To seem comments on proposed processes for assessing whether masters programmes meet the criteria for taking a pluralist approach to teaching economics and ensuring ongoing compliance and collective learning.
In general university department programmes are not accredited but do have to be approved by internal university processes, which take some time and are often very bureaucratic and slow. Business schools are though widely subject to accreditation systems, but not in terms of pluralism.
Accreditation systems, like all types of regulatory systems, face the risk of becoming expensive, bureaucratic, box ticking exercises that are resented by participants as a necessary evil from an external ignorant and misguided (at best) organisation. And that is when organisations see a need to participate or have no choice. If the need is not clear, organisations are also likely to avoid them altogether.
So we need to balance the need for assessment and compliance exercises to give credibility to the accreditation, while maintaining the spirit of a collaborating community in a shared and challenging endeavour.
Ultimately quality control of programmes is down to their universities and those relying on the accreditation system are likely to see it in that context ie their view of the overall quality of the university.
Question 1 How accurate do you think this context is? Are there other elements of context too?
Given our objectives and the above context, I suggest the following principles:
- The assessment should be very much a peer to peer process so there is no perception or reality of an external and ill-informed organisation completing the assessment;
- Requirements for evidence should be relatively open requesting the applicants to provide their own easily accessible evidence as to how they believe they meet the criteria as well as suggestions as to what evidence we might expect;
- If the peer review process suggests that an application has failed against any criteria, the first step should be to go back to the applicant with practical and constructive proposals from peers as to how they might revise the programme to meet the criteria.
- Compliance should be ensured mainly by empowering departments to self-monitor and continually improve, and students to challenge their departments if they feel the teaching is not meeting the criteria.
- Centrally organised compliance should be through peer review ideally linked with academics visiting departments as part of their normal activities.
- Assessment and compliance activities should be set within a larger process of sharing knowledge between peers on pedagogical learning and innovation facilitated by PEP.
- The default assumption will be that any applicant is seeking to meet the criteria because they support economic pluralism and believe their course meets the critieria. Only if evidence exists to the contrary will the applicant be considered a risk and more in-depth investigation carried out with ongoing monitoring if appropriate.
Question 2 Do you agree with these principles? Are any missing?
Proposed assessment process
Applicants will be expected to complete a questionnaire on how they consider that they meet the criteria we have established and provide supporting official documentation. Such documentation would be expected to include:
- Responsible person for the accredited course
- The programme plan including details of required and optional units;
- Departmental policies, professional development and recruitment strategies;
- Examples of teaching plans and recommended reading lists;
- Details of lectures on the course the qualifications and experience that ensure a pluralist approach; and
- Details of and examples of their assessment processes.
This application will be checked for completeness particularly in terms of providing reasonably complete evidence against all the criteria. The application will then be allocated to three peer reviewers.
Question 3 Are these types of evidence reasonable? Should we be expecting any others?
We will set up an online meeting with the applicants and peer reviewers to fully understand the masters programme and how it seeks include economics teaching from a pluralist perspective.
Question 4 Will this be adequate to make an assessment of the programme?
The peer reviewers will provide a standard report on the application based on the evidence and online meeting including constructive suggestions for improvement. This will include a recommendation to a final assessment board on whether the programme should be accredited. [More proposals to come on the governance system here.]
Heads of departments hosting accredited programmes should be primarily responsible for ensuring the programmes continue to meet the accreditation criteria. We would look to them to
- Provide an annual compliance report, to include changes made to the curriculum, staffing or teaching methods, student projects/dissertations undertaken, complaints received and how they have dealt with them, etc; and
- Ensure their students are aware of the accreditation system and our criteria.
We would organise a peer review of the programme every x years which could be brought forward if say issues are raised, the responsible person or other key staff change.
We would also have a facility for students on the programme to raise complaints anonymously if they do not consider their programme is meeting the criteria. However we would encourage them first to raise the issues with their department. Complaints would trigger a peer review. We would work with Rethinking Economics and other student groups to ensure students were aware of the complaint’s procedures.
Question 5 What do you think of this approach? Any other compliance procedures we might consider?
Ongoing collective learning and development
We would set up a collective learning and development process which all academics responsible for accredited masters programmes would be expected to be part of. Others would be welcome to join it too. This could be some combination of online discussions. webinars and conferences.
Question 6 How do you think this could best work? Can you suggest models we could learn from? Would a mechanism to share teaching material be useful? How might it work?
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