As part of its mission to ensure high quality in higher education in Greece, the HQA carried out the external evaluation of all Greek institutions of higher education (22 Universities and 14 TEIs) between October 2015 and July 2016. The final external evaluation reports were submitted by the experts in November 2016. The Agency processed then their outcomes which are briefly described below.
The external evaluation of institutions forms part of the quality assurance processes and is periodic in nature (every four years). It is also in line with the European Quality Assurance Framework in Higher Education and is carried out with a view either to assessing the work of institutions or to awarding accreditation for the quality of their operation. At this stage, institutions have been evaluated in terms of their overall operation, strategy, objectives, structures, processes and regulations, their main information systems and services. It should be noted that the aim of the institutions’ external evaluation was not to rank them or benchmark them, but to successfully highlight their strengths and weaknesses with a view to helping them achieve self-awareness and therefore improve.
Following the practice consistently applied by the HQA, external evaluation reports for institutions of higher education are published on the Agency’s website, aiming, on the one hand, at ensuring transparency in evaluation processes, informing citizens and supporting institutions in their effort to achieve continuous improvement, and, on the other, at informing the state in order to make a constructive contribution to the national strategy for education.
External evaluation methodology
For the needs of the evaluation, the HQA drafted the following based on the European Guidelines (ESG):
- A “self-evaluation template for institutions of higher education” to be used in preparing self-evaluation reports.
- An “external evaluation template for institutions of higher education” to be used in preparing external evaluation reports.
- A standard programme for the site visits of external evaluation committees (EEC) to the institutions.
External evaluation committees (EEC) were set up by the HQA based on the Register of Experts which includes domestic and foreign scientists of an established reputation, professors teaching in higher education institutions, or distinguished researchers in research institutions. Preferably the experts have prior experience in evaluation matters and management positions. The Register is divided into scientific fields and subject matters, and includes more than 6,000 members. A total of 169 evaluators from Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia were involved in the external evaluation of 36 institutions of higher education.
Each institution of higher education has been evaluated against four (4) axes of action with twenty seven (27) fields of analysis (including the overall decision of the EEC) as follows:
- Institutions’ compliance with evaluation processes (2 fields);
- Strategies implemented by the institution under review (13 fields);
- Internal quality assurance system of the institution (10 fields);
- Operation of the institution’s Central Administration (1 field).
In their assessment report, the experts included an analysis of their findings for each field, their recommendations and the Committee’s final decision expressed in a scale of four evaluation grades, according to ENQA (European Network for Quality Assurance) evaluation standards as follows: “worthy of merit, positive evaluation, partially positive evaluation and negative evaluation.”
- Out of 36 institutions of higher education: 25% were “worthy of merit”, 67% received “positive evaluation”, 8% received “partially positive evaluation”, and there was no negative evaluation. Among the four axes of action, the highest scores were awarded to axe 1: “Institutions’ compliance with evaluation processes”, with the lowest scores awarded to axe 4:“Internal Quality Assurance System”.
- Variation in positive outcomes ranged from 60% to 90%, while in negative ones from 40% to 60%. In particular, the best performing fields (in approximately 90% of reports) were compliance with the external evaluation process and development of a social strategy, with the lowest scores (in approximately 60% of reports) awarded to quality assurance of the teaching staff and public information.
- After the completion of evaluations, the HQA will evaluate the process, by sending relevant questionnaires to be filled in by those under evaluation and the evaluators. Based on the results achieved, the Agency will draw conclusions to further improve the processes implemented.The HQA itself undergoes internal and external evaluation by ENQA as a member, during which all quality assurance processes implemented by the Agency are reviewed.
Below you can find a summary of the most significant conclusions and recommendations from the processing of HEI external evaluation reports split by axe of action.
Main conclusions and recommendations
Institutions’ response to evaluation processes
The majority of institutions of higher education adhered to the external evaluation timetable smoothly and without any major problems. Positive feedback was given for utilising the outcomes and recommendations from previous external evaluations of the institutions’ academic units; the fact that institutions respond promptly to the request of additional data by external evaluation committees; adequate documentation, and the coordination of the external evaluation process overall.
By analysing the findings, it becomes clear that there is room for improvement in the relationship between students and faculty members, students’ involvement in evaluation processes and in drafting strategic plans. Issues of dysfunctional communication with the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs, which, in the view of the experts, take a toll on institutional autonomy, were included in the most significant negative findings.
It is recommended that more incentives should be provided for creating a quality culture, and that evaluation documentation should be submitted faster to the EEC in the form of internal report summaries. More effort is needed to adequately define the institutions’ mission and to make good use of opportunities arising from evaluation.
Strategies implemented by institutions under review
Most reports recognise that effectiveness of institutional administration and quality of human resources are positive traits. Even more positive feedback is provided for the quality and quantity of research produced, and research collaborations. Institutions’ research funds have decisively contributed to finding alternative funding sources for institutions through Special Accounts for Research Funds. Within this context, the relationship between institutions and economic and social players is considered satisfactory.
