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Quality goes together with development

How can a university continuously improve? How do we raise the quality of what we do?  If we want to be an internationally competitive university, we need to continuously work at this, to develop our education and research, maintain this high quality and at the same time, undergo regular renewal.

Those of us in research are used to being constantly scrutinised; ahead of every publication of research results, at every career step, when we apply for research project financing etc. So what’s the added-value of being audited at university level? It’s about building a dynamic quality structure. By casting the spotlight on larger areas that include many researchers and discussing what drives quality, we can achieve better supporting data when it comes to prioritising, investing in infrastructure and areas in need of renewal.

At KTH, we have a quality assurance system that consists of two main parts: a continuous annual review and a regular collegiate audit every six years divided into education and research. The continuous review is discussed in the annual quality dialogues chaired by the Dean. Like many other universities in Sweden, we have modified our system to harmonise it with the national quality assurance system.

This year, it is time for the regular collegiate audit. This means we have invited over 80 external experts to come and assess KTH’s quality development work within research in what we call RAE 2020 (Research Assessment Exercise). The aim of this RAE, the third we will have done at KTH, is to formulate visions and strategies that can lead to both increased quality and research at KTH having a greater impact. The overall goal is to describe, develop and enhance the quality of all research and its impact.

Even though we are a single faculty university, the different departments have different starting points and differ in the way high quality can be seen within different areas. As such, it is difficult to find a common approach to measuring quality. The departments therefore produce a self-assessment based on the knowledge and starting points for the research areas involved. These self-assessments should explain how each department contributes to achieving the KTH goals  and how this work can be improved. The external auditors should reflect on the content of the self-assessments that have been produced and provide feedback. They will also visit us in the last week of August for more detailed discussions and analysis.

The KTH departments are grouped into nine research panels to make it easier to identify synergies and common challenges. There will also be inter-departmental panels that will specifically focus on how cooperation, infrastructure and sustainable development contribute to identifying KTH’s common strengths and challenges.

Constructive feedback from top international researchers and experts outside KTH is expected to provide input for all departments in the development of their quality work. This should also give the University Board and University Management at all levels information to help the strategic development of future research at KTH.

This is a comprehensive task that will involve most researchers at KTH. If we are to become even better, it is vital that everyone is fully committed and that quality work is pursued at all levels.