VPA stresses need for accountability

October 25, 2012
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VP, Academic Jon Driver cautioned participants at a Burnaby campus town hall meeting last month that universities risk losing public financial support if they don’t become more accountable to students and the broader community.

You don’t need to look beyond the media, Driver said, “to realize there has been a pretty continuous questioning of the role of universities in Canada over the last few years and particularly since the recession of 2008–09. There’s a lot of discussion about value for money.”

The situation is even more severe in the U.S. where “the development of the MOO Cs, massive open online content courses, has sparked a lot of debate about the value of universities in a time period when (major universities) are willing to give away their programs for free.”

SFU is responding to the threat, he said, with a twopronged campaign to achieve greater accountability: a peer-review of the entire institution through accreditation with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), and a universitywide learning outcomes and assessment program.

Peer review is already well established in all areas of academia, Driver said, and accreditation with the NWCCU will ensure that SFU conforms to widely accepted best practices at an institutional level.

“The process is driven by the member institutions of the NWCCU, the standards are driven by the member institutions, and the people who conduct the reviews are people who work at universities and colleges,” he stressed. “It’s not a governmental process.”

He added, accreditation provides assurance to students, alumni and the broader community “that our practices are externally reviewed.”

As for defining and assessing learning outcomes, Driver noted the practice is widespread in many countries and is being introduced in Ontario universities as one way of being accountable to students. It is also a required standard for NWCCU accreditation.

“We don’t see assessment as being significantly different than what we’re already doing. We do it through external reviews; we do it through teaching and course evaluations,” he said.

“The important thing to remember is that the learning outcomes process is really student oriented. What we’re really interested in is whether our students are succeeding in what we want them to do at the university.”

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