Final report EUA

European University Association (EUA)
Institutional Evaluation Program
FINAL REPORT EUA from the subsequent evaluation of the University of Žilina

Introduction
This report is the result of the subsequent evaluation conducted by the European University Association within the Institutional Evaluation Program. Subsequent evaluation was preceded by the institutional evaluation of the University of Žilina in 2002. The current process is part of the EUA evaluation of all 23 universities in Slovakia between autumn 2005 and the beginning of 2008.

Institutional and subsequent EUA evaluation

Following two successful conferences on the theme of Quality and Evaluation, the Committee of the CRE (nowadays EUA, the European University Association) decided in 1993 to offer its member universities whose number today exceeds 770 in more than 45 countries, the possibility of being reviewed so that their strengths and weaknesses in the area of quality management might be assessed. EUA reviews are detailed assessments. Members of evaluation teams are all rectors, presidents, vice-rectors or former holders of these positions. It means that evaluation teams are aware of recurring problems related to university management and are thus able to ask relevant questions. Reviews wish to assist university leaders in their efforts to improve institutional management and to promote the universities’ capacity for change. EUA expects that the growing number of its institutional evaluations helps to increase quality culture among its members and to the spread of effective strategic management among European universities.
The Institutional Evaluation Program of the European University began 11 years ago and 150 evaluations of higher education institutions were carried out together with 20 subsequent evaluations in 36 countries around the world. It was in 1998 when the CRE proposed the possibility of subsequent evaluation combined with follow-up visit to extend its Institutional Evaluation Program. The purpose of subsequent evaluation is to help university to assess the progress it has made since the initial assessment. What was the impact of initial assessment? How did university make use of the original evaluation report? How consistent was i table to address the issues highlighted in the report? Subsequent assessment is a possibility for universities to do an inventory of strategies for making changes in the context of internal and external constraints and options.
As with the initial evaluation, the cornerstone of the subsequent evaluation is the self-evaluation of university which allows university employees as a team to understand the weaknesses and strengths of their institution. In the subsequent evaluation process, the self-evaluation report focuses on the progress made since the first inspection, with the possibility of indicating obstacles of changes. The report will also highlight the issues that the university wants to discuss with the team of subsequent evaluation. Monitoring the impact of the recommendations presented in the original evaluation report is one of the primary objectives of the subsequent process. Since the overall evaluation process is dynamic rather than static, the subsequent evaluation should take into account new development and reforms within institution, as well as within its wider environment, and adapt its recommendations according to them. Additionally, the subsequent process could also assess and provide feedback on issues that may have occurred during the implementation of recommendations.
Institutional evaluations consist of a preliminary two and a half-day visit where the evaluation team can become familiar with the university, its employees and the environment in which it operates. The team may require additional information to clarify issues that have arisen in its discussions with university members. The main three and a half-day visit follows few months later. At the end of this visit, the team will provide the rector and invited audience with an oral presentation of its main findings. In the follow-up process, there is only one visit with a smaller team consisting of a chairman, a next member and a secretary (if possible, the same persons who visited the university during the initial assessment).
The follow-up process is supported in accordance with the EUA Institutional Evaluation Program as a whole. The EUA does not wish to provide universities with a plan for their development, review process is rather advisory and supportive.

Institutional and subsequent evaluation of the University of Žilina

For the initial visit in 2002, the evaluation team to the University of Žilina consisted of Len F.W. de Klerk (former rector of Tilburg University, the Netherlands), chair, David Smith (former rector of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland) and Jarmo Visakorpi (professor emeritus of the University of Tampere, Finland), members, and Christina Rozsnyai (program officer, Hungarian Accreditation Committee), secretary. The preliminary visit to the University of Žilina took place on February 6-8, 2002, and the main visit took place on March 24-27, 2002.
From 10 to 12 May 2006 a subsequent evaluation visit was held at the University of Žilina. After the evaluation team had read the report, it asked for some additional information that the university had readily provided. During the visit, the team had discussions with the Rector, professor Ján Bujňák and the Vice-Rector for International Relations, professor Marián Dzimko; rector's team consisting of two other vice-rectors, self-evaluation committee, deans, senate members, quality management staff, central management members and employees of central administration, students, PhD students and heads of the departments. Two meetings were attended by professor Milan Dado who was the rector at the time of initial institutional evaluation in 2002.
Members of the EUA evaluation team for the subsequent evaluation of the University of Žilina were

  • David Smith, former rector of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland;
  • Edward Jezierski, vice-rector for education, University of Lodz, Poland;
  • Christina Rozsnyai, program officer of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, team secretary.

