Accreditation will have world thinking of SFU

November 04, 2010

Jon Driver wants to make one thing crystal clear about SFU’s bid to receive institutional accreditation from the U.S.-based Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities:

“There’s a common misconception that working with an accreditation commission in the United States is going to impose American requirements on this university—and that’s not the case,” says SFU’s VP-Academic, who is sponsoring the initiative.

“The assessment process is designed to see, fi rstly, how well we are meeting the university’s own established mission and goals.

“And secondly, it’s designed to ensure that we have processes in place to meet a range of standards that are widely accepted as appropriate to universities. This, for example, would include a governance system in which there is appropriate participation by different groups on campus. It would include academic freedom. It would include the assessment of teaching activity, and so on.

“We’re going to be measuring ourselves against a set of best practices as part of a process for evaluating the overall quality of the university. But we decide on the core purposes and goals of our university, and we will use the accreditation process to see how well we are performing.”

Driver notes that the university went through a consultation process more than ten years ago that resulted in a statement of values and commitments.

“More recently,” he adds, “we’ve also been through two very important planning processes, one for the academic plan and another for the research plan, which have resulted in some fairly clear statements about where we’re headed.

“In addition, the board of governors requires the president, on an annual basis, to set out his agenda for the university.

“So we’ve been able to develop a planning framework from the university’s overall mission, values and commitments, the president’s agenda and the two major pieces of recent planning.”

Being accredited will improve processes and simplify relationships with U.S. bodies, says Driver. Accreditation may also attract American students, as well as other international students seeking a North American education.

“A benefi t to our students and alumni would be the recognition of SFU qualifi cations as being equivalent to U.S. accredited institutions should they seek employment in the U.S.”

Driver says most SFU community members won’t be directly affected by accreditation because the assessment process measures the entire institution rather than individual faculties, programs or departments.

But he says one area where many people will see a fairly direct impact is in the standards the NWCCU includes for measuring the outcomes of our academic programs, “which SFU doesn’t do consistently,” says Driver.

“It’s possible we’ll see greater attention being paid to what each program expects of its students once they’ve completed their program, such as demonstrated understanding of their discipline’s key concepts and methods.

“Or we could be looking for evidence of more skills-based outcomes, such as a student’s capacity for critical thinking and writing, or solving certain kinds of problems.”

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