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Evaluation of three vocational degree programmes in Norway

In the years 2004 – 2010, NOKUT, the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education was tasked by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research with evaluating three entire higher education programmes: primary and lower secondary school teacher training, engineering degree programmes and preschool teacher training.

Summary

Programme evaluation – background and processes

The evaluations were conducted under NOKUT's brief to carry out evaluations that may help assess the quality of higher education. NOKUT's other remits include regular audits of Norwegian educational institutions' quality assurance systems, accreditation of study programmes/institutions and revisions of previous accreditations (reaccreditation). While the accreditation procedure is prescribed by the standards in NOKUT's regulations, programme evaluations are based on specific criteria in each case. For these three evaluations criteria were developed from commissioning letters from the Ministry.

The objective for the programme evaluations was in all instances "to obtain the best possible basis of knowledge for enhancing the quality of the study programme". The evaluations were to be based on data on recruitment, intake quality, student inputs and study outcomes, graduate and ECTS credits production, educational quality, R&D and faculty competencies, academic quality, governance and management and the relevance of the study programmes. This means that all key inputs influencing the quality of the programmes had to be documented and assessed. All the programmes lead to vocational qualifications which are regulated by national curriculum guidelines, and the relationship between guidelines and programme curricula was therefore necessarily a key element of all the assessments.

A traditional evaluation model was employed in all the evaluations with self-evaluation performed by the institutions, followed by supplementary data collection during institution visits where relevant actors were interviewed in groups. In order to shed light on certain issues from multiple perspectives, all the evaluations also comprise surveys of various types. For example, in the evaluation of the engineering degree programme, studies were made to map the nature and scope of the programmes' coordination with the labour market and of employers' views of graduate competencies. In the preschool teacher training evaluation a number of studies were carried out which shed light on the interaction between the institutions and professional practice from a number of perspectives. In the evaluation of teacher training, a reassessment of undergraduate exam papers was performed which, among other things, yielded information about the institutions' use of the new grading scale introduced a couple of years previously.

NOKUT's evaluations are carried out by external expert committees. The committees are responsible for the conclusions and recommendations presented in the reports.

NOKUT's programme evaluations – findings

All of the evaluations drew the conclusion that there was a need for stronger state control and increased implementation of key instruments to remedy deficiencies in the programmes. Weak R&D and relatively weak academic competencies among faculty benchmarked against NOKUT criteria for accreditation of bachelor degree programmes was a recurrent problem. In extension of this, questions were raised concerning the capacity for providing research-based teaching on many of the programmes. The recruitment of students and to some extent also the recruitment of teaching staff also emerged as a problem for these vocational study programmes, in spite of the fact that the high demand on the labour market for primary and lower secondary school teachers, engineers and preschool teachers ensures students of employment after graduation. The dropout rate was high for all the programmes. The completion rate within the  stipulated duration of study was relatively low for the engineering and primary and lower secondary school teacher training programmes, but high for the preschool teacher training programmes, which however had the lowest intake quality.

It emerged that relatively comprehensive national curriculum guidelines were not sufficient to ensure that the programmes were up to date and relevant. A good deal of advice was therefore given on how to achieve improved interaction with the given field of practice, among other things in order to ensure that the programme providers stay abreast of trends in society as a basis for the advancement of the disciplines and relevant R&D.

Some of the findings from each of the three programme evaluations can be found in the pdf file below. summarised under the captions of supervision and management; students and study outcomes; content and relevance; and competencies.


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Author(s): Astrid Børsheim
Date: 20.06.2011
Report no.: 2011-1
ISSN no.: 1892-1604