Institutional Accreditation

A Look at the Inner Workings of UZH

Like all Swiss universities, UZH is required to undergo institutional accreditation to show how the university ensures the quality of its research, teaching and services. For this purpose, a self-assessment report was developed, which examines the mechanics of the higher education institution.

David Werner

Insights into UZH: Quality assurance and quality development at UZH have undergone dynamic changes over the past few years. (Image: zVg.)

How exactly does UZH manage the quality of its research, teaching and services? UZH’s recently published self-assessment report sheds some light on how this works. The report was developed as part of the Accreditation 2022 project in a collaborative effort involving several members of UZH.

According to the Higher Education Act (HFKG), all public and private higher education institutions in Switzerland must undergo institutional accreditation by the Swiss Accreditation Council. To this end, they must demonstrate that they have an appropriate quality assurance system for their teaching, research and services. It is the first time that UZH is undergoing this kind of accreditation.

During the first phase of the two-level process, higher education institutions are required to assess themselves. After roughly two years of intensive work, UZH has now completed this step. The results of the broad-based process have now been published in a nicely designed 150-page self-assessment report, which is available to all members of UZH (in German). In the second phase, which starts in March, external experts will assess UZH’s quality assurance and development system, and in the end the Swiss Accreditation Council will reach a decision on accreditation (see box).

Analyzing strengths and weaknesses

The self-assessment report opens with a profile of UZH, including key facts and figures. The second chapter gives an overview of UZH’s quality management system and shines a light on the university’s management processes, evaluations, education and teaching, research and academic career development, university services and operations. In the third chapter, the self-assessment process is explained.

The fourth chapter features the actual self-assessment, which scrutinizes the strengths, weaknesses and development opportunities of UZH according to the quality standards listed in the Accreditation Ordinance. Topics covered include UZH’s quality development strategy, governance, teaching, research and services, resources as well as internal and external comms.

The fifth and final chapter looks to the future. It consists of an action plan for the development of the university’s system of quality assurance. The following quality development goals are included:

  • Implementing the UZH Sustainability Policy
  • Increasing the proportion of women appointed as professors
  • Improving accessibility for people with a disability
  • Deepening UZH’s international network
  • Ensuring transparency when it comes to official assessments
  • Improving continuing education and training in leadership and management
  • Stepping up leadership communication

The report identifies measures for each of these goals, some of which have already kicked in.

All members of UZH involved

The self-assessment report was drawn up in a broad-based collaborative effort within UZH.

A first draft was submitted to the Executive Board of the University in June 2020. The report was then put to university-wide consultation, during which the faculties and representative bodies of UZH were able to give consolidated feedback; in addition, UZH employees had the opportunity to submit their ideas and suggestions as part of an online community review. The revised report was approved by the Executive Board of the University on 17 November 2020, and the Extended Executive Board of the University gave its approval on 1 December 2020.

“Members of UZH help safeguard and advance the quality of our university’s research, teaching and services in a variety of ways. This is why all employees and students were included in the accreditation process,” says UZH President Michael Schaepman. “Many members of UZH were involved in developing the self-assessment report. This commitment is highly beneficial and very important for the development of UZH, and has already brought about improvements. I would like to thank all involved for their hard, constructive work.”

An opportunity for the entire university

Presenting the quality-relevant processes of Switzerland’s largest university, with its seven faculties and wide range of subjects, was no easy feat. For practical reasons, clarity was given precedence over completeness.

The final report is a balanced, easy-to-read text, aimed not only at the accreditation experts but also at the students and staff of UZH. It provides an in-depth look at the culture of quality at UZH as a whole.  The report examines how the university’s various quality tools and processes fit together and enables UZH members to put their roles in a university-wide context.

Deputy President Gabriele Siegert, who heads up the Accreditation 2022 project, emphasizes that she does not see accreditation primarily as a duty imposed from the outside. “The accreditation process is a great opportunity for UZH to improve and evolve as an organization. That’s why the time it took to shine a light on and contextualize the many different quality management processes has already been worth our while.”


Next steps in the accreditation process

The self-assessment concludes the first phase of the two-level accreditation process. The second phase, which begins in March 2021 and is expected to last about five months, consists of an external assessment.

A group of external experts will visit UZH in April 2021 to gain a deeper understanding of the university and its quality assurance system. Following their visit, the group of experts will draw up a report, led by the group’s chair and with the support of the Swiss Agency for Accreditation and Quality Assurance (AAQ). The report may include recommendations for the quality development of the university. If a quality standard is not (or only partially) fulfilled, the experts will suggest one or more conditions for the future development of quality assurance. They may also recommend that accreditation be refused.

The accreditation proposal, along with the external assessment report, is submitted to the Accreditation Council, which then makes a decision and, if necessary, specifies the deadline for fulfilling conditions and the terms and conditions for overseeing their fulfillment. The entire accreditation process of UZH is supported by the Swiss Agency of Accreditation and Quality Assurance (AAQ). Accreditation must be renewed every seven years.

David Werner, Editor UZH News; English translation by Philip Isler, UZH Communications