Accreditation of Veterinary Schools in Australia and New Zealand

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1 Veterinary School Accreditation Accreditation of Veterinary Schools in Australia and New Zealand John Craven Julie Strous ABSTRACT Veterinary schools in Australia and New Zealand are assessed for accreditation purposes every six years by the Veterinary Schools Accreditation Advisory Committee (VSAAC), which is a standing committee of the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC). 1 Prior to undertaking an assessment, VSAAC requests a Self Evaluation Report from the school and subsequently spends a week on site to collect additional information. The committee also takes into consideration other quality assurance procedures within the university and aims for a process that complements other evaluation activities. Internal evaluation procedures within VSAAC are designed to reflect the process and outcomes of each visit and lead to annual revisions of the publication Policies, Procedures and Guidelines. The committee has close links with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and there is a routine exchange of observers on all visits in the United Kingdom and Australasia. In recent years VSAAC has become increasingly interested in looking at ways to place greater emphasis on the outcomes of veterinary education and, eventually, to reduce our reliance on input measures. There has been good progress in identifying desirable attributes for veterinary graduates, but further work is needed to establish the reliability of assessment procedures. The Australasian accreditation system is very supportive of recent moves to achieve greater compatibility of veterinary accreditation systems in different parts of the world because we believe it has the potential to assist globalization of animal disease control and veterinary education. INTRODUCTION The five veterinary schools in Australia and New Zealand are reviewed every six years by the Veterinary Schools Accreditation Advisory Committee (VSAAC). This committee makes recommendations to the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) on whether accreditation should be renewed, provisionally renewed, or withdrawn for each school after it has been reviewed. The AVBC is responsible for managing issues of national scope on behalf of the nine veterinary registration boards that operate in New Zealand and the states and territories of Australia. These boards register graduates from accredited Australian and NZ veterinary schools. The accreditation systems in Australia and New Zealand have had a close relationship to the systems operated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in the United Kingdom, and in June 2000 the two organizations signed an agreement to accept systems of accreditation and visitation in the United Kingdom (carried out by the RCVS) and in Australia and New Zealand (carried out by the VSAAC) as the basis of recognizing veterinary qualifications for the purpose of registration. 2 The agreement sets out the conditions governing mutual recognition of the two accreditation systems, including a requirement for a UK representative on VSAAC visits and a VSAAC representative on RCVS visits. Each system reserves the right to review visitation reports prior to committing itself to recognition. The accreditation process managed by VSAAC is very similar to accreditation in the United Kingdom (RCVS), 3 North America (AVMA), 4 and Europe (EAEVE). 5 Briefly, the process includes the following features: Detailed documentation on processes and procedures Schools provide a detailed self-evaluation report to the review team prior to the accreditation visit An on-site evaluation by a team of reviewers Feedback to the vice-chancellor of the university at the beginning and end of a review The intent of this article is to describe the accreditation process used in Australia and New Zealand, to reflect on current issues and trends, and to speculate on future trends. We also reflect on opportunities for global accreditation in a world where there is an ever-increasing need to facilitate mobility of veterinarians working in many areas of veterinary medicine, public health, food hygiene, and veterinary education. Accreditation of veterinary schools is a cornerstone of quality assurance in the practice of veterinary medicine, and there would appear to be a compelling case for close cooperation between the major accreditation bodies. CURRENT PROCEDURES Australasian veterinary school accreditation is a system for recognizing that educational institutions and programs affiliated with those institutions have attained a level of educational effectiveness, integrity, and quality that entitles them to the confidence of the educational community, the professional community, and the public they serve. The registering authorities of Australia and New Zealand protect the public by administering the standards of professional conduct and fitness to practice of veterinary practitioners on their registers. The Australasian Veterinary Boards Council Incorporated (AVBC Inc.) is the legal entity with the authority to speak and act on behalf of these registering authorities. The standing committee of the AVBC Inc. responsible for accreditation is the VSAAC. Accreditation of a veterinary school by VSAAC occurs for a number of reasons. Legislative requirements of some jurisdictions such as Victoria, where a person is qualified for general registration as a veterinary practitioner if that person has been awarded a degree in veterinary science or medicine accredited by the Board 6 encourage accreditation. Accreditation also provides an external quality control 100 JVME 31(2) 2004 AAVMC

