IMPLEMENTATION OF QUALITY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS IN HEI: THE APPROACH OF THE POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE OF SETÚBAL (PORTUGAL)
Higher Education Institutions (HEI) have special features that matter to consider in the implementation of its Quality Management Systems (QMS). These should convey clear and broadly accepted messages, so they need to find the best balance between academic freedom and responsibility for accountability. Given these characteristics, as well as the weakness of diagnostic tools, the culture of independence of teachers and insufficient authority and stability of the management bodies, the QMS of the Polytechnic Institute of Setúbal (IPS) was designed to be based on two fundamental pillars: profound knowledge of the variables with impact on results and evidence-based management. In other words, it was not based on procedures (as usual), but in information. In this sense, and assuming known statement that “we cannot manage what we do not know”, the basic component of the QMS is a monitoring system. We applied the recommendation of Snyder et al. (2000, p.320) "Stimulating the imbalance with information", urging people to act on the basis of clear information.
The work undertaken till now (last five years) is described and discussed critically. This work includes, among other activities and projects, the design of a Global Model Process, the design of the organizational structure of IPS’s Integrated Management System (SIGIPS), and the definition of the institutional Quality Policy. In addition, and assuming QMS as multidisciplinary fields, it has also been stepping up the contribution of Research and Development (R&D) activities of some teachers, combined with the needs of scientific and technical support related to the implementation of the system itself. It is in this context that SIGIPS’s central coordination unit (UNIQUA/IPS), whose constitution also includes a Studies and Planning Center, has been operating a set of complementary studies in priority areas, particularly with regard to the teaching and learning process. Examples of this are the (annual) reports of socio demographic characterization of students and the studies about the evaluation of the implementation of Bologna process in the context of the institution and about issues of academic success/failure and dropout.
The main findings are presented, namely the reduction of the administrative and burocratic work, the increase of management support and the availability of updated and relevant information, reinforcing the management style based on facts. The initiatives have always had technical and scientific support, gathering support and credibility to QMS.
The top structure of the QMS is innovative, balancing academic knowledge and the application of quality techniques and methods to HEI, contributing to a structure of practical research. The questionnaires for assessing student perceptions were discussed and it was concluded that traditionally they are "too reactive" (applied in end of semesters), which means that other diagnostic instruments (proactive and dynamic) are necessary. This situation has, therefore, reinforce the need to use instruments nearer to the "problem situation" in regard to the teaching learning process, which would contribute to more effective process improvement and could even involve the participation of students or be managed by them. Finally, an adequate Information System based on the Information and Communication Technologies is definitely an indispensable resource.