Evaluation team greatly appreciated the fact that the members of the University of Žilina were supportive towards the team in terms of provision of information and that the visit was very well organized. The team was also grateful for the hospitality offered by the university. Discussions between the members of the University of Žilina and the team were very open and constructive. It turned out, like during the initial visit, that the current leadership of the university has a good working relationship with other members of the University of Žilina. 

Like the original evaluation report, this evaluation report was prepared for the leadership of the university which has the freedom to decide on its use. The report was provided for an oral presentation where the rector invited a large audience, including everyone who met with the team. The team expects and the EUA recommends an extension of self-evaluation and evaluation report to a wide range of interested parties (members of academia as well as external interested parties) in order to utilize the results achieved in the university development resulting from the evaluation. Discussion on the issues described in the report within the university and with other partners could continue to strengthen the quality culture at the University of Žilina. The evaluation team hopes that its report will meet the expectations of management about the performance of the EUA evaluation...

EUA institutional and sectoral evaluation in the Slovak Republic

Together with the Slovak Rector's Conference, the Ministry of Education of the Slovak Republic called on the European University Association to carry out an evaluation in accordance with the EUA Institutional Evaluation Guidelines. Each institution is evaluated with regard to its specific objectives and intentions, and the evaluation is rather focused on giving recommendations for improvement than passing an overall evaluation or ranking the institutions.
Evaluation is carried out in a wider context:

  • governmental strategic objective to place Slovakia in a favourable position in fulfilling the Lisbon goals;
  • governmental interest in ensuring the successful implementation of the Bologna reforms;
  • governmental acknowledgment of the need to increase transparency and attractiveness of the sector to the public.

Beginning in September 2005, the EUA evaluates all 23 Slovak universities within the project. Each evaluated university receives an individual evaluation report at the end of the evaluation. The institutional evaluation examines:

  • organization and structures for carrying out the main missions of higher education institutions;
  • effectiveness of internal quality processes and their importance in decision-making processes and strategic planning;
  • gaps in internal mechanisms of processes, and frameworks and recommendations for their improvement.

These key elements are analysed taking into account local, national and international context. In addition, the EUA provides a sectoral report that highlights the simplification solutions and recommendations resulting from institutional evaluations and taking into account the conditions of research in Slovakia. The project ends in January - February 2008, when the Slovak Rector's Conference will organize a final seminar with higher education institutions and all interested parties to discuss sectoral governance and agree on the next steps. Finally, the sectoral report will eventually be published.

Recommendations of evaluation team in 2002

The University should consider:

  • creation of a strategic plan to describe the University's profile at present and in the long term, the steps the university will take to achieve its stated objectives, why and how the council would widen, why and how the university is striving for internationalization, how does it propose to obtain additional incomes, how does it see its regional, national and international status;
  • implementation of a comprehensive internal quality control system;
  • efforts to increase inter-faculty and inter-department cooperation not only in research but also in teaching;
  • eliminating duplicity in teaching, and instead creating an organizational unit for teaching key science subjects, including applied mathematics, physics and chemistry, at bachelor and masters level;
  • rationalization of faculty structure, especially with respect to the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and establishing an institute or faculty for the training of future teachers to meet university and regional needs in this area, rather than attempting to create a Faculty of Humanities in the short term perspective, but which may develop from the faculty for future teacher training when it will be already built;
  • establishment of a language centre, i.e. within the framework of an institute for the training of future teachers that could also bring income to the university and increase internalization directly (by inviting language teachers from abroad, even in the form of summer courses) and indirectly (by increasing language skills);
  • focusing its expansion on areas where it excels at national and possibly international level (transport and communications and related sciences, engineering, informatics and management);
  • involvement of industry to a much greater extent than before in the practical teaching of students.

Major changes at the University of Žilina since 2002
In February 2002, a new law on higher education was adopted by the Parliament which resulted in several major changes at Slovak universities:

  • in line with the Bologna process, traditional five-year masters and engineering study programmes were transformed into bachelor and master programmes and doctoral study into PhD programmes;
  • a university, not a faculty, is a legal person;
  • the university is perceived as a service provider for internal and external entities (students, industry, employers, the state);
  • quality assurance and tools for enhancing quality were introduced, general awareness of importance of quality control of teaching, research and management was enhanced;
  • professors and associate professors are no longer appointed for life but they receive a lifetime appointment as a university professor or associate professor after three reappointments;
  • European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) was implemented into all study programmes.

