Audits of quality systems 2012-2018

Audit is an independent and systematic external evaluation

In an audit, the quality system the university or university of applied sciences (UAS) has developed from its own needs and goals is evaluated. Quality system refers to the development of the institution’s activities as a whole comprising quality management organisation, division of responsibility, procedures, and resources.  Quality management refers to the procedures, processes or systems that the higher education institution uses to maintain and develop the quality of its activities.

The audits assess how well the quality system meets the strategic and operational management needs of the university or UAS as well as how comprehensive and effective the quality management of the basic duties of the higher education institution (HEI) is. Moreover, the HEI’s quality policy,  development of the quality system and how well-functioning and dynamic entity the system forms are studied. In other words, audit does not evaluate the quality of the education or research of the HEI in question.

The aim is to develop the operations of higher education institutions

The aim of the Finnish audit model is to support higher education institutions (HEIs) in developing quality systems that correspond to the European principles of quality assurance. FINEEC is a member of the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) and is a full member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA).

The Polytechnics Act and the Universities Act  obligate HEIs to participate regularly in the external evaluation of their operations and quality systems.  HEIs may fulfil this obligation in other ways than participating in audits implemented by FINEEC.

After passing the audit, the HEI will receive a quality label valid for six years. HEIs with valid audit labels are listed in the FINEEC audit register.

The audit process, targets and criteria are described in more detail in the audit manual.

More information on audits is available from Marja-Liisa Saarilammi, Counsellor of Evaluation and by email from firstname.surname@karvi.fi.

The audit targets and criteria employed in the audit 

The functioning of the quality system is evaluated based on the following audit targets:

  1. The quality policy of the higher education institution
  2. Quality system’s link with strategic management
  3. Development of the quality system
  4. Quality management of the higher education institution’s basic duties, including essential services supporting these:
    a) Degree education
    b) Research, development and innovation activities, as well as artistic activities
    c) The societal impact and regional development work
    d) Optional audit target (will not be taken into an account when evaluating whether the audit will pass)
  5. Samples of degree education: degree programmes (HEIs select two of these and the audit team the third)
  6. The quality system as a whole

Audits employ a set of criteria that is based on a scale of four development stages of quality management: absent, emerging, developing and advanced, which are specified for each audit target. The development phase of each audit target is determined individually, including targets 4 a–d. Likewise, the development stage of the quality management of each sample of degree education is also determined individually

Re-audits employ the same criteria as the actual audit.

The audit is conducted by an external team of experts

The main stages of the audit process are: agreement on the audit, appointment of the audit team, the HEI conducts a self-evaluation and compiles an audit material, audit team visit to the HEI, audit teams draws up a report, and audit decision.

Higher education institutions will have the opportunity to choose either a Finnish or international audit team to carry out the audit. The Higher Education Evaluation Committee will appoint the audit team and select a chairperson for it. As a rule, the audit team comprises of 5–7 members. The team will take part in an auditor training during which the team members will learn, among other things, about audit objectives and method as well as audit team responsibilities and operating principles. In addition, international auditors are familiarised with the Finnish higher education system.

In the self-evaluation report, HEIs describe and evaluate their quality systems. The aim of the report is to provide the audit team with a realistic view of the HEI’s quality system prior to the audit visit as well as to help the HEI recognise the strengths and development targets of the quality system.

Depending on the size of the HEI audited, the audit visit to the HEI will last 3–5 days. The aim of the visit is to verify and complement observations made on the basis of the audit materials about the quality system of the HEI . The aim is to make the visit an interactive event, which will support the development of the HEI’s operations.

Based on the materials and the visit, the audit team draws up an audit report, in which it also gives its appraisal of whether the HEI should pass the audit or be re-audited. The report highlights the strengths of the HEI’s quality system and good practices, as well as makes development recommendations to the HEI.  The report will be published after the audit decision.

Approximately three years after the audit, the HEI will participate in a follow-up seminar on HEI quality management. The aim of the event is to give feedback on post-audit development work and to provide the entire higher education sector with an opportunity to discuss the development of quality system as well as to share experiences and good practices related to quality work.  The HEI will draw up a short report for the seminar on its post-audit development work.

Higher Education Evaluation Committee makes the decision on the result

FINEEC’s Higher Education Evaluation Committee will make the decision on the audit result. The aim of the Committee is to ensure that audit decisions are impartial and of equal quality.

The decision is based on the audit report produced by the audit team and the audit team’s proposal for the audit result. The audit team can propose that audit be passed if none of the audit targets are at the level ‘missing’ and the quality system as a whole (audit target 6) is at least on the level ’emerging’.

If a re-audit is required, the audit targets with necessary development targets on which the re-audit will focus will be included in the decision of the Higher Education Evaluation Committee. The re-audit will take place 2–3 years after the actual audit was completed.

Second audit round is under way

The quality systems of all Finnish higher education institutions (HEIs) were audited once during the first audit round which took place in 2005–2012. At the moment, a second audit round is under way and it will last until 2018.

For the second round, the audit model has been developed based on feedback received during the first round. The key changes are the increased share of self-evaluation and emphasis on degree education. On the second round, one of the audit targets will be one key function with regard to the strategy or profiling selected by the HEI the quality management of which it especially wants to develop.

Auditing will become topical to the HEIs when the period of validity of their previous audit is drawing to its close.

Feedback from audits is collected and their impact is monitored

In order to develop the audit process and audit model, FINEEC collects feedback after each audit both from the higher education institution (HEI) audited and the members of the audit team. The feedback received is processed annually and key development targets for the next year are selected based on the feedback. In addition, each evaluation expert at FINEEC will utilise feedback received when working as a project manager for future audits. Feedback also provides the means to monitor the impact of audits and the equal treatment of HEIs in audits.

From time to time, the impact of the audits is also studied more comprehensively either by FINEEC or external researchers.