RE-APPROVAL OF PARTNER INSTITUTIONS
Partner institutions are subject to a re-approval process normally in a quinquennial cycle in the year preceding the expiry of the Memorandum of Recognition. The aim of the process is to determine whether the University can continue to have broad confidence in the capacity of the partner institution to fulfil the requirements of the memorandum. The partner institution is asked to confirm its desire to continue the partnership beyond the period of recognition, by completion of the IA2 form.
A similar risk-based process to that for initial approval is adopted, but the partnership experience and any change in circumstances at the University or the partner institution are also considered. The level of scrutiny is commensurate with the complexity of the collaboration, the nature of the partner, its experience in delivering HE programmes, and evidence from annual monitoring exercises. The degree of risk to the University falls into one of three categories, ‘Low’, ‘Medium’ and ‘High’. Factors considered when determining the risk include:
- the partner’s alignment to the University’s strategic aims, objectives and core values;
- whether the academic, financial and legal status of the partner are still appropriate;
- actual recruitment to Ulster courses against the academic plan;
- how issues raised through Annual Course Review and other monitoring mechanisms have been addressed;
- outcomes from external reviews e.g. QAA, PSRBs;
- outcomes from other information available to the University.
Additional criteria considered during the re-approval process include:
- for Affiliate Colleges: evidence of effective use of the Programme Management System and the timely resolution of any issues identified;
- for recognised institutions offering validated courses: how issues raised through the Annual Course Review process have been addressed (i.e. quality and standards issues).
If the partner institution confirms that it wishes to continue the partnership, it submits the Institutional Re-approval Document (IRD) at least six months prior to the expiry of the current Memorandum of Recognition. The document is similar to the initial Institutional Document with the addition of a critical self-evaluation highlighting the strengths and benefit of the partnership and areas where it would be enhanced. Supplementary documentation may be requested (i.e. annual course review, library visit and Faculty Partnership Manager reports).
An initial scrutiny of the IRD, together with information sourced internally, is undertaken by Quality Enhancement, with a recommendation to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) regarding the level of risk identified.
Where the risk is deemed to be Low, a desk-based review is undertaken by Quality Enhancement, with a report to ASQEC. Central University Departments with relevant expertise are required to scrutinise information and provide a report on their findings. Where appropriate, Faculty Partnership Managers are asked to review and comment on relevant sections of the IRD.
For ‘Medium’ and ‘High’ risk categories an evaluation of the working of the partnership is undertaken by a Sub-Group comprising Faculty Partnership Managers and staff from Quality Enhancement. A form is completed and included in the evidence base for the re-approval process.
Where the initial assessment judges the continuation of the partnership to be ‘Medium’ risk, and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor concurs with this judgement, a visit is undertaken to the partner institution to discuss issues of concern with the senior management team. Examples of issues which normally warrant a finding of ‘medium’ risk include significant concerns raised through the annual course review process which have not been adequately addressed, low or no recruitment to approved programmes over a number of years, poor student performance and/or low student satisfaction levels, a high level of student appeals/complaints, and inadequate levels of engagement between staff in the University and at the partner institution.
A group of staff (approved by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor) meets with staff at the appropriate level within the partner institution to discuss the areas of concern. As necessary the group meets with students or other representatives. Where concerns relate to resources of facilities, this necessitates a tour of resources. As appropriate, central University Departments may be asked to provide a report e.g. Library Services. A report of the visit and the review of documentation, with conditions and recommendations is considered by ASQEC.
There may be occasions where the initial scrutiny of the documentation and the evidence provided identify the partnership as being ‘High’ risk. This will normally be where the reputation and good standing of the University is at risk or where there is the potential for financial risk to the University. Other factors which may result in a finding of high risk include changes in the operational environment (market conditions, changes in key personnel); changes in constitution and governance arrangements of the partner institution; a change in the higher education strategy and academic plan; or where there are serious issues which impact on the student learning experience.
In such cases, a visit is undertaken to discuss areas of concern with the senior management team in the partner institution. The panel undertaking the visit comprises the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), a Dean and a senior member of University academic staff who has extensive knowledge of collaborative activity. Where deemed necessary the panel may be expanded to include appropriate internal or external staff to ensure suitable expertise is available. Quality Enhancement services and supports the panel visit. A report of the visiting panel, with conditions and recommendations, is considered by ASQEC.
In each case, once approved by ASQEC, and when all conditions in the report have been fully met, a new Memorandum of Recognition and, for Affiliate Colleges, an updated Contract for Services Agreement are signed by the Vice-Chancellor and the head of the partner institution. The period of approval is normally five years.