TNC Programme Imaging


TNC programme imaging™ of the research-teaching nexus is a qualitative instrument to (self-)assess the embedding of research in any curriculum; bachelor- and master programmes and but also parts thereof like specializations (afstudeerrichtingen) and even individual courses. The term used in Dutch legislation is "verankering van onderzoek in onderwijs".1

The imaging is arranged as a guided self-assessment by teaching staff, mirrored by valuations of students and alumni. The basic image is partly based on a partition of prof. Mick Healey2. The imaging assesses the teaching research embedding at the level of a) the programme, b) the majors and c) their constituent courses in a qualitative way.

The linking of research and teaching ('verankering van onderzoek in onderwijs') is key to the academic orientation and quality of a programme. It makes sense to have such a broad criterion. Weaving of the fruits of research into the fabric of an academic curriculum is a pivotal element of any university programme. Therefore is 'verankering' an explicit criterion for the institutional accreditation ('instellingstoets kwaliteitzorg'). Once, a visiting committee concluded a lack of specific policies on this embedding and saw risks for the balance between teaching and research. The university did not pass this criterion, was urged to develop and implement a policy and required to undergo a re-examination.

The importance of embedding is underscored in a report (26 June 2015) of the Adviesraad voor Wetenschap, Technologie en Innovatie). This Government Council concludes: "In higher education teaching and research have always been and are interconnected. This is important for students and teaching and scientific staff. This link, however, is under pressure and requires a renewal."

Whereas the enhancement of the academic curriculum by the embedding of research is a criterion in the Dutch institutional reviews, the key of this is only found in the daily implementation of a curriculum at course level. Of course, other than in the institutional accreditation, 'embedding' in programme accreditation is an integrated element of several of the standards that are applied to (especially) university programmes.

Imaging processes will be carried out by Peter Kwikkers, founding partner, who developed and operationalized the imaging instrument in 2013. Peter is also a certified project manager for NVAO-accreditations and wrote several books and articles on accreditation and quality of higher education and a variety of other topics in higher education and research. The imaging process can also be carried out through the inclusion of external peers, if so desired.

Purposes and opportunities

Why putting the topic of 'verankering' on the agenda through this phased imaging process?

Our imaging model provides an evidence-based and practical analysis for further internal discussion, evaluation and development. That is why a first report will be provisional: to be finalised after a feedback and check loop. The final report may also serve the preparatory processes of the next rounds of accreditation. After the internal mid-term reviews, this may be a next step towards the following external research assessment (onderzoekvisitatie), programme accreditation (NVAO-opleidingsaccreditatie) and institutional review (NVAO-instellingstoets kwaliteitzorg). Consequently, this (process of) imaging is not the goal but an instrument for maintaining and self-improving the quality and balance of the programme. It is, however, also useable at individual student level to assist their individual choices.

This (self) analysis serves the educational policy making but is not – that is not necessarily – aimed at changing the organisation, the programme or the courses; and certainly not top-down.

The imaging tool can serve other purposes as well: from macro to individual student and teacher levels. If so requested, reports will extensively discuss these possibilities in detail, even if the central questions "What defines (sufficient or good) academic quality, academic level or well embedded research and how will the programme be regarded on the topic of embedding?" are complex enough.

Without getting quantitative – like counting the pages of publications in A-journals that are embedded in the programme – the imaging touches upon methodological dilemma’s like:

  • Is there a shared view and are clear internal standards applied?
  • What is the policy at institutional, programme, as well as course level?
  • Which (sorts of) approximations are used in considering this?
  • What are the criteria to be applied (and by whom)?

At that juncture it can be decided whether those standards (course wise and programme wise) are met and to start speculating what the (more or less implicit) definitions and criteria applied by external assessors may be. All this needs to be thoroughly analysed amongst colleagues to start with, to be afterwards able to do this with the external peers.

The programme imaging evaluates the main indicators for the academic level of any programme in the most sophisticated and underpinned qualitative way that is currently available. Firstly, the process aims at wider discussions about course design, content and implementation, and is, secondly, an instrument that serves the continuous enhancement of the programme as a whole, the individual majors and the individual courses. The imaging ‘pictures the ‘colour and cohesion of the programme’, and help reconsidering this with a special view to the interrelations between the research, curriculum content and didactic approach (teaching and working methods). This imaging serves a better common understanding of the research-teaching nexus. It enables to discuss this self-analysis, and connected matters, in order to strengthen its curricula and – if desired – its research policies too: an insight in the state of the art of the programme from an in-depth perspective on the research teaching nexus allowing for further discussion, development and fine tuning.

The concepts of embedding and research

The level of embedding of research is certainly easier to agree upon than the valuation of the academic quality of the education programme and the academic level of the graduate. The question is rightly asked what the criterion is of a sufficient academic level, of sufficient embedding. It should be reiterated that the course imaging is a self-assessment, using the staff’s own standards, mirrored by student and alumni opinions and assisted by the completion of the preparatory formats. This requires indeed (to develop) a common understanding of these concepts among the staff. How external visiting panels approach this criterion requires an objectivising, but surely concern subjective criteria and impressions too.

In accreditation procedures, the term 'research' is used in the wide sense of the word. With respect to the aims of this imaging process, we define 'research' as broadly: scientific as well as applied research that can be considered as embedded in the teaching and examination: free or 'fundamental' research, programme funded research as well as contract research, applied research, field and desk research. We do not, yet, need to deal with questions of valorisation, practical exercise, policy research, disciplines or 'schools'.

