Inspecting Centres of Expertise leads to better education & research

According to the Branch Protocol for Quality Assurance in Research (Brancheprotocol Kwaliteitszorg Onderzoek (BKO) ), all THUAS Centres of Expertise should be inspected once every six years by an independent, external evaluation committee. “The committee holds up a mirror to our work, which is beneficial for the quality of our research”.

House in order

"Ultimately, our research should contribute to better education," continues Bregje Thomassen, programme coordinator of the Centre of Expertise for Health Innovation. This Centre of Expertise was inspected in June 2020. The Centre of Expertise for Global and Inclusive Learning followed at the end of last year. “An inspection has a very positive effect on the development of a Centre of Expertise,” says programme coordinator Olivier Bello. The Mission Zero Centre of Expertise is next in line, with an inspection scheduled for April. And that requires a lot of preparation. “It is an intensive process. You have to make sure your house is in order,” says programme coordinator Rolien Blanken.

Difference with programme accreditation

Just like with programme accreditation, practice-oriented research must also be accredited. Bregje: “Within the field of research, we call it an inspection. The cycles of both accreditations are the same - six years. The process that leads to the external assessment is the same, but the standards that are assessed differ. An inspection is an instrument for improving quality”. Oliver adds to that, “An external assessment that helps sharpen the focus of a Centre of Expertise".

Five standards

During an inspection, an external, independent evaluation committee will assess the extent to which a Centre of Expertise complies with the five standards of the Branch Protocol for Quality Assurance in Research (BKO). First of all, the research unit must have a relevant, ambitious and challenging research profile. The second standard concerns the way in which the unit is organised within the Centre of Expertise. This standard contains the prerequisites for implementing the research profile and the research programme based on this profile. The third standard assesses the quality of the research process. Does the research meet the standards that apply in the field of research? The extent to which the research is relevant to professional practice, education and knowledge development is addressed in standard four. Finally, standard five concerns the quality of the inspection process itself. Is this done regularly and systematically and does the Centre of Expertise make improvements based on the results?

Social impact

“High-quality, practice-oriented research is paramount,” Olivier explains. “From there, a Centre of Expertise contributes to the quality and innovation of the education provided. This is how practice-based research interprets the Human Capital Agenda.

We have also looked at the extent to which the Centre of Expertise connects with the market, our external stakeholders, the extent to which they are involved and the extent of our social impact. In addition, our narrative, vision and mission were assessed in the light of the contribution we make to research and thus to society".

Stronger and more efficient

The Centre of Expertise for Health Innovation was inspected on 18 June 2020. In a 70-page report, the Centre of Expertise provides insight into the quality of their research. Bregje: “The committee asks direct questions about, for instance, our impact and right to exist, and whether research resources are evenly distributed”. It also examines the Centre’s preconditions, such as support during acquisition, project management systems and events. “Ultimately, it makes your organisation stronger and more efficient and provides insight into what can be improved”.

More than a paper exercise

In preparation, the three Centres of Expertise went through an extensive preliminary process with work sessions focusing on critical self-reflection. Bregje: “This should not be a mere paper exercise. During the preliminary process you have the opportunity to reflect together on what is really important”. At present, Rolien is busy preparing for the inspection scheduled for 23 April. “We have many ambitions and a short history as a centre to reflect on”. Like all other THUAS Centres of Expertise, Mission Zero transitioned from a research platform to a Centre of Expertise last year.

Benefits

Olivier: “The inspection provides a framework for Centres of Expertise to assess fundamental issues and make decisions in a well-structured manner. It is an effective incentive to reflect on why we do what we do and whether what we do is good. The committee is not looking for mistakes but is focused on quality improvement. I have experienced that as very positive”.

Valuable

In the end, the evaluation committee gives a rating for each standard. Bregje: "We have been given a positive assessment and that makes us an attractive partner to the outside world”. Prospective students also know that during their studies at THUAS, they can count on research that meets standardised quality specifications. Olivier agrees that a good rating can have a positive effect on external stakeholders: “On the other hand, it would not be positive if there were a ranking for research. Each domain is different and difficult to compare”. According to Olivier, it is therefore important to see the inspection primarily as "an instrument for quality improvement". In 2019, the Centre of Expertise for Governance of Urban Transitions was inspected using the same methodology. The Centre of Expertise for Digital Operations and Finance will be inspected in June 2021.