By providing broad evaluations of departmental

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student evaluations, and graduation and placement rates (Alstete, 1995). By providing broad evaluations of departmental performance, critical success factors serve to highlight levels of performance in crucial areas. The identification of departmental strengths and weaknesses need not rely on quantification for validity, however, and potential benchmarking topics may suggest themselves on the basis of a less formalised view of priorities for improvement. In situations where priorities for improvement are unclear, it may be more difficult to identify an area for specific benchmarking. In such cases a broader, more general benchmarking study may be useful. While such a study is less likely to produce concrete recommendations for change, it can provide an overview of departmental procedure, and an analysis of strengths and weaknesses as compared to the benchmarking partner. As such, it may serve as a useful precursor to more focused benchmarking. Assuming that an area which would potentially benefit from improvement has been identified, it is then necessary to assess whether benchmarking is the appropriate tool for addressing this problem. Benchmarking is a comparative study which is designed to yield improvements in practices, processes or outcomes. For this reason benchmarking would be the wrong strategy to pursue when the problem identified relates to deficiencies which do not arise from operating procedures. These might include such problems as the inadequate performance of a particular member of staff, personal conflicts between staff members, or a lack of departmental vision or direction.
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Curtin University of Technology Document for Internal Use Only Page 10 of 24 A suitable candidate for benchmarking will also need to be amenable to measurement, so that comparisons can be made with the benchmarking partner (see section 1.3: Identifying the measures which will be used to collect the data). The cost and difficulty of benchmarking the area under consideration also need to be taken into account. You should assess whether the time and money spent on the project is likely to be offset by the benefits you can hope to gain. Once again, this stresses the importance of choosing an area which is relevant to shool/area success, which is in particular need of improvement, and where benchmarking can effect improvement. At this stage it may be necessary to narrow the focus of the study somewhat; it is better to conduct a small yet highly effective benchmarking exercise than to undertake a larger project with more variable results. Table 4. Examples of Benchmarking Topics in Higher Education Examples of what might be benchmarkcd in teaching and learning Student support systems and/or learning methods which have led to decreased dropout rates and higher student satisfaction in first year subjects.
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