The embedding of research, however, is not the goal. It serves as a stepping stone and is a strong quality indicator. Embedding serves the goal of maintaining and enhancing the academic quality, the academic level, the academic attitude or whatever concepts or wordings are used to approximate the broad objective of providing a university degree programme for a student.

This criterion is not solely to measure the outlet of the research of staff members. The criterion of 'verankering' is also aimed at the embedding of the staff members’ own research, but certainly not restricted to that. On the contrary. This holds true for this programme imaging as well as for the external visiting committees that play their part in the Dutch double model of accreditation.

There are neither straightforward definitions nor criteria for the linking of research and teaching. This is in itself an image that must be substantiated by numerous elements that constitute an embedding. Consequently, to assess this concept in a qualitative way requires the inclusion of various definitions and notions, but will always remain subjective to some extent, like academic quality, academic depth, academic level and 'quality' itself.

The ways and means of linking are omnifarious. They should, however, not be accidental but be deliberate standard procedure. Therefore, we do not present a detailed break down or a relative weighting of criteria, but use a variety of impact indicators. Subsequently, the images show a cross section of a diverse set of notions or characteristics that reveal the main appearances of the teaching research nexus of the subject programme.

Despite these broad and abstract notions it always appears possible to agree on the judgement of the (academic) quality. Self-assessment is the starting point of the discussion, academic accountability the second, peer review the third and political decision the final stage.

The basic image

The basic image is a continuum. Background lines only help the plotting and interpreting which is done at course level during the primary input. The dimensions of the images in order of priority are:

  1. Radius: a perception of the level of embedding of research, academic level, etc.
  2. Y axe: the relative weight of content (the 'what' and the 'why') opposite to methods, techniques and methodology (the 'how').
  3. X axe: the labour division or ratio of teacher activated : student activated.

Hence: the relative distance from the midpoint (radius) defines the degree of influx of research in the course. The position relative to the axes defines the character of the course in terms of teacher activated – student activated and content – methods and techniques. The axes teacher-student en content-method are assisting to the primary dimension of academic quality / research embedding.

The images give an impression of the 3 dimensions (teacher-student, content-methods, and research-teaching-nexus) from various perspectives and of different intersections programme/courses. Specific images could be extracted for advice and decision, and to support the choices of the optional courses as well as for the preparation for the individual research paper. The images show each specific (coded) course as to the term/year in which a course is planned, the assessing group (staff, student, alumni, aggregated), as well as the number of credits (EC).

Programme images look like this:

Some other technicalities

All stages of the imaging process contribute to reflections at personal, team as well as leadership level. Naturally, this tool is aimed at raising questions and maybe even some disquiet. Imaging meetings are a data gathering, not (yet) for discussion. At this point one reassurance is vital. This (self)assessment tool – although multipurpose – is primarily aimed at making the important (external) criterion of 'verankering' (embedding) better tangible in the preparatory stage of the institutional audit as well as the programme accreditation. Firstly it is for 'safe' internal deliberations, enhancing the internal quality assurance system, which is also an official criterion for accreditation).

Natural to qualitative self-assessments is also that current situation, planned changes and the desired situation tend to cause some 'noise' in the picture. Due to various interrelations and side effects, the (desired) links between research and teaching throughout the programme is not as easy to get at as it seems. Also the chosen didactical forms can also bear risks of a downward effect on the effective strength of the link between research and teaching.

Clearly, the imaging is not a beauty contest between courses or teachers. It should be reiterated: this is a self-assessment of which the intention is neither to develop a standard mode nor a one size fits all and by no means a ranking. Yet, it helps to underpin the choices made, as well as the accountability at external evaluations of, for example, the NVAO. The path is decisive, not the separate stones that make it.

The stages

The standard procedure is as follows:

  • Desk research and other preparatory work that precedes the imaging meetings will be as limited as possible in order to concentrate on the interactive stages of the process.
  • An explanatory note will be drafted and send to the participants at the plotting meetings. The Explanatory note will mention some of the questions and issues that will come to the fore at the imaging meetings.
  • A preparatory format will be completed by the teaching staff in order to identify what in its view contributes to the teaching research nexus.
  • The imaging meetings will be organised according to the agreed scope of the imaging. Usually the logistic assistance for those meetings is provided by the university or hogeschool.
  • A provisional draft will be delivered to rule out error of fact.
  • The feed back loop is organised as is agreed before the imaging process starts and held at the basis of a draft (internal) report.
  • After the feed back loop the Programme Imaging Report (which may be used for external purposes also) is finalized.

1 Standard 2 of the Dutch Bylaw on the institutional reviews stipulates: "De instelling beschikt over adequaat beleid om de visie op de kwaliteit van haar onderwijs te realiseren. Dit omvat in elk geval: beleid op het gebied van onderwijs, personeel, voorzieningen, toegankelijkheid en studeerbaarheid voor studenten met een functiebeperking, verankering van onderzoek in het onderwijs, evenals de verwevenheid tussen onderwijs en het (internationale) beroepenveld en vakgebied"

2 Healy, Mick (2005). Linking research and teaching: exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning. In: R. Barnett, Reshaping the University: New Relationships between Research, Scholarship and Teaching. McGraw Hill / Open University Press, p.67-78, and Jenkins & Healy (2005). Institutional strategies to linking teaching and research. The Higher Education Academy.

View Peter Kwikkers's profile on LinkedIn


De WHW in de toekomst