Surprise! Collaboration the key

Friday, March 17, 2017
Avondale-founded network supporting quality in Australian private higher education

An Avondale initiative that encourages providers to collaborate on Threshold Standards is improving the quality of private higher education across Australia.

The Higher Education Private Provider Quality Network (HEPP-QN)—established by Avondale College of Higher Education in 2015—appears to be building a strong sense of solidarity among representatives of its 29 member institutions. It hosts biannual conferences where leaders of public and private institutions exchange ideas and practices. Members also interact more regularly through online forums. They exchange policies and resources and manage projects through teams—15 institutions collaborated on a pilot study about academic leadership this past year, for example; the findings are providing direction for a follow-up project this year.

According to Convenor Professor Jane Fernandez, Avondale’s successful application for self-accrediting status provided the impetus to engage more strategically with other private institutions. HEPP-QN is working, she says, because the institutions are all seeking to develop the best outcomes for their graduates.

“I felt we were working as islands,” says Fernandez, Vice-President (Quality and Strategy) at Avondale, “but the future was clear: we needed to build a community of practice. Avondale was in the position to provide leadership—we had so much to give and so much more to learn. We felt an outcomes-based approach would engage constructively with and work for the good of the sector.”

Two years ago, [my HEPP-QN colleagues and I] were sharing documents on policy and procedures. Today, we have a strategic long-term plan that provides much-needed clarity for those willing to traverse the minefield of leadership in higher education.Dr Kathie Ardzejewska, Manager, Learning and Teaching Office, The University of Notre Dame Australia

The constructive nature of the network is resonating with member institutions. Dr Kathie Ardzejewska, Manager of the Learning and Teaching Office at The University of Notre Dame Australia, feels the forums are lightening the burden of establishing quality measures because each institution is “no longer trying to reinvent the wheel.” “It is truly amazing to see how well this group shares, particularly in a world where education is a commodity,” she says.

Rev Dr Stephen Spence, Vice-President (Education and Research) at Tabor College of Higher Education, echoes Ardzejewska’s sentiment. “When only one or two individuals in a small institution are responsible for quality assurance, it’s easy to get tunnel vision,” he says. “The encouragement and advice we receive from HEPP-QN makes the task doable.”

Though HEPP-QN’s members have seen success in early exchanges at the conferences and on the forums, the recent move to a practitioner project-based model is, Fernandez says, an attempt to “more strategically align the network’s activities with its capacity-building goals.”

This is how the model works. The HEPP-QN Steering Group identifies issues for members to discuss at the conferences. Members are then encouraged to form teams to manage projects and address issues arising from the discussions.

HEPP-QN will launch two projects, Developing Academic Leadership and Towards a Framework in Support of Self-Accrediting Authority, at its conference in Sydney next month (April). The projects focus on organisational culture in the context of academic leadership and on developing a best-practice quality assurance framework in the context of the 2015 Threshold Standards.

Members have welcomed the move to the practitioner project-based model. “HEPP-QN has provided a forum to turn a general commitment to quality into concrete actions and outcomes,” says Dr David Perry, Chief Academic Officer at Alphacrucis College. “We’ve seen many benefits from the insights of the network during our application process for self-accrediting authority.”

Ardzejewska from The University of Notre Dame Australia is more direct. “Two years ago, [my HEPP-QN colleagues and I] were sharing documents on policy and procedures,” she says. “Today, we have a strategic long-term plan that provides much-needed clarity for those willing to traverse the minefield of leadership in higher education. Collaboration is key.”

Fernandez sees the fostering of collaboration through HEPP-QN as a practical extension of Avondale’s mission as a Christian tertiary education provider. “We established the network because we’re committed to quality and to supporting the Australian educational sector,” she says. “This is Avondale stepping up to say there’s nothing better than achieving together for the Australian sector.”

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Sara Bolst

Sara is Assistant Public Relations Officer at Avondale College of Higher Education and editor of Reflections, the biannual magazine for alumni of Avondale.