These transformations brought several structural changes:

  • The university adopted a Strategic Plan for 2003-2007 bringing the profile of the University of Žilina, namely the scientific and professional fields related to transport and communications – which represent the historical core of the university – and its implications for education and research as well as external activities;
  • the Department for Development headed by the Vice-Rector was created;
  • one research institute and several institutes and centres were established or expanded;
  • the University of Žilina works on intensification and deepening of its research activities in fields of its profile to meet government criteria for "a research university" (and thus to a large extent ensure more funding than other higher education institutions);
  • within the Faculty of Natural Sciences, the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Physics were merged and the Department of Physical Sciences of the Faculty of Natural Sciences was integrated into the Faculty of Electrical Engineering;
  • internationalization has increased, with an emphasis on participation in international research projects;
  • the number of foreign students has almost doubled (to 103 students in bachelor and master programmes);
  • increased interdisciplinarity and inter-faculty projects are research oriented but also include teaching;
  • content of subjects was modernized to reflect the needs of the labour market;
  • electronic information system covering all university levels has been extensively expanded;
  • departments and laboratories have been technologically upgraded;
  • some departments have been abolished and new departments have been created;
  • E-learning and lifelong learning programmes have been established;
  • on initiative of the University of Žilina, the Science and Technological Park was established to facilitate the transfer of knowledge.

In general, the whole region around Žilina is experiencing a sharp increase in development and economic expansion which represents a huge change since the first EUA evaluation that took place four years ago. This sharp increase is not only related to industries such as electronics, software engineering, automotive industry, wood and paper industry, tourism, services as described in the University Self-Evaluation Report but is also related to regional economy as a whole. This increase gives the university an opportunity to improve and expand its activities and to provide employment for its students.

Findings of subsequent evaluation

Organization and management
During the visit, the EUA evaluation team found that the University of Žilina had made great efforts and had deployed resources to implement the recommendations of the team from 2002. In line with the strategy, two of the faculties of the university, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and the Faculty of Management Science and Informatics expanded their branches in Central and South-West Slovakia.
The number of faculties remained the same:

  • the Faculty of Operation and Economics of Transport and Communications,
  • the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering,
  • the Faculty of Electrical Engineering,
  • the Faculty of Civil Engineering,
  • the Faculty of Management Science and Informatics,
  • the Faculty of Special Engineering,
  • the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

The team believes that the university has in this regard the right structure with a balanced size of faculties. Introduction of the new law on higher education had the greatest consequences among changes in Slovak higher education. Universities became legal entities instead of their individual faculties which strengthened Rector's decision-making powers. The University of Žilina delegated a large part of its central authority to faculties with deans who make decision on management and development of human resources, allocate finances to faculties, make decision on admission of students, etc. The university believes that decision-making processes at faculty level ensure flexibility and efficiency. This has undoubtedly roots in the traditional way of thinking about university management in Slovakia. The team supports this approach and agrees that faculties are well equipped to decide on creation of optimal conditions for quality teaching and research.
With the introduction of the new law universities in Slovakia acquired ownership of their property. The level of freedom guaranteed to universities is associated with considerable financial responsibility and requires modern managerial skills that were not required in the previous structure. Evaluation team found that the University of Žilina was able to make full use of this opportunity. By selling some buildings and concentration of its resources, especially in one area, it is in the process of building a modern university campus with dormitories and facilities providing services to students. Concentration of all faculty buildings, dormitories and recreational areas also contributes to creating a university environment and increasing the efficiency of human and financial resources. With regard to facilities, the team would like to point out that, on the one hand, the University of Žilina accommodate an abnormally large number of students in university dormitories, but on the other hand, this situation is at the expense of the quality of accommodation. Students in the interviews mentioned that rooms are uncomfortable in view of the large number of students accommodated in one room.
The team had the impression that the overall financial management of the university is satisfactory within the legal limits. The university receives its budget from the state and allocates it to faculties on the basis of decision of the senate. On the other hand, research income goes directly to a man or a department that received a grant, with 10% overhead costs allocated to the university and faculty to which department belongs. It seems that the members of the university are satisfied with this structure.
Rector's authority has increased with a new management structure. However, the Higher Education Act states that "The function of a member of the Academic Senate of a public higher education institution is incompatible with that of the Rector ..." (Paragraph 8 (3)). The team still believes – as it was also highlighted in the 2002 report – that the division between genuine competence and responsibility is unbalanced. The Senate has the power to execute or approve the Rector's decisions in almost all areas, although as a 45-member body cannot be held accountable for its decisions. On the contrary, the Rector is held accountable for all matters of the university. The team suggests, based on the experience of almost all other countries where the Rector officially presides over the Senate, that the university consider the benefits of such a structure when the changes of law will be discussed again.
The team found out that the profile of the Faculty of Natural Sciences still remains general, including future teacher education, language teaching and library science, which is in line with the University's mission to meet the needs of the region's population. Regional need is also a matter of interest of the Accreditation Committee which accredited the faculty on this basis. The faculty thus increases its involvement in research projects and conferences. The team supports the reasonable ambition of the Faculty of Natural Sciences to change its name so that it covers a broader scope, despite the fact that the re-accreditation of the extended content is still remote in time.

