Quality Assurance in Higher Education in the Field of Library and Information Science
Institute of Information Science and Bibliological Studies,
This article was translated thanks to the grant received from the Open Society Institute
Quality assurance is one of the many methods (or philosophies) used for measuring, maintaining, and improving the current level of quality of the academic research and educational activities. Many people engaged in the management of research and educational processes at universities in Poland and abroad are concerned with quality assurance issues. In Poland, it was the TEMPUS UNIQUE UM-JEP-14320-99 project (University Quality Evaluation) realised under the auspices of the University Accreditation Commission (Uniwersytecka Komisja Akredytacyjna UKA) since 1999 that contributed to the popularity and development of quality assurance principles. However, a dozen or so programmes dealing with quality assurance in education have already been carried out in Poland.
What are the quality assurance principles?
The QA principles are a certain form of naming and ordering the actions that are necessary for assuring the quality of teaching that later on is being internally measured and evaluated at a given university, and also externally during an accreditation process, which is now being carried out in Poland by the UKA. They regulate both the external and internal (at a general, administrative, departmental, and faculty level) activities of an educational institution by cooperating nationally and internationally with educational and research centres, and with employers who recruit graduates, and also by carrying out the university's statutory tasks. "Assuring" the quality means:
- pointing to and naming the elements that are decisive to the evaluation of the research and educational process;
- defining the procedures for acting, appointing persons, working out the documents necessary for the correct execution of tasks relating to a given university entity;
- setting quality indicators;
- analysing quality on a regular basis with the use of appropriate tools.
Quality assurance policy is regulated by the requirements of the contemporary educational and labour market. Special attention must be paid to the quality of taught courses and research work, because of the requirements that both the employers and higher education funding bodies impose on graduate students seeking an employment. These requirements are two-fold. The first ones concern knowledge, abilities, and qualifications of candidates for a given post, and the latter (formal) requirements relate to the organisation and the costs of education. The quality of education depends also on international cooperation in the field of teaching
In different countries, teams of experts who deal with working out the quality assurance principles for various types of schools and subject areas are being formed. "Quality" knowledge is being disseminated thanks to such projects and programmes as for example Tempus and Socrates. It is becoming accessible to all interested persons who work on issues concerning university organisation and management, and who are mainly the management teams of universities, departments and institutes.
External and internal principles of quality assurance are being worked out within the framework of Tempus UNIQUE. This project is built on the experiences of different universities and departments, and it serves all those who establish, maintain, and enhance the quality processes in their educational institutions. External quality evaluation is, as the name shows, the domain of the external institutions (from outside of the university), so it will not be considered here.
Internal quality assurance principles in the higher education sector comprise the following elements:
- formulating the principles and guidelines for the functioning of universities, such as university's mission statement and legislative conditions;
- setting up the quality assurance system: division of tasks, defining the duties of all university staff and students;
- drawing up the documentation of quality assurance system in higher education;
- managing the academic education system;
- working out study programmes and developing the educational process;
- carrying out regular evaluation of the quality of education.
The Academic Senate resolution should be the basic internal resolution regulating quality assurance and control processes in higher education. The first to introduce this type of resolution was the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (on 16 September 1997) . The resolution of Warsaw University Senate of 18 February 1998 is rather general in its character.
Such a resolution should contain, among others, the goals of the quality improvement system, define what is being evaluated for its quality (the programme and the conditions for carrying it out, the results achieved) , point to the internal evaluation tools (documentation, questionnairing, teaching inspection), define quantitative parameters, suggest the methods of applying the results of quality evaluation.
The next document (apart from the national legal acts, ministerial standards, international standards, internal university regulations) that is important for the quality assurance system is the mission of an academic institution. This statement, which is both general and specified, defines the type of an institution and the goal of its existence in a given social, economic, geographical, and civilisational conditions. First of all, it should refer to the unique conditions in which the academic institution operates, and to formulate, on this basis, the scope of research and educational tasks of the institution.
At the institutional level, it is also important to define and describe the quality management principles, that is to fix the range of accountability of individual persons (posts), mutual interdependencies, the scope of tasks, the necessary documents.