2 mechanism to ensure that the educational standards of all schools remain above an acceptable level; encourages schools to develop courses that effectively prepare graduates for entry to the veterinary profession; provides the veterinary school with regular feedback relating to the contemporary needs of the profession; and ensures that the veterinary school meets the basic levels of staff, equipment, facilities, and other physical resources, including teaching material, that would reasonably be deemed necessary to provide training of graduates to standards adopted by VSAAC. In addition, a formal but negotiated accreditation process serves to reduce tensions between educators and the profession by finding the best ways to deal with the ever-changing issues that arise in the education of those wishing to enter the veterinary profession. Admission to a degree in veterinary science or medicine from a veterinary school in Australia or New Zealand entitles the graduate to automatic and unrestricted registration in Australia and New Zealand. Similarly, the graduate is eligible to register in the United Kingdom under a mutual recognition agreement between the registering authorities of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In its report Professional Education and Credentialism, 7 the Higher Education Council discusses the issue of relationships between universities and professions in Australia, noting that Academic quality of university courses related to professional preparation is primarily secured by the internal quality assurance processes of the universities. However, alignment of outputs from the courses with the requirements of professional practice both in Australia and, increasingly, in other countries is of critical importance and can best be achieved by appropriate processes of professional accreditors. Such accreditors should wherever practicable recognise internal quality assurance processes and should be focussed on required outputs rather than the detailed manner in which outputs are achieved. Having reviewed the range of external accreditation processes in place and examined their strengths and weaknesses, The Australasian Veterinary Boards Council has identified a model of good accreditation that should be borne in mind by the universities and professional bodies in refining their processes in future. The AVBC believes that a good practice course review and accreditation process is one which: Includes all stakeholders Is open, consultative and consensus building about future course developments Is transparent to all parties As far as possible meshes the external registration requirements and public safety aspects with internal academic priorities Monitors implementation of recommended changes after the accreditation of the course is approved Involves an ongoing cycle of review and Is focused on the achievement of objectives, maintenance of academic standards, public safety requirements, and good outputs and outcomes rather than detailed specification of curriculum content. The AVBC Inc. endorses this approach and aims to adopt procedures that complement and support internal quality control processes in universities. The VSAAC is also called to offer comment on trends and needs in veterinary education, monitor performance of schools graduates in their early professional career, and in this respect to liaise with other bodies and agencies as appropriate, and advise the Council on matters including education standards acceptable to the registering authorities, the profession, and the community and to ensure reciprocal recognition for graduates from Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. MEMBERSHIP Membership of VSAAC is representative of the AVBC Inc. membership, including Australian and New Zealand members. The chair is appointed following consultation with the Committee of Deans, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), and the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA). The deputy chair is nominated by the Committee of Deans. Further to the agreement between the RCVS and AVBC Inc. signed in June 2000, there is also a representative of the RCVS as an observer on accreditation visits. The committee is made up of experienced veterinary practitioners of good standing within the profession. Other factors such as conflict of interest, cultural and gender balance, balance of expertise, and experience with the requirements of registering authorities and with expectations of the profession and the public are considered in determining the composition of the team. PROCEDURES FOR ASSESSMENT OF VETERINARY SCHOOLS Veterinary schools in Australia and New Zealand are assessed once every six years. To help schools to understand the accreditation process VSAAC publishes Policies, Procedures and Guidelines 8 that are reviewed annually. Initial Documentation The veterinary school to be assessed is asked to complete a self-evaluation report, which is distributed to VSAAC team members six weeks before the assessment visit. The format is based on the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) requirements and indicators. Using this format facilitates communication with our colleagues in international reciprocal recognition agreements. Copies of the report are sent to each member of the visiting team. Additional information, such as timetables, examination question papers, examination scripts, course work, and examiners reports, is made available during the visit in the visitors base room. JVME 31(2) 2004 AAVMC 101

