John Davies, VAP team member and UP Advisory Committee member, describes in his contribution Some Reflections on the Russian Visiting Advisors' Programme¬Ě to the Universities Project Final Report 1997-2002, page 81, the uniqueness of the VAP as follows:

The conception of the VAP is neither as an institutional review or audit, nor a consultancy exercise in conventional terms, though it has elements of each. It has its own distinctive character, with the following elements:

  • the VAP comes at the invitation of the University, and is not associated with any external or governmental regulatory or budgetary process. The issues for discussion are defined by the University.
  • the discussion is highly collegial and between colleagues and peers, and typified by mutual respect and friendship, which does not, however, preclude straight talking!
  • the University is at liberty to use the team's recommendations or not, as it sees fit. Whether it does or not will depend very much on the quality and detail of the recommendations and the credibility and sensitivity of the team, and the seriousness with which the University views the VAP.
  • the team performs several roles. In one sense, it is a mirror for the University to see itself, and to react accordingly. In another sense, it certainly performs an evaluative function, commenting on how the University goes about its business. Again, it acts as a resource, bringing perspectives from other universities and national settings relevant to the issues under discussion, and thereby enhancing the University's understanding of alternative possibilities. Finally, it is a source of friendly counselling on the dynamics of change and transformation, which rectors invariably find helpful, since it is impartial and unconnected with any power structure.
  • given the above, it should clearly be non-threatening, though an element of apprehension is bound to be present at the start.

The above characteristics are appealing, when compared with normal institutional audits or consultancy exercises, but in order for visits to be successful, some additional conditions have been found to be important in the light of experience. These include

  • the selection of the team: a multi-national profile; experienced in organisational development and its sensitivities; and with expertise appropriate to the particular character of the university and its specialisations, traditions and setting.
  • effective preparation of documentation by the University: clear statements of issues to be discussed, and agenda items; adequate institutional data; a self-critical analysis of where the university stands in relation to the issues, and the success of its efforts thus far.
  • open, frank and courteous discussions, untrammeled by propaganda statements and rhetoric from either side.
  • good preparations by the visiting team, and a sound understanding of the financial contexts, national and regional settings etc., of any particular sensitivities.