Staff and students follow up on evaluation
KTH Royal Institute of Technology had hoped for a better outcome from the inspection, undertaken by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ), of Sweden’s higher education programmes in technology and engineering. “We were slightly surprised. We believed that more of our programs and courses would have received a more positive appraisal,” states the Vice-Dean of Faculty, Per Berglund.
By the end of the year, a preliminary plan will be in place for putting right the shortcomings indicated.
This evaluation is the first of its kind. The former authority (Swedish National Agency for Higher Education) assessed the quality of the education (courses and study programmes) on the basis of self-assessments by the institutions themselves, interviews and visits on site by an assessment panel. This time, however, priority has been given to reviewing and assessing the results of courses and programmes through looking at the students’ degree projects (independent projects).
In total, the Swedish Higher Education Authority has read over 5,000 degree projects and checked them against the qualitative targets of the Higher Education Ordinance. Of 36 areas of study evaluated at KTH, 3 were considered to be of very high quality, 25 of high quality and 8 of inadequate quality.
“We take these results very seriously. We know that KTH’s programmes possess very high quality through the jobs the students get. The employers are also satisfied with the engineers who have been awarded their degrees at KTH. But now we must become even better at ensuring that we live up to the goals set by the Higher Education Ordinance,” Berglund says.
He emphasises that it is important to look to the future now. It is also essential that both teaching staff and students participate in this programme development, where the programme co-ordinators play the vital leadership role.
Redesign is called for
Folke Snickars, Professor at KTH and one of six chairmen for the evaluation recently performed by the Higher Education Authority, is concerned that so many of Sweden’s engineering and technology course and programmes lack sufficient quality. He is also surprised that more Master of Science in Engineering courses and programmes did not attain the highest rating, very high quality.
“This sends a very strong signal that Sweden’s universities must really focus on the courses to enhance the quality of the programmes offered. To a large extent, this involves asking those who work with the different degree programmes to go that extra mile. We know that the commitment is there; it is visible in the self-assessments that form part of the evaluation,” he explains.
One trend noticeable both at KTH, and also with the technology and engineering programmes offered elsewhere in Sweden, is that general qualifications i.e. Master’s and Bachelor’s programmes, received more criticisms than the traditional professional qualifications of Master of Science in Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Engineering. The reason for this is that the general qualifications are relatively new here and are yet to achieve their best form, according to Snickars.
In practice, KTH’s Master’s students read the same courses as the Master of Science in Engineering students during the last two years. Nevertheless, the education concerned must fit two different qualitative targets (degree objectives). To judge from the scrutiny undertaken by Sweden’s Higher Education Authority, KTH has not succeeded in designing the courses to meet the requirements of the Master’s Degree (Master of Science) as well as it has for a Master of Science in Engineering degree.
Education does not fit the qualification
“This is one of the elements that we must look at more closely. We need to ensure that the education at the second cycle level is designed in such a way that the qualitative objectives for both qualifications can be met,” Berglund says.
When seen in terms of Sweden as a whole, there exist similar problems with the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree programmes, Snickars says. In many cases, the universities and colleges award both a Bachelor’s Degree and Bachelor of Science in Engineering Degree on the basis of one and the same degree project. The fact remains that the degree programmes are seldom adapted – as they should be – to meet the different objectives of these two qualifications.
After the scrutiny performed by the Swedish Higher Education Authority, it is now necessary for KTH to better clarify which parts are necessary to include in the degree project. Per Berglund also believes that there must be a greater consensus at KTH concerning how a degree project shall be designed to achieve the qualitative targets (degree objectives).
By the beginning of 2014, the relevant Heads of Department at KTH should have action plans ready for putting right the shortcomings in the courses and programmes rated as being of inadequate quality. The work will continue during the spring, in collaboration with the education committee and academic teacher training experts at the ECE School. In October 2014, KTH will report back to the Swedish Higher Education Authority on this matter.
The evaluation methodology employed by the Higher Education Authority has generated criticism at several of the universities. This is primarily due to the fact that the students’ degree projects have acquired such great weight in the final rating. The appraisal, in fact, is based almost wholly on the evaluation of the degree project quality.
A misleading picture
Snickars understands the criticism that the evaluation offers a misleading picture; he maintains, nevertheless, that the method functions well as an evaluation instrument. It is his view that the Higher Education Authority’s review has both substance and a high degree of credibility.
“A clear advantage is that the students become the focal point. This is due to their being represented on the panels of external experts and the fact that the students’ degree projects are the central element when the programme’s quality is evaluated.”
The evaluators have been divided into six clusters, each of which has some 30 or so experts and assessors tied to them, from both Swedish and foreign higher education institutions.
Snickars likens their work to peer review; that is to say the same method used in the case of applications for research grants or the evaluation of scientific articles. The difference is that this time it has been teachers – experts within their subjects and used to supervising degree projects – who have carried out the review and quality evaluation of the completed degree projects.