Research

With regard to research, the evaluation team would like to underline a strong research orientation of all faculties and a considerable research potential that the university has built. The University of Žilina seeks at this point to obtain the status of "research university" in a competition with other universities in the country. This status, in addition to increased reputation of the University of Žilina and quality mark brings also brings a substantial financial subsidy from the state. The team believes that the University of Žilina could strengthen its research potential by expanding the size of its departments, bearing in mind this strategy. The aim would be to achieve an optimal size for maxim research performance. Efficiency could probably be increased with a smaller number of larger units.
Openness to the world, a high level of research and the provision of a PhD study are the attributes of the University of Žilina, which empowers it with a strong potential to become a research university. Some areas of excellence, such as transport are a unique force that provides the University of Žilina with a competitive area at national and international level. the Centre for Transportation Research is the centre of excellence recognized by the European Commission and it is an admirable example of the potential of the University of Žilina. During the interviews, all faculty deans provided information on the increase in research projects and expressed a strong desire to establish their faculties as innovative parts of a competitive university. For example, the team had the impression that the Faculty of Special Engineering had a highly competitive profile because it introduced new unique study programmes such as crisis management. Another example is the Institute of Competitiveness and Innovation where the team also noticed progress, with achievements in biomedicine and involvement of PhD students.

Teaching

The evaluation team noticed the dynamic changes that have been carried out at the University since 2002, which are extended to all faculties and also include the introduction of many new study programmes. They have expanded into new, competitive programmes in the university profile such as Mediamatics (as part of the Library and Information Science) at the Faculty of Natural Sciences or Crisis and Safety Management at the Faculty of Special Engineering. The Aviation Training and Educational Centre of the University of Žilina is unique in Slovakia and as the only civilian institution it offers pilot training and further education related to aviation. Other areas that are less related to technical programmes within the traditional profile of transport and communications of the University of Žilina are for example social pedagogy or music education that have been accredited because they meet the regional need. The Faculty of Natural Sciences with its varied profile intends to fulfil this regional function. Here, the team also noticed a tendency to improve the quality and expanding of the institution's profile.
In connection with teaching, it is necessary to mention the salary structure. Relatively low salary levels, compared to industry, makes it difficult to recruit top-level academic employees. The team is aware that there are national wage grids, but there are perhaps ways to break this structure through additional merit-based incentives. Salary can be a real problem in attracting talented graduates who belong to the new generation of "European citizens".
The team has again noticed the high number of students who early abandon study. It is about 45 % on average for students of the first year of study at the University of Žilina. One of the factors contributing to this number may be relatively high proportion of young people (over 50% of 18-year olds) entering the university in Slovakia in the last decade. This fact can explain why this number is similar at other Slovak universities. Other reasons included: a demanding study program; elimination of admission tests; some programmes are only the second choice of students who later turn to a better offer. Provision of more detailed and early information on the content of the programme to future applicants may be one way of alleviating this problem. The Children's University which is held in the summer for young children to introduce them to student life and work, is an original initiative that deserves praise and can also contribute to alleviating the problem.
The team feels that PhD students are in a difficult situation. With their teaching duties and visiting teaching, there is a greatly reduced time for the real goal of conducting research. Three years is too short time to prepare the dissertation to the required level. The University of Žilina teaches about 15% of Slovak daily doctoral students and a slightly smaller part in external study, while its share of graduates of doctoral study is 9.1%, respectively. 4.7%. The number of PhD students leaving the study is surprisingly high, with only 10-15% of the students admitted to the doctoral study who achieve the academic degree. One of the reasons for this was that wages offered by the business and industry sphere pull young people away from studying. This is obviously an area which should be addressed at the structural level by the University of Žilina and Slovak universities in general.
There is also a need for cooperation with industry at the third level of study. However, the benefits of inviting to work on projects in industry may be weakened by the fact that businesses can prevent students from publishing their results because of patent rights. This is again the question that the University of Žilina - and probably Slovakia - must solve in the near future.
The practice of students of the University of Žilina in the industry is still a problem. The university should continue its efforts to stimulate industry to offer practice opportunities that would be mutually beneficial for both parties. Some faculties have taken initiatives in this area and have been successful. The team accepts the fact that in some cases it is industry that is not very open and helpful. The team noticed that the students of the University of Žilina need some help in finding a job.

