A conversation with Christelle Kirchstetter

Director of École supérieure des beaux-arts de Nîmes
"The principle of self-evaluation [...], which many saw as a simple "administrative requirement", can help to change the teaching and adapt methods to what is expected of a training course, without distorting its essential nature and actually, on the contrary, asserting it more strongly.  "

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Christelle KIrchstetter

The external evaluation conducted by Hcéres is based on a self-evaluation carried out by the institution. What conclusions have you drawn several years after this process was first introduced? 

The self-evaluation process was something new for the art schools when they adopted the Bachelor-Master-Doctorate reform. Initially, the academic staff were reluctant to become involved in the process, but gradually they have adapted to it. The principle of self-evaluation is now accepted, but lecturers vary widely in their active contribution to it: today this procedure, which many saw as a simple "administrative requirement", can help to change the teaching and adapt methods to what is expected of a training course, without distorting its essential nature and actually, on the contrary, asserting it more strongly. 
For the students, the principle is not yet sufficiently explicit, at ESBAN (Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-arts de Nîmes), we still need to work on its appropriation by the student and academic communities. The institution development plan (projet d'établissement) that we must write by 2020 will help us, in this respect, to achieve this objective. This plan will in a way give more meaning to this practice, which is really still something very new in our institutions. 

What changes would you like to see made with a view to better supporting the institutions in the phase of accreditation of the qualifications they award? 

Raising awareness and training the staff in the principles and objectives of self-evaluation seem to me to be the priorities that need to be worked on. The aim would be that staff no longer see this process as another administrative document they have to complete as best they can, but really get involved in it as a way of developing the educational project and meeting the requirements of our study programmes and students' expectations. 
We are considering, for example, in Nîmes, setting up a quality department within the Department of Studies, as many Swiss and Belgian schools have. We have observed that once the academic staff and the students have grasped what is at stake in self-evaluation, they are more likely to take on board the "tools" used to adapt the requirements of a bachelor's or master's study programme to the issues relevant to an art school training. If the issues are clearly defined, the self-evaluation and accreditation processes can really help to define the institution's development plan, and even more, help to single out and distinguish the teaching of an art school from the teaching of art in a university or in courses offered by the national school system. 
To improve awareness of this process and the issues around it, Hcéres could for example address the art school community directly, including representatives of the administrative staff, the academic staff and students. 

In accordance with the quality assurance principles established at European level, which require peer evaluation, the composition of the panels of experts set up by Hcéres provides for the involvement of academics, professionals and students from the different artistic fields in the evaluation process. As far as the art schools are concerned, have you identified any benefits of this principle in terms of the design and implementation of their study programmes?

Peer evaluation, beyond the fact that it is a requirement of quality assurance principles established at European level, seems to me to be essential for art schools. Our schools provide professional training courses (the term used in French "professionalisant" – "professionalising" - is often disliked, but it is one that we should claim more): the use of professionals in teaching roles is decisive, the projects are conducted in conjunction with the professional world, the study programmes are intended to train artists/authors capable of working in a professional environment, that of creation. Also, who better than professionals, but also academics and students, to evaluate these courses? The appreciations they give are all the better received when they are made by people with an intimate knowledge of the ecosystem of creation, its workings and requirements. As a result, the evaluations carried out by HCERES are examined by the institutions with a great deal of attention, and de facto they lead to changes in our study programmes, practices and even the way we operate.