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There is always something happening at HSBA...

"We love to analyse things, improve them and find solutions together."

Interview with Mariette Kühnelt and Sarah Horbach, quality managers at HSBA.

Quality management has become an important tool of university management in the last twenty years. It contributes significantly to ensuring and promoting the quality of study programmes and is a basic requirement for being attractive in national and international competition. At HSBA, Sarah Horbach and Mariette Kühnelt are responsible for keeping a continuous and structured eye on the quality of our teaching and learning, analysing it and communicating the results. This is because quality management forms the basis for continuous improvement and further development driven jointly by all university stakeholders. In an interview with our two experts, we would like to show which tools are used, how measures are developed and what the daily challenges are.  

Dear Mariette, dear Sarah, as quality managers at HSBA you are responsible for keeping an eye on the quality of studies and teaching, a really important task. What exactly does that mean? 

Mariette and Sarah: In general terms, it is our task to collect, analyse and communicate structured information about the quality of the degree programmes. To do this, we collect key figures and conduct surveys, support our colleagues in the development and implementation of quality improvement measures and make further developments in the area of study and teaching visible to our stakeholders, for example, through our annual progress report.
In addition, we carry out the internal accreditation procedures for our degree programmes in accordance with legal requirements. Since HSBA's system accreditation by the Foundation of International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA) in July 2018, we have been allowed to do this ourselves. 

Why are accreditations important for a university and why are they mandatory?

Sarah: Accreditation is a "seal of quality" that higher education institutions use to show that their Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes meet defined quality requirements that are common throughout Germany. Accredited study programmes are recognised in all federal states, as well as in Europe, as being of equivalent quality. Accreditations are often a prerequisite for being allowed to offer study programmes at all.

What are the advantages for students when study programmes are accredited? 

Sarah: With accreditation, students and graduates can be sure that their studies, examinations and degrees are recognised as equivalent within Germany and Europe. This means they can study, research and work across borders in the European Higher Education Area. Accreditation also makes the quality standard of the degree transparent beyond Europe and provides graduates with internationally recognised proof of their qualification.

How does such an internal accreditation process work? Who is involved? 

Sarah: The accreditation procedures examine whether formal criteria such as the study structure, modularisation and the credit point system, but also subject-related criteria such as qualification goals, degree level, the qualification of the teachers and many other aspects are fulfilled. Special attention is paid to the professional relevance of the degrees. 

Since we are system-accredited as HSBA, we are allowed to carry out the accreditation procedures ourselves, as I said, and we always learn a lot in the process. The criteria are reviewed by a panel of experts consisting of internal and external professors, company representatives and students. The panel members receive a description of all relevant characteristics and hold discussions with the various university groups (teachers, students and alumni, etc.). On this basis, they prepare an expert opinion and formulate a decision recommendation for the HSBA Accreditation Committee, which then decides on the accreditation. The Accreditation Committee is composed of the members of the University Council and the University Management. If quality requirements are not met, conditions are imposed which we must then implement within 12 months. The accreditations are issued for a limited period of time, so that each degree programme regularly goes through this quality assurance procedure again.

Because we use the procedures as an active quality development tool, we explicitly invite the experts to give us recommendations for improvement, even if we meet the criteria.

You regularly conduct surveys and evaluations among students, but also teachers. What kind of feedback do you collect and do these surveys follow a specific, recurring time frame?

Mariette: We collect feedback from our students throughout the entire student lifecycle. It starts in the first few weeks after the start of the programme: we ask how the students have arrived at HSBA and whether they have received all the relevant information about the start of their studies or whether they have missed anything. In the third semester, we continue with our "Quick Poll", a short survey on satisfaction. Here we offer a lot of space for comments and hints, which are carefully processed and evaluated. At the end of the programme, directly after graduation, we conduct our graduate survey with a review of the entire programme. After another four or five years, we survey our former students again: What has become of them? Where are they working now? How do they assess their studies at HSBA after they have gained further work experience? Did the content of their studies lack anything that would have been important in their professional lives from today's perspective?

In parallel, we conduct ongoing teaching evaluations. Every single course can be evaluated by our students! The results are looked at in particular by the respective course directors and those responsible for the modules, as this is specifically about the content, but the programme management is also involved. In the last lesson of each course, the teacher discusses the results with the group. 

