Reforms first, evaluation later

The compulsory quality inspections and evaluation that British universities are subject to is extremely interesting to consider within the context of the protests provoked by the draft law unveiled earlier this week for the reform of higher education in Greece. The British procedure is also worthy of consideration by those university academics in our country who had originally objected to the evaluation of Greek universities (of both the curricula and professors’ performance) and are now opposing the new education bill because it links university and technical college funding with the results of regular assessments of these institutions. Britain’s evaluation committee (which comprises 150 experts and operates in association with hundreds of lecturers) aims to assess the level of quality offered by different universities and to determine whether they are operating according to existing criteria. The first stage of evaluation is carried out by the university itself, which compiles a «self-assessment report» in which it deems whether or not it has conformed to the national academic framework. This report also gives details of the coursework followed by the students and the techniques used to evaluate and examine them. Once completed, the report is sent to the evaluation committee, to the students of the university in question as well as to a group of academics from other educational institutions who have been selected by the committee. The students then prepare their own report, commenting on the self-assessment document, as do the selected academics; the process is so thorough in order to ensure that the final judgment will be as objective as possible. These additional reports are subsequently sent to the evaluation committee, which contacts the institution being assessed, discusses the reports with its representatives and highlights the points it believes require further investigation. A visit to the institution in question allows inspectors to meet the deans, academics and students of their choice. The point of this whole procedure is for committee members to receive the clarifications they require for «problem areas» in the assessment. Eventually, the committee sends the university its final report which is also published on its website. If the university has won the committee’s approval, the process stops there; if not, the institution has 18 months to make the required changes. In Greece, it is rather difficult to talk about quality and assessment at our universities until the implementation of a draft bill that aims to ensure that professors’ attendance at universities is monitored, that those unjustifiably absent have their pay docked, that classes are not overfull, courses not rushed, and that professors’ performance is monitored.