Implementation of new ESG into national guidelines for re-accreditation

In order to implement new ESG 2015 instead of ESG 2008, Croatian Agency for Science and Higher Education will use new re-accreditation process to introduce new ESG criterions. They introduced flexibility in quality assurance approach through number of activities, some of which are as follows: Firstly, Agency used ESG 2015 as blueprint for design of national re-accreditation guidelines emphasising that way all important areas provided by ESG, including new student centred learning approach which improves flexibility by design. Secondly, they proposed new national re-accreditation guidelines and criterions to wider public and Higher educational institutions (HEIs) in formal consultation process (available on Ministries web page and through workshops), promoting stakeholder involvement in policy development. Thirdly, they promoted and explained proposed new criterions and guidelines to Rector conference and Council of Universities of Applied Sciences in separate meetings in order to collect all the comments and foster latter involvement in formal public debate. Finally, they organised conference for all HEIs in order to present new ESG ideas and national guidelines and criterions and involved some of the best institutions to promote their best practices examples of ESG 2015 implementation.

Stated approach which involved numerous stakeholders and respected their legitimate inputs and interests in shaping national standards and guidelines is positive example of flexibility in policy development, perceived by HEIs. Furthermore, with strong emphases on use of national qualifications framework within stated guidelines and criterions, flexibility and responsiveness to regional learning needs is strongly promoted.


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Impact

What was the challenge intended to be addressed? Why? What did work well? What did not work well? What have been the main achievements? How did you evaluate its success? What has been the change brought by this good practice?

The challenge was to implement new set of international standards in quality assurance and to link these to the new re-accreditation cycle which lasts for five years. Since Croatia started with its re-accreditation process using national and ESG criterions only one cycle ago, introducing new set of criterions was harder then in some other countries with longer quality assurance practices in their higher education. On the other hand, stated activity impacts all HEIs, their students and staff and is in a way high risk / high impact process where as many institutions should get on board and support changed approach to quality assurance. In order to increase chance of good acceptance and thus impact, Agency introduced pilot QA audits / re-accreditations of ten volunteering institutions 3+7 to showcase new approach. At the end, involved institutions shared their experiences with other HEIs, showing that process is fair and useful.

Success Factors

What are the enabling conditions (e.g. institutional, economic, social/cultural, regulatory) that needed to be in place or played a facilitating role for the good practice to be successful?

Key success factors in this process was wide and constant involvement of HEIs, being mostly impacted by the changed process, but also presenting and communicating benefits of new approach to wider public (i.e. Employer organisations, trade unions...). One of the key elements being brought by new criterions is better focus on knowledge "behind" indicated learning outcomes. Thus, this project aligned PHE and HE in general with one of the most significant development focus of the society, namely: how to make HE graduates more employable and prepared to the labour market. Part of this policy agenda will be achieved with stronger focus on examinations and achievement of learning outcomes by the students, while other part of the agenda will be achieved by use of national qualification framework approach in development of occupational standards, qualification standards and finally study programs and their intending learning outcomes.

Constraints

What are the challenges, barriers or limiting factors encountered? How have they been addressed?

Constraints were typical inertia in higher educational systems and institutions as well as need to get early acceptance of the new approach by key national stakeholders. Although it originated mostly from "outside", following ESG 2015, still it opened numerous discussions and was not "automatically" accepted. Instead, Agency had to use gradual approach described in this good practice case to achieve sense of ownership to the process with all stakeholders and in particular HEIs.

Feasibility & Sustainability

What are the elements that need to be put into place for the good practice to be sustainable (institutionally, socially, economically, etc.)? If applicable, indicate the total costs incurred for the implementation of the practice. What are the benefits compared to total costs?

This process was not a part of some one time project but instead approach to policy and context change organised and implemented by national regulator. In this sense, this process will have almost inherent feasibility and sustainability because it will lead to new re-accreditation guidelines and procedures which will be used to accredit all HEIs in years to come. Furthermore, it will become norm for the procedure that is main task of the national agency being funded for that task from the national budget. If benefits to total costs are to be evaluated, it could be easily concluded that with no significant additional costs linked to each re-accreditation process being organised in HEI, better overall results will be achieved due to new set of criterions and output based focus that was introduced by the project / process.

Replicability & Upscaling

What are the possibilities of extending the good practice more widely? What are the conditions that need to be in place for the good practice to be successfully replicated in a similar context? What are the steps that should be taken/respected to ensure that the good practice is replicated / up-scaled, but adapted to the new context?

Process was initially scaled up to cover national higher educational system, and could be perceived as upscalling of EU based policy development. Still, some of the approaches will have positive spill-over effect also to secondary VET system, hit by the similar employability problem and lack of AQ approach to learning outcomes. Although PHE and VET are not linked directly, some of the good practices from PHE are, with adjustments, applicable also to secondary VET.

Lessons learned

What would have facilitated an earlier and/or bigger impact? What are the key features that should be kept in mind if this would have to be implemented again? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? What could have been done better?

Sustainability and sense of ownership is significantly increased if regulatory documents are developed with strong stakeholder participation. Unsuccessful implementation of Bologna reform back in 2005-2006, when strong push from the Ministry resulted in changed form (3+2 year programs) but without any significant change in the content (still no employability after 3 year Bachelor programs within academic Universities and progression of app. 90% of university Bachelors to Master level), called for different approach now. In order to implement better alignment of programs with real learning needs within the society, national qualifications framework is slowly introduced and reinforced by national implementation of ESG 2015.

Context

Please provide some information about the context and initial situation that can help in fully understanding the action (e.g. information about the national system, applying regulations, etc.)

New ESG 2015 was introduced to Croatian higher educational system as a result of slow and complex process which involved numerous stakeholders. This approach was selected in order to get wider acceptance and sense of ownership of both HEIs and other relevant stakeholders on the labour market, in order to foster results and fight HEIs traditional inertia. Process and change in QA guidelines originated from EU (ESG 2015 was introduced), but was significantly designed to also positively influence some of other Croatian educational / labour market problems. Being designed and implemented in this way, process was certainly example of good practice in Alignment of PHE with Regional Development Strategies.