3 Assessment Visit The aim of a site visit is to validate and supplement information presented in the self-evaluation report. The visit begins on Sunday afternoon and lasts until the following Friday. The VSAAC assessment team directs its activities through the vice chancellor of the university. All requests for information are made to the veterinary school office. Wherever possible, the visitors work as a group for substantial parts of the visitation. The majority, if not all, of the meetings conducted with staff and students of the veterinary school involve the full visiting team. The tone of all communications is collegial, assuming a common goal for all parties. The assessment team meets heads of departments or disciplines within the school and other relevant faculties, teaching hospital staff, the curriculum committee, interest groups or committees in veterinary education and research, representative staff members (with an appropriate balance of full-time and part-time staff), recent graduates, and students. Maximum opportunities for interactive discussion with the staff and the students of the school are provided during the visit. The program is structured so that on-site changes are possible, including additional time to allow further consultation with key individuals and groups as required. Oral Report to Vice-Chancellor and Faculty At the end of the visit the VSAAC group prepares a preliminary statement of its views that, if sustained, will form the main points and conclusions of its report. This report summarizes how the school appears to comply with the main requirements and indicators. It identifies what it perceives to be the strengths and weaknesses in the school, problem areas requiring attention, and distinctive activities to be encouraged. No announcement is made concerning accreditation, as this is a decision to be taken by the AVBC Inc. Formal Report A draft report is sent to the veterinary school for comment on its factual accuracy. Taking into account any comments from the school, the team finalizes its report and reviews its recommendations on accreditation. The report and draft recommendations are then forwarded to the university for comment. The university may ask 1. that the committee s report and recommendations be forwarded direct to the AVBC without further comment from the university; 2. that the committee s report and recommendations be forwarded to the AVBC together with further comment from the university; or, alternatively, 3. that a review panel be constituted. Review of VSAAC Report Where the university requests that a review panel be convened, the report of a review panel will be fully considered by the AVBC in reaching a final decision on accreditation. Final Decision on Accreditation Within four months of the visit, the chair of VSAAC presents the evaluation report, related comments, and a recommendation for classification of accreditation to the AVBC Inc. meeting. Options for decisions on accreditation of veterinary courses are as follows: 1. Accreditation for six years subject to the usual periodic reports. The AVBC reserves the right to revisit a school granted accreditation subject to periodic reporting requirements. If periodic reports are satisfactory, reaccreditation will be subject to an on-site assessment in the sixth year. 2. Accreditation for six years subject to certain conditions being addressed within a specified period and to satisfactory periodic reports. 3. Accreditation for shorter periods of time. If significant deficiencies are identified, the AVBC may award accreditation with conditions and for a period of less than six years. 4. Accreditation may be refused where the AVBC considers that the deficiencies are so serious as to warrant that action. Unsatisfactory Progress Procedures Where the AVBC considers, on the basis of periodic reports or other material available to it, that there may be cause to consider (1) the revocation of accreditation, (2) the imposition of new or additional conditions on an existing accreditation, or (3) a reduction in the current period of accreditation, The AVBC informs the veterinary school of its concerns, and the grounds on which they are based, and requests a site visit to the school. In the event of a favorable report, the AVBC may affirm the accreditation of the veterinary school for a specified period subject to satisfactory periodic reports. In the event of an unfavorable report, the AVBC may 1. Place further conditions on the accreditation. VSAAC could specify actions to be taken or issues to be addressed by the veterinary school and/or further restrict the period of accreditation (a school with such conditions on its accreditation may apply for reinstatement of its full period of accreditation at any time, subject to the normal procedures for review of accreditation), or 2. Withdraw accreditation from the veterinary school if it considers that the school is unable to deliver the course at a standard or in a manner compatible with the Accreditation Guidelines. In this case, the AVBC will work with the veterinary school to facilitate arrangements for the enrolled students to complete an accredited veterinary course. CHALLENGES The traditional approach to accreditation used in North America, the United Kingdom, Australasia, and Europe, involving a detailed self-assessment report and an on-site visit, is considered to provide a consistent assessment of 102 JVME 31(2) 2004 AAVMC

