Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is the first German university to receive the official seal of accreditation

System accreditation confirms success of university quality assurance system integrating university governance and development, evaluation, and accreditation


Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is the first university in Germany to have successfully completed the system accreditation process and to receive the official seal of accreditation from the Accreditation Council for its own internal quality assurance system. This so-called "Mainz Model" of quality management integrates research, teaching, and the administration of all key aspects of the university with, for the first time, a comprehensive and forward-looking concept that combines university governance and development, evaluation, and accreditation. "We see this as an acknowledgment of our efforts to continually improve our performance in terms of teaching, research, and administration through the implementation of a comprehensive internal quality management system", explained Professor Dr. Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Krausch also noted that "in terms of the European Higher Education Area, the development of a shared set of standards is going to be an issue in the future. The goal should not just be to achieve recognition of individual degree programs, but rather to take a critical look at the universities’ own quality assurance systems to ensure that the European quality standards are being upheld across the university."

As opposed to applying for program accreditation for individual degree programs through external agencies in the way done by all other German universities, the seal of accreditation now authorizes Mainz University to establish degree programs independently and to issue its own internal accreditation. Thus, all existing degree programs which had already been internally certified by the university's Center for Quality Assurance and Development in a pilot project that ran over several years are also now considered to be fully accredited. These programs now enjoy a status throughout Germany equivalent to that of degree programs which have received program accreditation. Additionally, JGU may also continue to establish and extend accreditation for its degree programs in the way it has previously done. Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz currently offers more than 150 Bachelor's and Master's degree programs for some 36,000 students.

Since 2008, the Accreditation Council has made it possible to acquire accreditation at a superordinate level, namely that of the quality assurance system at universities. "With this alternative approach, we are moving the universities’ responsibility for the quality of learning and teaching in their focus of attention in terms of quality assurance," explained Professor Dr. Reinhold R. Grimm, Chairman of the Accreditation Council. "It is also important that we secure the autonomy of the universities by making sure the know-how about the quality assurance process is concentrated in the universities themselves and not in external agencies. Quality needs to be established within the university and not through external assessment. When a university’s system accreditation process is validated, this confirms that its quality assurance system for the areas of learning and teaching is capable of ensuring, on its own, that the qualification goals and quality standards of its degree programs are met."

This quality discussion has been going on within German universities since the mid-1990s. "The universities have come to take an effective quality management system very seriously as such a system directly underpins the continual improvement process," noted Dr.-Ing. Thomas Kathöfer, General Secretary of the German Rectors' Conference (HRK). "This is also about transparently integrating the many individual quality improvement measures that are being done separately into a comprehensive and forward-looking concept as has been done at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz for several years now."

The agency ACQUIN conducted the system accreditation process at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and awarded its certificate of accreditation after a two-year long pilot project at JGU followed by a three-year accreditation phase. This process followed a list of criteria and a schedule set by the Accreditation Council which were based on the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ESG) and the directives of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. "The prerequisite for the system accreditation of a university is – as in the case of JGU – the firm establishment of a comprehensive and well-coordinated quality assurance system," explained Thomas Reil, Managing Director of the ACQUIN accrediting agency. "The elaborate peer-review assessment phase at Mainz University focused on all the processes that ensure quality in the areas of learning and teaching."

In late 2006, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz began working toward redefining the area of quality assurance in a two-year pilot project under the title "system accreditation." The goal of the project has been to further develop the internal quality assurance system in such a way that it can replace the program accreditation method used for individual degree programs and to achieve recognition of the university's own quality assurance system as an umbrella concept (system accreditation). As part of these efforts, Mainz University took part in the "Institutional Evaluation Program" of the European University Association (EUA). In 2008, JGU was also chosen as a pilot university for the program entitled "Quality Management in Universities" sponsored by the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany and the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation.

Within the framework of such a comprehensive approach to quality assurance, the accreditation of individual degree programs is just one of many areas involved, albeit still an important one. JGU regards system accreditation as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the development of the university and quality improvement in a more significant way than is possible within the more conventional program accreditation process. An example for this is the internal accreditation of degree programs which involved extensive structural considerations, such as in Computer Science and Classical Studies. In Computer Science, for example, the continuation of the existing Bachelor's degree program and the implementation of a new Master's degree program were linked to an assessment regarding the creation of a new research unit. In Classical Studies, the internal accreditation process led to a fusion of different subject perspectives.

This integrative approach to internal accreditation, the reference to questions about structural changes and to the development of university research units, and the early involvement of experts in internal evaluation processes are key aspects contributing to the success of the quality management system at JGU. The system at JGU draws on many years of experience as well as well-established structures. "Quality assurance and quality development have been a high priority at our university since the early 1990s. We reorganized the administration within the framework of a reform process and evaluated our research and teaching," noted Krausch. "With our independent Center for Quality Assurance and Development, the university also has a nationwide unique institution with an excellent reputation and competences in many different fields. System accreditation thus confirms what we have achieved through these years of successful work."

The JGU Center for Quality Assurance and Development is a central university institution that was established in 1999 on the orders of the Senate of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. It has also served as the Southwest Office of the Evaluation Association of Institutes of Higher Education since 2003. The Center’s main responsibilities involve the evaluation of subjects and faculties according to the so-called "Mainz Model" and the sponsorship of young researchers. In addition, it conducts project and program evaluations and is actively involved in the field of university and educational research. In its guise as a consulting agency, the JGU Center for Quality Assurance and Development also provides an ever-increasing number of services for external institutions and universities.