Academic departments at Royal Holloway, and partners involved with collaborative programmes, undergo a formal review approximately every five to six years (or before the end of the institutional contract with a third party, for collaborative provision). The purpose of the review is:
- to supplement the annual review process by performing a reasonable test of its effectiveness in each department and faculty, and by creating a periodic opportunity for more fundamental scrutiny of departmental provision for students, using external expertise to recognise, and identify opportunities for, enhancement;
- to test and explore the implementation of institutional policy and strategy in departments;
- to gather evidence in order for the College to assure itself of the academic standard and quality of the programmes and learning environment;
- to relate current and future plans for teaching, learning and assessment in the department to the College’s strategic planning process
The review covers all aspects of academic provision for undergraduate and postgraduate taught and research students in the department, including those on collaborative, distance-learning and international programmes of the University of London. Areas of scrutiny broadly include curriculum design, delivery and assessment; the management of teaching at departmental level; teaching qualifications and teaching-related CPD of academic staff; research training and supervision; learning resources and support; department finances; the relationship between teaching and research and arrangements for the review and enhancement of provision. The review does not take account of staff research activity per se except inasmuch as this has bearing on the development of a departmental research culture, of which research students are necessarily a part. Similarly, departmental planning is considered only in the context of student provision.
The role of students in the review of a department’s provision is considered to be a fundamental element. A representative from the Students’ Union (normally the Vice-President (Education)) is a full member of the Periodic Departmental Review Panel. The Panel meets with representative groups of students from the department under review to obtain their views on a broad range of matters relating to their experience as students in the department and the College. Student feedback which is collected as part of the annual review process and the results of student surveys, including the National Student Survey (NSS), Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) and Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES), are considered as part of the evidence base. Furthermore, where possible student focus groups are held to gather a broad range of views.
The review is conducted by a panel, which is convened by the Vice Principal (Education) on behalf of the Academic Board. Whilst the Vice Principal (Education) may alter the configuration according to the nature and scope of the provision which is under review, normally the Panel will be constituted as follows.
- Vice Principal (Education)
- at least two external specialists in the discipline(s) under review
- two members of the academic teaching staff of the College
- a Students' Union sabbatical officer
- Head of Academic Quality and Policy Office
- Faculty Assistant Registrar
The Chair may invite others with particular expertise (for example, staff from Careers and Employability or Support and Advisory Services) to advise and participate in specific aspects of the review. A representative of the University of London International Programmes will always be invited to observe meetings at which the University of London International Programmes are reviewed. The names of Panel members and of others who have been invited to participate will be communicated to the department. None of the Panel members or other participants will be from the department which is under review.
External Panel Members
External specialists are full and equal members of the Panel. Their particular role is to advise on the extent to which academic standards, subject benchmarks and professional requirements are being met, and to apply their experience gained outside the College in evaluating and suggesting enhancements to the provision which is under review. At least one external specialist will normally have experience of leading and/or managing an academic unit. They are selected by the Chair, where possible, from a list of nominees provided in advance by the department, although the Chair may also seek advice and nominations from the relevant Faculty Dean and learned societies or professional bodies. The Chair will seek to ensure an appropriate match with the department's provision in reference to factors such as academic level, range across the discipline, modes of delivery, and professional, vocational and practical elements. All external specialists must be of sufficient authority in the field of teaching to command respect in the discipline and/or profession; familiar with current national standards and procedures in teaching, learning and assessment in Higher Education and/or professional training (where relevant); with significant experience in the organisation of teaching at a programme, departmental or faculty level and able to provide an impartial view. External panel members would normally be expected to be of Senior Lecturer grade (Principal Lecturer or above if from a post-1992 institution) or above, or the equivalent.
Internal Panel Members
The particular role of the internal academic members of the Panel is to apply their knowledge of College systems and frameworks in evaluating and suggesting enhancements to the provision that is under review, and to promote the identification and spread of good practice. In order to facilitate this type of interaction, normally one internal academic member will be from the faculty in which the department under review is located, and the other member will be from another faculty.
The primary role of the Students’ Union member is to ensure that issues raised in the review include consideration of the student perspective. He/she in particular assists the Panel in identifying questions for, and eliciting views from, students during the review.
Head of Academic Quality and Policy Office
The Head of Academic Quality and Policy Office ensures equivalence of process across all periodic reviews and assists the Panel Chair in identifying the key commendations and recommendations for the department and College.
Conduct of Review
Briefing for Department
Normally six months in advance of the Review a member of the Academic Quality and Policy Office (normally the Faculty Assistant Registrar) briefs the Head of Department (and another members of the department, as appropriate) on the process of review.
The review is conducted on the basis of documentation and structured meetings with students, teaching staff and other relevant stakeholders. In order to ensure that the review is relevant and does not generate undue expenditure of effort, as far as possible the Panel will restrict its attention to documentation that is generated routinely by the department and College. The purpose of the meetings is to gain a more direct impression of students' experiences of the department, to explore issues through discussion with staff, and to test claims which are made in the documentation.
