4 Ps for Quality

MESPOM volunteed for the Quality Assurance exercise by the European Commission and has been selected as one of six Erasmus Mundus courses (out of about 100 existing). The purpose of the exercise is to examine how the joint character of Erasmus Mundus courses contributes to their high quality. Here are some thoughts which I prepared for the first visit of the EC QA team to Lund.

4 Ps for Quality

Purpose, people, pattern and profession – these are the aspects of MESPOM’s quality which are due to its ‘jointness’, the fact that is run by four universities together.

The clarity of purpose is the most important element in an innovative interdisciplinary Masters course for an international audience. Otherwise, there is a risk of teaching ‘everything and nothing’, missing the point, and ignoring the real-world needs. But paradoxically, the purpose is rarely discussed in universities busy with day-to-day academic and administrative routines.

Not so in MESPOM! Because we are a joint course we are forced to discuss our purpose and explain it to ourselves and to the outside world. The jointness provides the three ‘optical instruments’ of clarifying the purpose:

  • Mirrors – self-reflection through which we have to explicitly explain what our education is all about;
  • Windows – opening up to our partners’ scrutiny and cross-comparison of our purposes;
  • Lenses – detailed analysis of our teaching practices which is driven by the need to ensure their compatibility between our partner universities.

The second element of quality is people. The success of a program equally depends upon the faculty and the students involved and jointness strengthens both groups.

Concerning the faculty, the academic buzzwords these days are ‘critical mass’ and ‘intellectual community’. Through joining our forces we are reaching a ‘critical mass’ and creating such a community. Plainly speaking, we are stronger because there are more of us: we can cover a wider variety of subjects, analyze more interdisciplinary connections, cross-fertilize more ideas. Moreover, our faculty is motivated to work harder not only because MESPOM provides additional incentives (prestige and resources), but also because our excellent students demand it.

And now onto our students. Their quality is unparalleled and can be described by an ICE metaphor: they are Individuals united by their Commitment into a Creative Community with Experience, Excellence and Expertise. In MESPOM, we value their individuality and their commitment to environmental causes, we help them to form a community and we pay increasing attention to their experience which usefully contributes to the course.

In order to achieve the purpose we also need a certain pattern of academic and administrative activities. The challenge here is not only to create new patterns of interaction between the Consortium partners, but also to break some old patterns which inhibit quality. Jointness is instrumental in both tasks. For example, it makes it easier to break the old pattern: the traditional defense along the lines “we have been doing this for ages” does not stand any longer. With new partners and new arrangements must come new requirements and some old ways can be safely disposed of.

And finally, onto profession which may also be referred to as practice. Masters education is inherently about training practitioners, professionals which is impossible to do without connecting them to practice. Naturally, with much expanded networks of professional contacts, alumni associations, regional affiliations and research activities MESPOM is in a much better position to link education to practice than each of its four partners alone. Moreover, it provides a better platform for teaching different (sometimes opposite) mindsets and perspectives which need to be fused together to form the mind of a successful environmental professional.