'Conditional positive' accreditation means that three new degree programmes must wait

The Accreditation Council has granted Aarhus University a 'conditional positive' accreditation. The council's reasons include that AU has issues with ensuring its students have contact with research-active teaching staff. Pro-rector Berit Eika is disappointed that three new degree programmes must now wait to be introduced.

Graphics: Astrid Reitzel

The Accreditation Council's grounds

The Accreditation Council's groundsThe Accreditation Council's groundsThe chair of the Accreditation Council, Per B. Christensen, says of the decision: 

"On the whole, Aarhus University is good at quality assuring their degree programmes. Even though their quality assurance system is relatively new, it has a well-functioning structure, and overall it does a good job of covering the central areas in relation to quality. Aarhus University is a large and complex institution. It is therefore impressive that they in general have a well-developed and well-functioning quality assurance system.
But Aarhus University faces some challenges in relation to ensuring that their degree programmes are sufficiently research-based, and that their students have sufficient opportunity for close contact with research-active teaching staff. There are also issues in relation to ensuring that the research environment behind the degree programmes actually cover all of those degree programmes' subject areas. So there may be parts of the degree programmes that do not actually have any relevant research environment behind them, and the quality-assurance system will not be capable of determining this. That is problematic.”

Source: The Accreditation Council

Pro-rector Berit Eika is not surprised by the Accreditation Council's decision to award Aarhus University a conditional positive accreditation, as the university has been aware of the Danish Accreditation Institution's recommendation since March. But she is disappointed to see that one consequence of the decision will be the three new degree programmes having to wait to be introduced.

A conditional positive accreditation means that AU must continue to have its degree programmes individually accredited by the Danish Accreditation Institution, and this involves a very exhaustive process that takes at least couple of years. If AU had been given a positive accreditation, the university would be free to implement new degree programmes once they had received a positive pre-qualification in the Advisory Committee to Assess the Range of Higher Study Programmes Offered, without subsequently having to have each individual programme accredited separately.

"Specifically, we have three degree programmes which we had hoped to be able to offer and admit students to. We had planned to admit students to two of the degree programmes already this year. This is disappointing because we are talking about engineering degree programmes that our society really needs," says Eika.    

AU has adjusted its practice 

The pro-rector emphasises that the criticism from the accreditation institution does not insinuate that AU's degree programmes are not research-based. Instead, it relates to the management being unable to sufficiently document that the degree programmes are research-based.

In the accreditation report that forms the basis for the decision, it is noted that AU's quality assurance system does not at present provide management with an adequate overview of the degree to which the degree programmes are affiliated with relevant research environments. The same applies in relation to the scope of the students' contact with research-active teaching staff. 

AU was already aware that this was where the problem lay, as the accreditation panel sent its recommendation for consultation to AU earlier this year. This led to AU introducing additional parameters for the quality assurance of the degree programmes.

AU has previously measured the research basis using the number of research-active teaching staff (members of academic staff and part-time academic staff) who teach on the degree programmes. AU has now

Institutional accreditation of universities in Denmark

  • Aarhus University: conditional positive (2017)
  • University of Copenhagen: conditional positive (2017)
  • University of Southern Denmark: positive (2014)
  • Aalborg University: conditional positive (2016)
  • Technical University of Denmark: positive (2014)
  • Copenhagen Business School: conditional positive (2014) – re-accredited as positive (2016)
  • IT University of Copenhagen: conditional positive (2014) – re-accredited as positive (2016)       

also implemented a standard for how many of the minimum number of lessons which the students are guaranteed must be covered by a research- active lecturer (member of academic staff and part-time academic staff). Additionally, every five years the department heads must deliver a report to the degree programme evaluations about the research basis of the department's degree programmes.

"The new initiatives have been implemented and we must now show that they work in practice," says the Eika. 

The pro-rector’s initial assessment is therefore that the final decision will not require AU to make further adjustments. 

AU wants re-accreditation as quickly as possible

Rector Brian Bech Nielsen and Pro-rector Berit Eika will now enter into a dialogue with representatives from the Danish Accreditation Institution and plan the ongoing process towards a re-accreditation of the university.

"We want to be re-accredited as quickly as possible, though of course providing that we have collected sufficient evidence. According to the rules this must be within a maximum of two years," says Berit Eika. 

Like Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen also received a 'conditional positive' accreditation in June. The same happened to Copenhagen Business School and the IT University of Copenhagen in 2014. Both we re-accredited again in 2016, following which they received a positive accreditation.

Translated by Peter Lambourne