11. The role of periodic programme review (PPR)
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The QAA requires that all programmes are subjected to review on a regular cycle. No doubt your institution has procedures in place to make sure that this happens. The idea underlying periodic review is to evaluate the continuing validity and relevance of a programme given the changing environment in which we operate. In my institution, ‘periodic’ is interpreted as meaning that all programmes are reviewed on a five-year cycle.
As with so many bureaucratic processes, PPR can come to be seen as an irksome burden imposed from outside that requires compliance. This may be especially so when the timing brings the PPR into conjunction with preparations for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). If these attitudes can be overcome, the PPR offers an opportunity to refresh and invigorate a curriculum that can become tired as it evolves gradually through time. In the past few years, I have chaired PPR panels in a wide range of discipline areas. When the programme team arrives simply with the aim of ticking the boxes, they leave feeling that nothing has been achieved. Where the team comes prepared to be self-critical and open to new ideas and approaches, the benefits can be substantial.
So, the PPR must be seen as an opportunity to take a hard and close look at the curriculum to see whether it continues to meet the needs of the students who follow the programme. When a curriculum evolves over time, it can become jaded and inefficient, with over-dependence on ‘we have always taught it like this’. It should be remembered that curriculum change does not necessarily make life more difficult, and may be an opportunity to look for efficiencies that will save staff time whilst improving the experience that students receive.
The PPR process is imposed from outside, from the QAA and from the institution’s own structure. It can thus be an opportunity to engage some colleagues who may not always be at the vanguard of the revolution in learning and teaching. It may, for example, be an opportunity for colleagues from a non-UK background to be given a glimpse of the UK system and to expose the rationale that underpins curriculum design in England. It is also an opportunity to review modes of delivery and assessment in a co-ordinated way as a programme team, when all too often it is left to a few enthusiasts to blaze a trail. It can be a learning experience and a creative opportunity – or it can be a chore requiring compliance.