Comprehensive reviews of courses are now standard, thanks to HESF Standard 5.3 which has ensured that all higher education institutions in Australia review their accredited courses as a central component of their academic quality processes, overseen by their peak academic governance process. The Standard provides a list of which should be the minimum content of a comprehensive review and also that it should be informed and supported by regular interim monitoring.
As in most forms of regulation, the apparent simplicity of the expectation of regular reviews disguises the complexity of the underlying cultural challenges, particularly in larger, more decentralised institutions, where courses are effectively owned at the local level, and reviews which are centrally managed can be seen more as 'interference', not support. These challenges are often highlighted by the the tension between expectations that a comprehensive review will be relatively independent and the recognition that detailed knowledge exists at the local level.
This paper will explore the challenges and the opportunities to embed the the culture of comprehensive and independent reviews into complex higher education institutions. The experience over 7 years at UNSW Sydney in developing, renewing and revising a review framework will be used to better delineate the points of tension and concern and suggest ways in which a culture of excellence, quality and oversight can be better embedded at all levels in the institution. Options for best practice, including thematic reviews and centrally or locally run processes will also be addressed.