The next element or criterion for the quality of provision in higher education that is being evaluated is the curriculum designed in accordance with the directives (minimum curriculum requirements), university standards, international rules (for example ECTS), and finally the graduate's profile. Updating the curriculum in accordance with the branch of study and the requirements of the labour market is the domain of those who are engaged in the organisation of the course of studies, similarly as the principles that govern the activities of the teaching faculty (for example course tutors, Master's degree path advisors, tutors of individual courses of studies), enrolment rules pertaining to different courses and levels of studies, training period requirements, international cooperation and exchange, social conditions for studying (including the lab equipment, lecture halls, computer network administration, libraries), as well as social grants for students (stipends, dormitories, students' canteens, etc.).
Modern information managers stress that it is very difficult to evaluate the quality of information services, because the evaluation criteria may be changeable, and the essence of "information" (I mean the multitude and inaccuracy of definitions) as well as the human factor are difficult to define in each individual case. The data that are informative to some people, may seem to be superfluous to others. So, if our aim, as librarians, is to select and evaluate information, we have to bear in mind how important it is to apply objective evaluation criteria and to know how to use them when gathering information materials according to the client's needs.
The actions pertaining to the above aspects of the educational process, in order to streamline them, should be set in order and described in procedures and instructions. These documents clearly and explicitly define the scope of responsibility assigned to each position, the completion dates for various actions, the stages of student progress towards completion of a degree (thesis defence), the principles of accomplishing the syllabus items, etc.
Questionnaires addressed to students and academic staff are the tools that are most often used for controlling the quality of education. They are designed to assess a particular subject being surveyed ( for example the subjects and courses taught, the organisation of class units ) which allows for further development of this subject. Considering the goals of surveying, the questionnaires may be more or less comprehensive, and the results may be made available to the parties concerned only, or they may be made public.
Teaching inspections should be carried out regularly, and they should involve young, unexperienced staff members.
The above principles have already been implemented by most Polish universities. This paper will give an overview of how they function in practice on the example of qualitative actions undertaken by the Institute of Information Science and Bibliological Studies of Warsaw University.
Principles of assuring the quality of education at the Institute of Information Science and Bibliological Studies of Warsaw University
The work on the internal quality assurance system at the Institute of Information Science and Bibliological Studies of Warsaw University was carried out within the framework of the Tempus JEP 12165-97 project concerning the curriculum reform at the Institute, which was completed in the year 2000. The principles of internal quality assurance had been worked out at the turn of 2000, and their implementation started in the 1999/2000 summer semester.
The Institute has built its quality assurance system basing on the requirements of the Act on Higher Education and on the Resolution of Warsaw Univerity's Senate of 18 February 1998 on quality assurance in higher education provision, which is rather general in its character. It only formulated the principles of informing students at the beginning of the semester about the course syllabus and the criteria for achieving passes or higher grades, carrying out systematic teaching inspections involving the teaching staff, especially new university teachers, and conducting questionnaire-based surveys of curricula as well as teaching methods.
This system is of an internal character, and it was intended for use within this educational unit, basing on the above regulations and the accreditation standards that are just being formulated for our Institute by a team of experts. There are 50 staff members at the Institute in the 2001/2002 academic year, including 40 research and academic staff. About 280 students pursue full-time studies, and there are about 600 part-time students.
The programme of studies in the field of library and information science was subject to wide reforms in the years 1998-2000. A new system was then introduced: a three-year Bachelor's Degree Programme and a two-year Master's Degree Programme, as well as an option of 13 so called model thesis paths. They are available each year depending on the number of students willing to follow them. Presently, the students in their first year of full-time Master's degree studies pursue the following paths: Bibliotherapy, Company's Documentation, Editing, the Internet, and Knowledge of Old Books. Areas of specialisation (thesis paths) studied during the first year of part-time (weekends) Master's degree studies are: Libraries in the Educational System, Editing, Library Management and Organisation, Information Systems/Databases, Knowledge of Old Books. During the second year of full-time studies, the thesis paths being pursued are the following: Libraries in the Educational System, Bibliotherapy, Editing, Internet, Knowledge of Old Books; and during part-time studies (weekends): Bibliography, Libraries in the Educational System, Bibliotherapy, Editing, Business Information, Library Management and Organisation, Knowledge of Old Books. The choice of paths by students shows what areas of specialisation they are interested in, and allows the course programme to be revised and updated.