The core documentation is collected three months in advance of the review but will be submitted to the Panel six weeks prior to the review with the Departmental Overview. The Panel will also be provided with information such as the departmental financial analysis, the results of student surveys (including the NSS, PTES and PRES), benchmarked statistical information such as staff:student ratios against comparable institutions, and other information such as the department’s current DOB accounts and the last strategic planning submission, student academic appeals received, suspensions of regulations sought, and student assessment offence cases benchmarked against Faculty and College norms. The Panel will also seek the views of internal key stakeholders which will normally include the Faculty Dean, the Director of Careers and Employability, Director of Library Services, the Head of Support & Advisory Services, the Head of Educational Development, and the Head of CeDAS, to comment in writing on the extent and effectiveness of their interaction with the department; what they consider to be the particular strengths of the department; and any areas which they believe would warrant further investigation during the review. All written comments are shared with the department as soon as they are received. The purpose of this is to provide a transparent mechanism through which the Panel can retrieve information which has built up over time through the department’s interaction with other areas of the College, and use this to help plan and give focus to the review. All information received will be shared with the Department before the Review. Full details are set out in the PDR Document Checklist.
Additional documents may be requested either before or during the review. These will only be documents which it is reasonable to expect would normally be kept on file. The department may be asked to provide access to online materials and forums. There will be an additional submission from the University of London International Programmes in cases where external provision is under review.
The Department Overview is normally prepared by the Head of Department/School with support from the Academic Quality and Policy team and should be submitted at least six weeks in advance of the Review. It is the only document written by the department for the specific purpose of the review. The purpose of the Overview is to provide a brief summary of the department but more importantly an evaluation of the department and its provision. For example, the Overview should highlight good practice in terms of the academic provision including student and staff support, explain the ethos behind programme design, and outline challenges and opportunities, and how these might be overcome and taken advantage of, respectively. The Departmental Overview template should be completed.
All the core documentation, except the examples of students' work, is sent to the Panel at least six weeks before the review meetings are due to take place. Each Panel member is asked for structured feedback on the documentation and recommendations on any areas which they believe would warrant further investigation during the review. The Chair uses this feedback to determine a detailed plan and lists of required attendees for the review meetings, and to identify any further documentation which might be required from the department. An example of the review meetings typically held provides details of the staff the Panel is likely to want to meet.
Normally the review meetings will take place over two days, but in cases where the provision under review is especially broad or complex the meetings may extend to three days. The schedule always includes separate meetings with undergraduate and postgraduate students, a number of meetings with teaching staff, and a final session at which the Chair provides brief, oral feedback to the department on the Panel's key conclusions. Meetings with representatives of partners on collaborative programmes and technical staff who have teaching or training responsibilities may be included. In cases where programmes under review have a strongly vocational or professional focus, the Chair may also ask to meet with a representative sample of employers. The schedule may also include a tour of departmental learning and support facilities. In order to promote the Faculty’s ownership of the review outcome, the Dean is invited to join the Panel for the beginning session and the final discussions on the findings and conclusions reached, and for the feedback session with the departmental staff.
Outcome and Feedback
The review report is drafted by the Secretary and circulated to Panel members. It is subject to final approval by the Chair. As part of the drafting process, the department under review is invited to comment upon any errors of fact, as well as any instances where it is felt that comments or judgements are based on a misconception of the facts of the matter. However, information will be taken into account at this stage only if it was made available to the Panel previously as part of the review. The report lists the commendations and any recommendations for the Department, Faculty and College in the first section and provides a more detailed account of the Review in the second section.
Once the report has been finalised by the Chair, it is remitted to the Head of Department and the Faculty Dean for the development of an action plan to implement recommendations and for sharing with departmental staff at a Departmental Board meeting or a meeting specially constituted for this purpose. Departmental input is central to the development of the action plan, which may require staff with administrative roles such as Director of Graduate Studies or Academic Coordinator to address particular recommendations. The Faculty Dean, in consultation with the Faculty Assistant Registrar, works with the Head of Department to produce an action plan which should address the recommendations for the department, Faculty and College.
Approval and Monitoring
The report and action plans follow a pre-determined schedule (see PDR schedule) which sets out the committee and date of meetings when the PDR report and action plan will be considered, approved, and monitored. (This normally all takes place within 12 months). The action plan and the report are submitted together to the Faculty Board. The role of the Faculty Board is to support the Head of Department and Faculty Dean in producing an action plan which provides the most effective response to issues and good practice identified in the report. Members of Faculty Board should share their experience of finding solutions to similar issues, or may identify issues which apply equally to them and which could be resolved collaboratively. After consideration by the Faculty Board, the Faculty Dean submits the action plan to the Academic Board, via the Learning, Teaching and Quality Committee (LTQC), for approval.
LTQC considers the report and action plan:
- as an interfaculty committee, in order to advise on any interfaculty issues and any College-wide issues;
- as steering committee to the Academic Board, in order to advise on whether specific issues should be remitted to other committees;
- as a planning committee, in order to consider issues relating to the availability and use of resources which may need to be taken into account during the annual planning process. Any such matters are referred to the Planning and Resources Committee.
The role of the Academic Board is to scrutinise the report and action plan, together with any additional comments made by the LTQC, in order to assure itself that the review conducted in its name has been conducted satisfactorily within agreed guidelines (Academic Board may also recommend that the guidelines should be amended in future); and that the proposed action plan constitutes an adequate and appropriate response to all the issues raised in the report. If the Academic Board is not satisfied with either the report or the action plan, it may refer the matter back to the Head of Department, the Faculty Dean or the Chair as appropriate. Individual members with genuine concerns about the review may also contact the Chair of Academic Board to request access to the documentary evidence considered by the Panel.
Once approved by Academic Board, the report and action plan should be shared with the students in the department by circulating it via student departmental email addresses and notifying them that the report and action plan will be discussed at the next meeting of the Staff:Student Committee (as required by the Staff:Student Committee constitution).
Progress on action points is monitored according to the PDR schedule by the Faculty Board and LTQC. LTQC acts on behalf of Academic Board to review all recommendations including those which are outside the immediate remit of LTQC.