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Report of the 2013 Academic Audit of Massey University

Report of the 2013 Academic Audit of Massey University: Executive Summary

Established originally as a College of Agriculture in 1928, Massey has been a university since 1964. It has campuses in Manawatu (at Palmerston North), Auckland (at Albany) and Wellington and also delivers a programme in Singapore. Nearly half of its students study by distance (15,627 students out of a total enrolment of 33,491 students in 2012).

The University was audited by the Academic Quality Agency for New Zealand Universities (AQA) in 2013. The AQA audit methodology is centred on a framework of 40 Guideline Statements which are expressions of the qualities or standards which a contemporary university of good standing internationally might be expected to demonstrate.

The University was last audited by AQA (as the then New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit) in 2008. The Panel was pleased to see the momentum sustained since that audit. It noted the large amount of work which has been done in preparing and communicating the Strategic Plan and the systematic development of policy and procedures around core academic activities. Given the wide-ranging nature of these new processes and activities, the challenge to embed these across all Colleges and campuses is significant.

The Panel found that the ways in which Massey University articulates and manages its multi-campus model are effective and clear. The Panel observed that Colleges are the driving structure for implementation of the University’s strategic objectives, and that individually they appear to be effective in this role, albeit with differing approaches. There is, however, a tension within the shared services approach to delivering some support services, which will need to be resolved. These tensions were indicated in inconsistencies between Colleges in their responses to the challenges they perceive arising from this model of service delivery. The University might consider whether some generic solutions might be found to problems perceived by staff in the Colleges.

The University’s current Strategic Plan is articulated in “The Road to 2020”. Its strategy “to define the future of our nation and take what is special about New Zealand to the World” is founded on the values of creativity, innovation and connectedness. The strategy is formulated around seven “Big Goals” related to research and scholarship, teaching and learning, internationalisation, connections, responsibility, generating income, and enabling excellence. Communication about the Strategic Plan to staff appears to have been very good. However, a number of staff who were interviewed were unsure of the implications of related strategic documents for their work or administrative/academic area.

The Panel was impressed by the ways in which the University is endeavouring to ensure that pedagogy is shaping learning space development. It also believes that the Student Success Policy and Academic Standing Model are examples of good innovative practice. The University is commended for its extensive range of student support services and for endeavouring to ensure these meet the needs of students on all campuses, and in whatever mode of learning they are engaged. The University is aware of challenges in recruitment and retention of Māori and Pacific students and has a range of initiatives to support them. It was clear to the Panel from these and other initiatives that the University is trying to be student-centred. However, there remain a number of challenges which distance students face which are specific to the distance mode of delivery and the study style of distance students. These challenges impact directly on student engagement and success. The Panel notes that some of the issues identified for distance students had been raised by the 2008 audit panel and, despite the University’s close attention to them, they seem to persist.

The University is commended on its systematic framework for recognizing excellent teaching. The Panel encourages the University to persist in ensuring all academic staff are well versed in the pedagogical and technological approaches required for the University to deliver effectively its strategic goal of “an exceptional and distinctive learning experience at Massey for all students”.

The Panel found that implementation of several aspects of teaching and learning across Colleges and across different delivery modes and sites is inconsistent. In part this inconsistency relates to individual staff choice and in part to variation in implementation of institutional policies and practices across Colleges. Such matters as differing grading practices, different approaches to stakeholder engagement and different approaches to academic decision-making with respect to, for example, aegrotats or appeals, risk undermining academic quality if there is not a shared consensus on desired standards.

The University has a sound equivalence policy but work is needed to ensure this is widely understood and applied effectively. Similarly, the University has robust policies and regulations related to academic misconduct but needs to ensure procedures related to use of plagiarism detection software are applied consistently. Staff induction is another area identified by the Panel as needing attention in some, but probably not all, areas of the University.

The Panel was satisfied that the University’s processes around doctoral study are sound. However it has raised some issues regarding the supervision and support of sub-doctoral research students, in particular with respect to those processes which are College-led or determined.

In sum, the Panel considers the University’s strategic planning and overall academic policy and process framework are sound but that some weaknesses occur when these are implemented or articulated at College level or for specific groups of students. Given that Colleges appear to be the main drivers of the University’s academic activity, and the bodies charged with the main force of implementation of the Strategic Plan, it is critical that the University pays attention to points of vulnerability or sensitivity within Colleges with regard to its over-arching objectives and operationalization.

The University has proposed 33 enhancement initiatives emerging from its self-review process. A number of the initiatives are works in progress. Nevertheless the list implies a significant work plan for the University.

The Panel has made four commendations, six affirmations and 17 recommendations.

The full report is available from the AQA website:


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