4 resources, curriculum, staff performance, and output. This input-based approach is, however, time consuming and expensive, and it is an indirect way of measuring the capability of veterinary graduates when they begin their careers. While this approach has served the profession and the public very well in the past, it is important to recognize that effective techniques for evaluation continue to evolve. In Australia and New Zealand, the two trends being actively considered by VSAAC are to integrate veterinary school accreditation more closely with the total quality assurance process in the university and to seek more direct ways to measure learning outcomes from veterinary education. Universities in Australia and New Zealand are increasingly being required to implement quality assurance (QA) measures, and VSAAC attempts, wherever possible, to draw on this information and to avoid duplication. It is our intention to have a review process that complements other QA systems and is valued by the university as an integral part of their approach to monitoring and evaluating performance. The government department responsible for education in Australia has developed the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), 9 which applies to all post-compulsory education and training. University qualifications in Australia are expected to enable graduates to operate anywhere, and in any sphere, at a level of professionalism consistent with best international practice and in ways that embody the highest ethical standards. 10 The AQF provides award descriptors, 9 and, at the institutional level, there is a variety of supporting quality assurance arrangements in place. In the last decade there has been a major expansion in higher education in Australia and New Zealand and, at the same time, significant changes in the funding sources for universities. These changes have prompted a rise in the variety of modes of course delivery. We believe that there is merit in encouraging innovation in veterinary education but acknowledge that this raises challenges for traditional accreditation procedures. It is not only veterinary school accreditors who are looking for better ways of assessing the quality of graduates; there are also demands from employers and from the community that the system produce graduates suitable for contemporary workplaces. The veterinary profession in Australia and New Zealand, the veterinary schools, and university managers are seeking to have assessment processes modified to move the emphasis to assessing outcomes of veterinary training and to be less concerned about traditional input measures. For some time VSAAC, the veterinary schools, and the Australian Veterinary Association have been considering ways to move to a more direct assessment of learning outcomes. Some of the earlier attempts focused on defining detailed technical competencies that veterinary graduates were expected to possess. It has since been realized that there are less tangible, but no less important, attributes that are an integral outcome of veterinary education. In considering how to undertake more outcomes-based assessment, it is important to identify the differences between competencies and attributes of veterinary graduates. For the purpose of qualifications, the vocational educational and training sector defines competency as the possession and application of both knowledge and skills to defined standards, expressed as outcomes that correspond to relevant workplace requirements and other vocational needs. The possession of technical competencies is an important attribute of veterinary graduates but, in itself, is not an adequate definition of veterinary education. There is an expectation by both the veterinary profession and the community that veterinary graduates will have a number of personal and professional attributes that will allow them to continue to practice veterinary science throughout their career. In 1996 the National Office for Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) and the Australian Veterinary Association produced a report 11 that provided very detailed competency standards for the Australian veterinary profession. This report was widely circulated and has helped some university teachers to design course material, particularly in subject areas requiring students to acquire and demonstrate manipulative skills. It was not, however, adopted by the Australian and New Zealand veterinary schools as a basis for curriculum revision or development. Instead, the veterinary schools have developed a range of desired attributes for veterinary graduates that they believe provide a better basis for curriculum development and assessment. In some cases these attributes and learning outcomes were negotiated with the veterinary community and other key stakeholders. More recently, representatives from all the Australian and New Zealand veterinary schools worked together to produce a collective set of Attributes of Australasian Veterinary Graduates. 12 A slightly modified version of these attributes has been included in the VSAAC Policies, Procedures and Guidelines 8 as a guide for veterinary schools to current VSAAC thinking on the higher-order objectives of veterinary education. It is the intention of the Australasian accreditation system to move to a greater reliance on outcomes-based assessment when there is sufficient confidence in the available assessment tools. The AVMA has used outcomes-based measures to supplement the existing evaluation. Black, Turnwald, and Meldrum s report 13 concluded that the school in question learned much more about itself and its various programs through outcomes assessment than it would have learned from a traditional assessment exercise. Moving to an outcomes-based assessment system has been described by Walsh, Osburn, and Schumacher 14 as a fourstage process, and VSAAC has used this to consider how we should move forward. The key stages were described as follows: getting agreement on the set of attributes expected of all students establishing an internal evaluation process to ensure that graduates have met the agreed criteria an external evaluation that these criteria meet the expectations and needs of the profession an external outcomes assessment to determine whether and, to what extent, graduating students are meeting these expectations The last two steps are where accreditation systems need to operate, but their effectiveness is dependent on schools identifying the attributes they aim to develop and on the development of appropriate assessment tools. Some attributes include a relatively high skill content, and it is not difficult for veterinary schools to collect evidence that indi- JVME 31(2) 2004 AAVMC 103