Depending on the need, there are also special surveys. A good example is our survey on digital teaching in the Corona pandemic. At intervals of two years, we also survey our cooperating companies as well as our teachers, i.e., the entire professoriate and all teaching assistants, and derive potential for improvement from this.

Is there perhaps one question that is particularly important for the students from your point of view?  

Mariette: For me, all the questions including the answers are very important, but the feedback on the question about the greatest need for improvement is certainly particularly valuable for both sides. Here, the students can anonymously and quite openly state in free text what they would like to see improved. Here they contribute their personal views and give us concrete tips and examples of where exactly things are still lacking. We have the impression that our students want to get involved and participate - because overall they are really very committed. 

Conversely, the most important question our students ask us is: "What are you going to do with it now?

That would also be our question: what happens to the feedback as soon as one presses the "Send evaluation" button? How and for whom are the data and comments processed? 

Mariette: Fortunately, we evaluate everything online, so we receive a comprehensive statistical evaluation from our evaluation system with diagrams and information on arithmetic means, dispersion, etc. This allows us to focus on the content analysis, which proceeds in several stages. 

We sift through the results and analyse all comments and free-text responses in detail and at great expense. To protect individual rights and in accordance with our evaluation rules, we remove disparaging or offensive content. Fortunately, this only happens very rarely.

The data is thus processed, compared with the previous year's data and the free-text comments are "clustered" with the help of the qualitative evaluation tool MAXQDA, i.e., sorted according to the different subject areas and prepared for the individual departments of HSBA. This enables us to provide our various internal and external stakeholders with target group-specific information. We then discuss the focal points specifically with the programme directors and colleagues from the administration, and also with the university management. The results are further processed in various committees and team constellations, and measures are developed and implemented. Our task as QM is to keep an eye on who can or should implement what, when and how, and whether we can provide support. We follow up if the implementation stalls and are always there to advise. At the end of the year, we write a report, the Evaluation and Progress Report, which we send to all our stakeholders. In it, we report which improvements have been made at HSBA as a result of the feedback and what is still in the planning stage.

What feedback do the students get? How do you find out about measures or improvements or even if something is deliberately not changed? 

Mariette: Of course, the students also receive our evaluation and progress report. But since this is very extensive, we have recently started sending them a condensed version of the results from the surveys so that they can see at a glance what the overall picture is, for example, which topics were mentioned most often. The implementation of the measures is then an ongoing process about which the students are informed either directly by the lecturers in the course or via a post in the internal team channels.  

Unfortunately, requests for improvement cannot always be implemented immediately and sometimes not to everyone's satisfaction, even if we would like to. Measures such as the adaptation of examination forms or an adjustment in module composition can be implemented quickly, for example. Other changes take some time. A current example is the introduction of the SemesterTicket, which 70 percent of all students voted for in a recent survey. We will now introduce the ticket for the start of studies in 2022 and are looking forward to it. But: all earlier cohorts, i.e., precisely those who voted for its introduction, will unfortunately no longer be able to benefit from it. Like many generations of students before them, however, they have made a difference and achieved something with their commitment, so perhaps that can be a consolation!

Are there any numbers, dates or facts that were particularly funny or surprising for you? 

Mariette and Sarah: There are actually no particularly funny or surprising facts, but we do have some hopefully impressive figures: 

  • Almost 700 students, graduates, alumni, teachers and company representatives gave us their extensive feedback in the academic year 20/21. Quite a lot of different people with different views and opinions. 
  • In addition, an average of 4,500 evaluations were received per academic year just for the teaching evaluations of the Bachelor's programmes. 
  • In the Quick Poll in the 3rd semester alone, we coded and clustered 696 free-text comments.

The numbers sound good, but presumably it can never be enough, can it? 

Mariette: Yes, that's true. We are always happy about lively participation in the surveys, because of course the more people take part, the broader the acceptance of the statements made there. And the stronger a statement, the stronger our leverage is to make a difference! 

Sarah: And that's what's particularly fun: finding approaches and solutions together with students, teachers and staff, even if it sometimes takes a little longer.