experience of the participating higher education establishments. The participants only comprised universities of applied sciences; some academic programmes of Antwerp Maritime Academy and LUCA School of Arts were also involved.

The web-based format of this overview report features links to specific information or examples. This form of publication is accessible to and holds appeal for a wide target group.

Odisee University of Applied Sciences