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Context, objectives and methods

For both research and higher education, evaluation is a quality assessment tool and aid for improving effectiveness. Here are a few key points for a clearer understanding of this process, which involves self-evaluation and external review.

From inspection to evaluation-regulation

The recent changes in the French research and higher education system illustrate the State’s resolve to play a role of strategist more than direct manager. Alongside such traditional monitoring methods as practised by inspectorates, assessment of performance and evaluation have thus emerged. With these, and particularly evaluation, the State goes beyond the concept of inspection and following the rules, choosing to focus on responsible dialogue which strengthens the contractual relationship. The recent setup of the AERES is an outcome of this thought process.

The creation of the Agency reflects a twofold commitment of the public authorities:

  • task a single entity with the missions of evaluating institutions, research units and programmes, which until now were carried out in a dispersed fashion by different units
  • equip the country with a tool for evaluating the quality of higher education institutions and research organisations.

The Agency has also been set up in the context of the European Higher Education Area and the Standards and Guidelines adopted in 2005 by the Ministers of Education in Bergen, Norway.

What objectives for the Agency’s evaluations?

For the benefits of the institution evaluated, the objectives of the evaluations conducted by the AERES are as follows:

  • give higher education and/or research institutions information for developing their future strategy in terms of both training and research
  • give teaching and research teams comparative elements with a view to improving the quality of service provided
  • provide the supervising ministries with the information they need to make decisions (allocating funds and human resources, accrediting programmes or research units, etc.)
  • give students the information they need for choosing the right studies
  • meet the information requirements of businesses on the quality of programmes and degrees and on graduates’ skills
  • provide civil society with reliable and transparent information about the activities of higher education and research institutions.

The Agency’s evaluation methods and principles

In accordance with the European standards, the Agency’s evaluations are based on two complementary principles:

  • self-evaluation gives each evaluated institution the opportunity to assess its performances. This internal evaluation is essential with regard to independence
  • a review is conducted on the basis of the self-evaluation report and the evaluation application submitted by the evaluated institution on the one hand and of an analysis by the AERES of the way in which the institutions evaluated carry out their missions on the other. For institutions, research units and doctoral schools, an on-site visit is organised.

Based on these principles, the AERES practises “ integrated evaluation” according to a method closely combining the reviews of its three departments: research units, programmes and degrees and institutions. An evaluation campaign is carried out over a period of approximately nine months.

The AERES thus has an original tool with which it can incorporate the evaluation findings of research units and range of programmes into an overall picture of the activity and an institution’s strategy.

Setting up this approach requires continuous dialogue between the Agency and the evaluated institution, as well as its supervising body. This particularly involves:

  • prior consultation of stakeholders at national level
  • informing the evaluated institutions during the preliminary evaluation stage
  • the institutions’ comments about their evaluation, attached to the final report
  • evaluation feedback to validate the consistency and relevance of procedures.