As for the study programmes, positive feedback was given overall for the general features of undergraduate programmes offered. External evaluators found that most undergraduate programmes are linked with the economy and the modern labour market, and a significant part of recommendations from previous departmental external evaluations have already been implemented by making some limited changes to the study programmes.
Postgraduate programmes cover a wide range of subject matters. Some postgraduate programmes are considered innovative and well-adapted to new technologies. Given that demand far exceeds the offer, evaluators believe that some postgraduate programmes are well-designed according to high-quality criteria; however, there is room for improvement in others in others.
Issues of institutional nature and problems in the relationship between the institutions and the Ministry (restrictions in administration and management- overregulation) are identified in some reports. It is necessary to make communication more effective and achieve active involvement of the institutions’ staff in shaping their strategic planning and its implementation. The mission statement of the institutions was considered inadequate and therefore their goal-setting system unachievable. It is noted that priority should be given to mechanisms involved in the institutions’ internationalisation and extroversion. A problem shared by undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes alike (first, second and third cycle of studies respectively) is the fact that funds are being cut and that there are teaching and administrative staff shortages. Weaknesses were also identified in implementing external evaluation recommendations (at department level), which means that a wider and deeper restructuring of study programmes is necessary.
It is recommended that mobility and internationalisation should be improved and that a strategy should be put in place aiming to foster excellence and support researchers. Furthermore, it is proposed that study programmes and services should be offered in English. It is also important to improve the environmental and energy planning. There is a pressing need for counseling offered to students and staff. The student welfare strategy should focus on meeting accommodation needs as much as possible.
It is also recommended that Study Programmes should be given greater organisational autonomy within institutions, and be streamlined. At the same time, greater student involvement in QA processes should be established. Study programmes should be based on learning outcomes in order to be in line with both European standards (ESG) and the terms and conditions of the HQA regarding the accreditation process. Moreover, it is required to continually evaluate the progress of all doctoral candidates and to urge them to participate in conferences.
To conclude, it is proposed that a system for measuring performance (Key Performance Indicators - KPI), objectives and timetables should be developed, and more funding sources should be sought.
Internal Quality Assurance System
Since the internal quality assurance systems of institutions are in a stage of expansion, it is important to make continuous efforts to create a quality culture, and to foster student involvement in self-evaluation processes by filling in structured questionnaires.
Among the most positive findings regarding the institutions’ internal quality assurance systems are the adoption of the European Credit System (ECTS), the completeness and content of study guides, the updating and description of study programmes based on learning outcomes and the cooperation between the teaching staff and students on issues relating to the evaluation of teaching and learning. The reports described a positive trend towards establishing a powerful quality assurance framework that will gradually lead us on to the next step, namely that of study programme accreditation.
The fact that institutions’ quality assurance systems are not yet fully operational was a common finding in the evaluation reports. The main reasons for this include a lack of quality assurance policies, inadequate operation of QAUs/IEGs (for instance, lack of indicators and benchmarks), weaknesses in the information systems and a lack of instructions enabling the use of quality assurance systems. Furthermore, weaknesses were reported in teacher and student mobility; it was also identified that there is no standard procedure for submitting complaints and that Study Programs do not provide multiple learning paths. As for quality assurance of the teaching staff, the factors identified included heavy workload and a lack of a self-evaluation system for teachers. Periodic external evaluation could be further improved in terms of QAU operation; documentation and effectiveness of procedures were also identified as problematic.
Taking into account the fact that QA policy and strategy are starting out, there is not enough data on its effectiveness. However, it is recommended that student representation should be enhanced, as provided for in the legal and European quality assurance framework, and that cooperation between IEGs and QAUs should be further strengthened. The latter must put in place a clear QA policy that includes all of its strategic goals. QA processes must include a detailed description of the methods and, in particular, actions to be used for giving feedback. Next, it is necessary to address data protection issues with great care and to develop a bottom-up institutional policy on quality assurance as a follow-up to what is happening at faculty level and in top-down national policies. The administration must use key performance and achievement indicators. It is suggested that additional steps should be taken to improve the day-to-day operation of study programmes (such as projects, practical training, internships etc.). It is also recommended that the ECTS should be further implemented and that state-of-the-art teaching methods should be developed with a view to ensuring student-centered learning through new technologies (e.g. e-class). It is considered of great importance that students be given incentives to attend classes and become involved in QA processes. As for teaching staff QA, it is recommended that continuous education and training of faculty members (e.g. peer review, peer evaluation and peer observation) should be fostered. Moreover, it is necessary to upgrade learning resources, information systems and the online presence of the institutions.
Operation of the Central Administration
Regarding the section of Central Administration, external evaluation reports, in their majority, recognise that the quality of the institutions’ human resources and administrative services is adequate. According to evaluators, library and IT services are among the most praiseworthy.
The low rate of posts covered by staff is considered to be the most serious drawback in Central Administration services.
It is recommended to standardise staff evaluation and incentive systems and to utilise new technologies. It is finally proposed to provide for better care for people with disabilities and to put in place a coordination and communication system by redesigning the structure of the services of the institutions.