22 SES 06 B, Policy, Management and Governance in Higher Education
Quality assurance is one of the areas where European cooperation has advanced significantly during the last decade. The European Commission recently published a report on issues related to quality and quality assurance in higher education stating that progress is reported in most areas. However, linking quality assurance to concrete quality improvement processes and strategic work of institutions is still considered to remain a main challenge (European Commission 2014). Similarly, in the 2013 Eurydice report on Education and Training in Europe 2020 member states emphasized the need for a renewed focus on strategic connections between educational relevance and quality in a quality assurance system. In fact, this aspect of higher education strategic competence management is highlighted as one of four areas relevant for the Education 2020 strategy (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice 2013).
In this paper we present a survey for studying the relevance of leadership study programs at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy. The survey aims to meet the challenge described in the European context of higher education assurance and enhancement as a strategic institutional tool. The Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy is a highly prestigious institution accredited as a regular higher education institution since 2006. It has since 1949 educated leaders employed in a variety of sectors in Norway and internationally (Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy 2013). Its study programs respond to employability demands of both military and civilian competences needed to solve complex problems (Ministry of Defence 2011; 2012a; 2012b, 2013, Henriksen 2011). Responding to evaluation procedures and the common regulations of the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), the indicators for the Relevance Survey (RS) was developed in 2014 as a strategic institutional tool to study and evaluate the relevance of the Academy's study programs (cf. NOKUT 2008). The RS is based on the requirements in the Norwegian Qualification Framework, and is designed to be a strategic research tool for the Academy's internal quality assurance system meeting national quality standards.
The aim of this paper is not only to present the RS as a strategic tool, but to discuss its role as an institutional steering tool in light of the current move towards European expectations for linking quality assurance to quality improvement processes in systematic ways. The research question for our study based on a theory-based stakeholder evaluation model is:
How do national and allied institutions experience and assess the political, military-strategic, operational and tactical relevance of the Academy's study programs, and how may this information be collected systematically and strategically in order to improve teaching and learning at the Academy?
We link this research question to ongoing policy discussions at the European level. In higher education policy the concept of relevance has connotations to both employability and academic quality (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice 2013). In higher education research the concept is considered elusive (Hovdhaugen & Carlsten 2013). In this study we frame the concept of relevance within an understanding occupational relevance. As such, it addresses the link between demands of academic quality and the interests of external stakeholders.
Theoretically, we approach the study with a descriptive and a functional analysis. The aim is to map the relations between curricular coherency and occupational competences. Our study rests on a cogent tradition of curricular administration theory and theory of organizational didactics (cf. Torgersen & Steiro 2009, Kvernbekk 2008). The analytical model is designed to address tensions between strategic competences related to academic excellence and operational competences related to employability (cf. Carlsten & Aamodt 2013). In the paper we discuss the model's validity in the field of higher education in general, and in the field of European policy research in particular.
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