5 vidual students possess the required level of competency and to demonstrate to accreditation bodies that standards are being maintained. However, it becomes more difficult to identify the evidence to demonstrate that graduates have acquired attributes with a lower content of competencies and technical skills. We consider that it is possible to incorporate a greater level of outcomes-based assessment for accreditation purposes where veterinary schools have a well-established list of graduate attributes that is guiding their teaching program and where they have identified ways to collect evidence that their graduates possess the desired attributes. Implementing an outcomes-based accreditation system would appear to be an excellent way for veterinary schools and accreditation bodies to engage the veterinary profession and other key stakeholder groups in a productive dialogue on the direction of veterinary education. Some veterinary schools in Australia and New Zealand have engaged their stakeholders in developing a set of attributes that are considered to be important indicators for successful delivery of veterinary services in their communities. In at least one instance a school has supported survey work to explore employers perceptions of the skills and attributes of new graduates. It is our impression that all the bodies responsible for accrediting veterinary schools are exploring options for greater reliance on outcome measures, but we are all moving slowly as we acquire more experience on the validity of different types of evidence. In an initiative of the AVMA, a number of accreditation bodies met in 2002 to discuss assessment procedures in North America, Australasia, and the United Kingdom. There was agreement that our current procedures are very similar, and we would like to think that future discussions of this group would be aimed at getting agreement on how we can place more reliance on outcome measures. There can be little doubt that accreditation of veterinary schools will continue to evolve to accommodate the increasing movement of veterinarians between countries, the demand for a greater range of skills in graduates, and rapidly changing methods of education. REFERENCES 1 Australian Medical Council Incorporated [AMC Inc.]. Assessment and Accreditation of Medical Schools: Standards and Procedures <http://www.amc.org.au/forms/accredguidelines.pdf>. Accessed 3/15/04. AMC Inc., Canberra, Australia, Mutual Recognition Agreement between the AVBC Inc. and the RCVS, signed June 2000, Perth, Australia. 3 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [RCVS]. Criteria and Guidance for RCVS Approval of Veterinary Degree Courses in the UK and Overseas <http://www.rcvs.org.uk/ vet_surgeons/pdf/guidance_04.pdf>. Accessed 3/15/04. RCVS, revised January American Veterinary Medical Association [AVMA]. Accreditation Policies and Procedures of the AVMA Council on Education <http://www.avma.org/education/ coe_policies2k.pdf>. Accessed 3/15/04. AVMA, European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education [EAEVE] and Advisory Committee on Veterinary Training [ACVT]. Evaluation of Veterinary Training in Europe: Standard Operating Procedures. Brussels: European Commission, Government of Victoria, Australia. Veterinary Practice Act Section 5(1)(a). 7 Higher Education Council, National Board of Employment, Education and Training. Professional Education and Credentialism. Melbourne: Government Printer for the State of Victoria, Veterinary Schools Accreditation Advisory Committee [VSAAC]. Policies, Procedures and Guidelines Melbourne: AVBC Inc., AQF Advisory Board Australian Qualifications Framework Implementation Handbook, 3rd ed <http://www.aqf.edu.au/ pdf/han1_12.pdf>. Accessed 3/15/04. Melbourne: AQF Advisory Board, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Higher Education Division. The Australian Higher Education Quality Assurance Framework. Occasional Paper 2000-H. 11 National Office for Overseas Skills Recognition [NOOSR] and Australian Veterinary Association [AVA]. Competency Standards for the Australian Veterinary Profession. Sydney: NOOSR/AVA, Collins GH, Taylor RM. Attributes of Australasian veterinary graduates. J Vet Med Educ 29:71 72, Black LS, Turnwald GH, Meldrum JB. Outcomes assessment in veterinary medical education. J Vet Med Educ 29:28 31, Walsh DA, Osburn BI, Schumacher RL. Defining the attributes expected of graduating veterinary medical students, Part 2: External evaluation and outcomes assessment. J Vet Med Educ 29:36 42, AUTHOR INFORMATION John Craven, BVSc, MVSc, PhD, MACVSc, is Chair of the Veterinary Schools Accreditation Advisory Committee(VSAAC) of the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC), Level 11, 470 Collins Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Australia. Julie Strous, BVSc, PDM, is the Executive Officer, Australasian Veterinary Boards Council, Level 11, 470 Collins Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Australia JVME 31(2) 2004 AAVMC

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