May 7, 1999 Volume 6, Number 16

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University launches Systematic Program Review

The review, designed to encourage program development and innovation, will cover all instructional programs at the U of S over a seven-year cycle.

There's a new abbreviation in the air: SPR - Systematic Program Review.

Think of it as a Council-approved, quality control initiative that's intended to evaluate, over a seven-year cycle, all the programs delivered to both undergraduate and graduate students here.

Caroline Davis, now seconded from University Studies Group to coordinate the program, says the process "is intended to encourage program development and innovation, while satisfying the need for University accountability concerning its programs."

The "program-focused, unit-based" approach for the SPR derives from a 1994 report entitled A Background Paper and Proposal for a Systematic Program Review Process at the University of Saskatchewan, authored by Council's Academic Planning and Priorities Committee (APPC). The primary characteristics to be assessed in the program reviews derive from APPC's 1996 report, A Framework for the Evaluation of Academic Programs.

High quality, in demand, and efficient

The report determined that all the academic programs should "be of high quality, be in demand by students and the public, [and] use resources efficiently." Additionally, the report noted that it's important to consider any unique features a program may have and what degree of relevance it has to the province.

Dr. Sylvia Wallace, associate v-p (academic), says the criteria for the reviews that will be conducted of the graduate programs also flow from the APPC's Framework report - "but the questions you ask, on, say, the curriculum of a given graduate program will be different [from the ones on an undergraduate program.]"

Under the direction of Blaine Holmlund, the U of S conducted various College reviews from the mid-1970s to the mid-'80s, before turning its attention to the Issues and Options initiative during the Leo Kristjanson's term as president.

With the new initiative, all the University's instructional programs will come under scrutiny according to criteria involving such information as curricular content and objectives; the credentials and research-related achievements of faculty; the nature of the learning environment; the sufficiency of infrastructure for the program; students outcomes; etc.

Wallace says each program review will consist of a self-study - a collection and analysis of the kind of information just cited - followed by an external review, in which discipline experts from outside the University will study the information; meet with faculty, students, and recent alumni; then write a report (for Vice-president Michael Atkinson and Dean Gary Kachanoski, Graduate Studies and Research).

On the basis of each report (on which the College/unit will have an opportunity to comment), Atkinson and Kachanoski - in concert with the Planning Committee (for undergraduate programs) or the PhD Committee (for graduate programs) - will recommend an assessment grade of either A (top grade), B, C, or D as per the four Council-approved categories.

Deans will be asked to develop "action plans" based on the review and assessment. Any changes proposed for programs would be dealt with by the normal procedures of Council and its committees.

Wallace says the review program itself will be reviewed as experience is gained in conducting the reviews on campus, adding that "to some extent, the SPR is consolidating and organizing a process that already occurs."

She says various professional accreditation programs that take place - usually to assess whether students are being adequately prepared to enter their chosen profession - will continue.

"Our program will also look into such questions, but we'll be asking questions concerning other issues that need to be addressed."

As far as possible, she says, reviews under the SPR initiative will be scheduled to coincide with accreditation reviews, since much of the data gathered can be applied to both.

Programs in the College of Agriculture will be the first to come under review, with those in Pharmacy & Nutrition to follow.

Indeed, data gathering has already begun in Agriculture, with a site visit by external assessors scheduled for January of 2000.

A $65,000 budget for the review covers travel costs for the external reviewers, small honoraria for them, and printing costs.

There is no new salary budget for SPR. Staff have been re-assigned to the initiative, with Davis being on full-time secondment, another USG staffer doing data collection, and a third from Graduate Studies and Research to support the graduate program review.

Full information on the SPR process is available at

Professor Ron Steer, chairman of the Planning Committee; Caroline Davis, coordinator of the Systematic Program Review; Vice-president Michael Atkinson; and Dean Gary Kachanoski, Graduate Studies and Research, discuss the SPR initiative. The intention is to foster program development and innovation.

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