Time to think about education
Every six years educational programmes in the Netherlands need to go through a (re)accreditation process, supervised by the Dutch Accreditation Organization for Higher Education. A panel of external experts assess if programmes deliver good quality education and if their graduates master relevant skills and knowledge.
For our Master programme on Water Management and Governance it was the third time to go through such a process. It requires a lot of work for those involved, so some might see it as a futile burden or as an external driven ‘’checking the box’’ in which we need to keep up the appearance, but our experience is quite different. The (re)accreditation process offers us every six years a moment to think, a moment to reflect how our programme evolved over time and to craft where it is going in the future. Every October a new batch of energetic, bright and inspiring students enrol in our programme, bringing their own experiences, ambitions and creativities to class. And every year our dedicated, passionate and adept lecturing staff make changes to the content and didactical approach of the modules they teach. In these dynamics of delivering annually a Master programme it is sometime difficult to keep track of what we do and how we do it. The (re)accreditation process creates space to take stock of all the changes the programme went through and to discuss with students and staff how the programme can further improve in the years to come.
As first step in the (re)accreditation process we drafted last year a report in which we had to evaluate our own programme on a few predetermined standards. Writing this report helped us to synthesize the current developments related to water management and governance and to better articulate our position in this field of study. For instance, we made more explicit that interdisciplinarity is a main subject in our teaching, both through creating space for discussing (ways of dealing with) the challenges of combining insights, concepts, theories and methods from multiple disciplines, as well as through paying attention to different ways of doing interdisciplinary research (process, modelling and theories). Based on this we revisited which knowledge and skills we expect our students to have obtained upon graduation: our overall objective is to equip our students with a sound scientific knowledge base to understand and assess (trends in) water availabilities and qualities, while also learning to engage with controversies and reflect critically on how different understandings and assessment methods and outcomes may themselves be informed by, or entangled with, interests and power relations. As part of drafting this self-assessment report, we further developed the different learning trajectories, tailored to the needs of individual students, that our programmes offers and identified four thematic profiles that students can opt for. We also documented and assessed the various changes made in the curricula during the past six years and made plans for the years to come to implement our ideas and ambitions. Moreover, we identified several aspects of the programme that require further improvement. Amongst others, we realized we need to provide much more detailed feedback to students on their performance as this will enhance their learning process and we need to decongest the programme so that students have more time to digest, reflect on, and practice with what they have been taught.
In November 2018 a panel of six experts visited the Institute for a visitation, the second formal step in the (re)accreditation process. They scrutinized our reflection report and interviewed representatives of the Rectorate, programme committees, lecturing staff, support staff, students and alumni. They also assessed existing policies and regulations, checked student evaluations and inspected student assessments, including MSc theses, exams and assignments. Based on this visitation they wrote a report in which they very positively assessed our programme and in particularly praise the interdisciplinary and student-oriented nature of our programme. They express their appreciation for didactical approach and assessment methods as well as the diversity, dedication and quality of the teaching staff closely involved in delivering our programme. The visitation panel specifically mentioned the added value of the introductory programme on pluralizing water sciences that the water governance chair group organizes for all IHE Master programmes. The visitation panel also gave several useful recommendations, like for instance to further detail the MSc thesis rubric, to offer more advanced didactical training for lecturing staff, and to regularly carry out tracer surveys among alumni.
Based on the report written by the visitation panel we will now request the Dutch Accreditation Organization for Higher Education to reaccredit our Master programme on Water Management and Governance. This is the last formality that needs to be done and then we are assured that we can continue our mission for another six years. It was a huge effort to go through this (re)accreditation process, but for us it was so much more than merely an administrative process that we need to accomplish or an exam we need to pass; it is a moment of luxury in this rushed world in which we allow ourselves time to think, in which we get space to reflect on our teaching. It is a wonderful experience to realize every six years that our programme has progressed and further delineated its niche. It is an encouragement and honour that our programme is appreciated by a panel of experts. And it is inspiring to jointly discover innovative ways to further improve our programme, it will keep us motivated for the six years to come!