Changes in the programme of studies are one of the procedures that regulate the way the university management and academic staff carry out their educational and research tasks. The most urgent procedures regulating the choice of thesis paths, as well as Master's degree and Bachelor's degree programmes, have already been established. The procedures that are currently under development define (in accordance with the regulations and the Institute's internal requirements) the duties of the course tutor, the stipend committee and the student research society coordinators, or the procedure for reviewing student progress towards completion of a degree (diploma examination).
The quality assurance system documentation consists of:
- external documents;
- Warsaw University staff regulations;
- studies regulations at Warsaw University and in the History Department;
- regulations for allocating social grants for the History Department students;
- regulations for granting an accommodation in a dormitory;
- Bachelor's degree and Master's degree programmes (full-time and part-time - weekends) curricula available in the form of printed packets updated at the end of each academic year, also in electronic version in Polish and English on the Institute's website;
- procedures and instructions for activities;
- the principles of quality assurance (questionnairing, inspections);
- graduates' profile.
An evaluation of the quality of education in the Institute of Information Science and Bibliological Studies of Warsaw University
A permanent and periodical quality evaluation is carried out at the Institute. It includes all the staff members: the teaching staff, administration, and technical personnel, with regard to the range of duties carried out by them.
First and foremost, the evaluation process embraces research work, lectures and classes, non-educational duties, administration, and the technical aspects of functioning of the Institute. Accordingly, different evaluation methods are used: questionnairing, inspecting, periodic evaluation of staff performance, examining the documentation (for example study programmes). Surveying through questionnaires is conducted every two years, and it will be also carried out in January 2001. We use three kinds of forms:
- student questionnaires on teaching effectiveness (assessment of individual lectures and classes);
- student questionnaires on the assessment of the Institute's various activities;
- staff questionnaires on the assessment of the Institute's activities.
After firsthand experiences with the first version of the questionnaire forms had been gathered in 2000, these forms have been simplified to a maximum to contain about 7 questions each. In the questionnaire on the general assessment of the Institute's activities there are questions concerning the management issues, administration, library performance, non-educational activities offered to students, computer labs (their equipment and functioning), and audiovisual classrooms.
The content and the form of questionnaires, as well as each questionnaire action are consulted with the student government. The final decision, however, lies in the hands of the management. The results of questionnaires are confidential. Data details are made available only to the management and the persons directly involved, i.e. the teaching staff, librarians, lab managers, etc. They should keep the results of questionnaires for 5 consecutive years. The results are taken into consideration in assessing the performance of members of staff, and they are used to modify the rules of research, teaching, and organisational practices of the Institute. An example of this may be the necessity of considering the prolongation of the time students may work in labs after regularly scheduled hours, especially students in their second year of Master's Degree Programme who work on their M.A. theses. There are also plans for designing a questionnaire for graduates to be filled in by them after thesis defence.
Inspections involve all the teaching staff holding lower academic rank, as well as the newly employed staff. They have been carried out since the beginning of 2001, and till the end of the year they are to include all the qualifying teaching staff members. Inspections are carried out by Heads of Departments. The documentation concerning teaching inspections is passed on to the management to be kept by them.
The benchmarks for the evaluation process are on the one hand the standards appropriate for our field of studies, and on the other hand the graduate's profile, characteristic for all future graduates of the Institute of Information Science and Bibliological Studies of Warsaw University. According to this profile, students should acquire professional and comprehensive/ humanistic knowledge adequate for a given level of studies. Moreover, they should be creative and they should think independently, what is characteristic for higher education graduates, and also indispensable in the face of IT development, and when living in an information society (continuous adaptation). The Institute, on its part, offers the possibility of further education during postgraduate studies in the field of librarianship, information science, and bookselling.
The universities which run graduate LIS courses are getting ready now for the accreditation process which is being carried out by the University Accreditation Commission (UKA). Therefore, curricula reforms have been made, and a team of experts are setting the evaluation criteria and working out the standards that educational institutions running LIS courses have to apply. Meeting the above criteria and standards will be the starting point for further continuous research and development, as well as the teaching and organisational activities.
 The programme of studies including individual Master's degree paths, as well as the information on all the subjects taught are available on the Institute's website at http://www.lis.uw.edu.pl.
 The standards proposals for our field of studies were published in EBIB in 2001.
Translated by Michalina Byra