Bologna Process

The evaluation team noticed the rapid progress of the University of Žilina in the Bologna Process. The three-tiered structure of study programmes was introduced by the Higher Education Act and at the University of Žilina it has already been adopted by a large number of departments. It is necessary to adopt this new structure in a country with a long and successful tradition of five-year master and engineering studies that were recognized in the labour market. However, the internal and external subjects of the University of Žilina should be aware that the introduction of a three-level study provides an opportunity for flexibility of study programmes by allowing students vertical and horizontal mobility. Increasing this mobility option would provide the University of Žilina with a competitive space within the country and it would increase its attractiveness abroad, especially at the time of mass education, and also in view of the high number of students in Slovakia who abandon study. In that regard, the team praises the University of Žilina and its departments that they have made use of the opportunity given by the need to restructure their study programmes and to introduce new, competitive and required study programmes.
The Team accepts that in some study programmes, a three-year bachelor's study is too short to meet the objective of education with which it is possible to apply. Such an area may be engineering programmes, as found in some other European countries and as expressed in some interviews. The lack of bachelor's degrees that the labour market respects puts pressure on graduates of the first cycle to automatically continue their studies at master’s level. The university should take this into account when introducing new programmes and admission procedures.
The team felt that the performance level requirements for the first and second cycles, such as the "Dublin Descriptors", were not probably applied to that extent as they could be applied during the reconstruction of study plans into Master's and Bachelor's degree programmes. The team realizes that - as mentioned in the comments of the university to the team's oral report - the reconstruction of study programmes is a broad process and has been carried out with regard to the need to reduce theoretical subjects in Bachelor's programmes and their substitution by application subjects in order to create education applicable in the labour market. It seems that opinions in interviews indicate that there is still room for improvement of study plans. An optimal structure can be achieved if dialogue with the business and industry sectors will be strengthened in the development of new programmes together with the necessarily increasing acceptance of new titles from the labour market.
Internationalization
The accession of Slovakia to the European Union is a very important development milestone for Slovakia since 2002. The University of Žilina has taken advantage of the opportunities provided by the accession. It has used the huge opportunities offered by incoming industries as well as finding connections with industry and universities in other countries.
In addition, the University of Žilina has greatly increased its international research links and mobility of university employees. However, at the same time, student mobility is still low. The University of Žilina is aware of this fact and is looking for ways to improve it. The evaluation team suggests that one way to stimulate students' additional interest in traveling abroad would be to invest in the marketing of various opportunities that students have for studying abroad and to provide extensive assistance to students in many aspects where they need help to achieve this goal. The Foreign Department, along with the help for foreign students coming to the University Žilina, could also for example ask students to disseminate their experience after their return.
The Team noticed with enthusiasm that employees at various levels, including administration have greatly improved their knowledge of English. This is the basis for successful external cooperation with European universities.

Quality assurance

The EUA evaluation team paid particular attention to the implementation of the quality assurance system at the University of Žilina. It must be praised the speed and efficiency at which the University has introduced measures for quality assurance. The Team was pleased to note that the University of Žilina participated in the "Quality Culture Project" organized by the EUA to raise awareness of quality assurance within universities, and it seems that it has made good use of the experience it has gained. The team discussed this issue with different groups of the university community (deans, heads of departments, administration, students, to complement self-evaluation groups). Opinions were slightly different but it seems that the system works. Some aspects need to be strengthened, for example, it would be helpful if the number of students answering the questionnaires would increase. This would be stimulated if the university could inform students about the steps taken to respond to identified quality deficiencies.
Certainly the beginnings of the quality culture were established. Quality culture means that all internal entities - members - universities are aware of the need and their personal responsibility to improve the quality of university teaching, research and services. Expanding good experience is an appropriate step for extending the true culture of quality to all concerned. The results of the actions that were taken after the identification of the weaknesses of quality must be published in order to avoid the performance of the quality assessment only for assessment and to be perceived as useful for the university and individual.

Information technologies

The EUA evaluation team noticed the tremendous progress made by the University of Žilina in the implementation of information technologies into the teaching process (e.g. sending literature, test terms and communication between students and teachers) and into the university management system. In this respect, the University plays an important role in the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy.

Conclusion

The University of Žilina has made very encouraging progress since the last EUA evaluation in 2002. It seems that it has found its place in areas where it can be strong and competitive while also fulfilling its obligations to meet the range of educational needs in the wider region. EAU evaluation team hopes and is really sure that the University of Žilina is on a good way to achieve the status of "research university". It would fully deserve such a status.

© 2016 Žilinská univerzita v Žiline. Všetky práva vyhradené.

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