The Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education is resuming expert group visits to universities next week. They will continue to verify the internal quality management of education at higher education institutions, which started before the holidays. By the summer, expert groups had already visited 17 universities. In the coming semester, 12 more are lined up.
Quality assurance verification in universities is carried out exclusively during the semester when the teaching process takes place. “We want the reviewers and the university to be able to have a direct discussion on the issues of quality of education and the students to be there. That is why evaluations are not carried out in universities over the summer holidays,” says Robert Redhammer, chair of the Agency’s Executive Board. “We follow the best international practices – the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area, the so-called ESG,” he adds.
According to the ESG, improving the quality of education is implemented by the policies, structures, and processes of the universities themselves. Now, universities have it entirely in their hands. The internal setup of universities is reviewed by external experts. It is usually organised by national agencies that help universities to improve their effectiveness.
The new standards have given each university room for improvement. Each university has created its own quality ‘gatekeeping’. Although the Agency does not comment on individual university evaluations, it already reports that some universities have made the most of this opportunity. “They have reorganised their study programmes offerings, they have changed their own functioning. Others have taken on the task purely administratively,” says Redhammer. The reviewers are monitoring the rules adopted by the universities and their compliance. They check day-to-day practice to see if they have put real and effective tools in place and if they have linked them into an efficient system. If they are not sufficient, the Agency imposes appropriate corrective measures.
Slovak universities are also struggling to retain their reputation in international competition for students. Although the educational results of many specific universities are often good, the public does not perceive this as much. “Our role is to help universities to ensure the quality of education and to improve. If they do this conscientiously, it will give them a lot of room to further improve their own image and that of the public. However, improving the quality of education internally alone will not improve their reputation compared to, for example, the Czech Republic. Therefore, I recommend that universities devote themselves to improving their own reputation management. I think reputation is more important than finance,” says Redhammer. “A good reputation has the power to attract more capable students and thus increase the budget and the chance of investment,” he adds.
In the Czech Republic, for example, it is not only the universities themselves that have been taking care of the reputation of universities for a long time. The government of the Czech Republic, through various ministry programmes, has also supported the “cooperation” of universities with world ranking agencies, or the direct foreign recruitment of selected universities to study in the Czech Republic. As a result of this long-term policy, the number of foreign students in the Czech Republic has been continuously increasing, and today there are more than 50,000 foreign students studying there. Although the number of Slovak university students in the Czech Republic has been slightly decreasing for the fourth year, with 20 920 they still make up the largest share of students from abroad.