When regulator TEQSA moved Australia to standards-based HE regulation Uni Wollongong created a central unit responsible for overseeing academic quality assurance. Operating in a complex environment with multiple campuses at home and abroad, academic quality and standards had long been situated in the traditional sector home for units with this role — in our case the Academic and Student Life portfolio.

But during consultations for our restructure the ideas emerged of elevating AQS to divisional status and relocating it beside the other enabling divisions forming under the new DVC Strategy portfolio.

The role of AQS is to support and facilitate academic staff endeavours to fulfil their responsibilities, and to monitor these processes. This focuses on four key touch points – design of learning and assessment, delivery of learning, declaration of moderated and reviewed student marks and grades and ongoing review and improvement of our offerings.

Underpinning the AQF Division’s work is the core governance principle of separating the doing and the checking. This said,  AQS has evolved away from an emphasis on checking, of “marking the homework” of academics engaged in quality assurance. It has moved towards supporting academics with the information, processes and systems they need to do this work effectively.

Reflecting on the evolution of this Division and its functions, four themes emerge.

* quality must be one of the strategic priorities of the university. Quality education and its maintenance is, indeed, one of the touchstones for Australia’s world leading higher education regulatory system.

* the risk lens, embedded in the Higher Education Standards Framework, has become critical to the work of academic quality. Alongside the core tasks of reviewing and improving educational delivery, new challenges arise all the time. Most recently, these include the rapid transition to on-line delivery and the emergence of essay mills, and of generative artificial intelligence. A risk lens helps the university respond.

* the approach taken by UOW towards data-informed quality assurance. Adopting a collaborative approach, AQS led a project to design and deploy a number of dashboards and reports to better equip academics and the university with data for quality assurance. This supports analysis across units of study, courses and delivery locations, but also at an institutional level.

* the quality assurance ecosystem at Uin Wollongong has other key enablers. Academic governance processes oversee the work of quality assurance and quality enhancement, and so strong governance processes are key drivers for effective academic and corporate oversight of educational quality. Taking a holistic view of academic integrity, AQS has sought to triangulate the signals that we can derive from the University’s integrity network, encompassing student complaints, and academic and research integrity processes.

This is why, when the Strategy and Assurance portfolio was announced, the next step became obvious. AQS could join allied subject matter experts in a new portfolio that has a mission to enable the University to achieve its ambitions through the deployment of strategy, risk, governance and data.

This could be achieved while also coming into closer operational alignment with the new Integrity Division. AQS has indeed become part of the new portfolio, and this is already yielding benefits in a more strategically informed, risk based and data driven approach to quality assurance. It is our hat tip to W. Edwards Deming’s insistence that in order to enhance quality an organisation must first “break down barriers between departments.”

Sean Brawley is DVC (Strategy and Assurance), Richard Cook is Chief Strategy Officer, and Dominic Riordan is Director, Academic Quality and Standards at the University of Wollongong.


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