Quality is a relative term and its definition may vary from stakeholder to stakeholder depending their needs, experiences and perspectives. Harvey defined quality assurance in Analytic Quality Glossary as “Assurance of quality in higher education is a process of establishing stakeholder confidence that provision (input, process and outcomes) fulfils expectations or measures up to threshold minimum requirements” and similarly, quality enhancement (QE) is defined as “process of augmentation or improvement.”
Professor David Dill, who is an Emeritus Professor of Public Policy at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United Sates reports that the quality assurance practices in higher education officially at government level began in early 1980s in United Sates to ensure the standards of education for public interest. France began in 1984 to improve its quality assurance bureaucracy in higher education, the United Kingdom in 1985 to achieve an improved relationship of higher education with the labour market and the Netherlands in 1985 adopted quality assurance (QA) framework for steering universities. 25 European countries signed an agreement on comparability of the standards and quality of higher-education qualifications at University of Bologna, Italy in 1999, which is known as the Bologna process. In one of the meetings of Bologna Process under the Lisbon Recognition Convention, standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area (ESG) came into being.
Quality assurance is looked after in higher education institutions internally as well as externally. For instance, European standards and guidelines for quality assurance in higher education have three layers of quality assurance like internal quality assurance (IQA), external quality assurance (EQA) and quality assurance agencies (QAAs). IQA is meant to work on institute’s developed standard operating procedures (SOPs), policies, their structure, requirements with the help of internal and external stakeholders and quality assurance documents are made available for public. EQA determines the efficacy of the IQA system, which is conducted by external experts including students representatives. Government authorized independent and autonomous quality assurance agencies, generally program regulators ensure that standards meet the minimum criteria for academic qualification award.
Quality assurance is looked after in higher education institutions internally as well as externally
Like other countries Pakistan has academic standardisation framework, which is called Pakistan Qualification Framework (PQF) under the umbrella of Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan. Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) of HEC is the policy making and monitoring body for assurance and enhancement of quality in higher education of Pakistan. QAA has formulated two-layer quality assurance mechanism; IQA as well as EQA. For internal quality assurance, QAA has developed Quality Enhancement Cells (QECs) in each university of Pakistan. Whereas, external quality assurance is looked after by QAA itself and through accreditation councils like Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC), Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC) and many other relevant councils for different programs. For internal quality assurance, a detailed guide on self-assessment report (SAR) is provided by QAA. The external QA includes, institutional performance evaluation (IPE), postgraduate programs review by HEC and review by accreditation councils for the accreditation or reaccreditation of the programmes.
Researchers from Germany, Dr Markus Seyfried, who is Chair for German Politics and Government, at University of Potsdam and Dr. Philipp Pohlenz, who is Chair for Higher Education and Professionalization of Academic Teaching, at Otto-von-Guericke-University reported in their research article “Assessing quality assurance in higher education: quality managers’ perceptions of effectiveness” published in European Journal of Higher Education that “the preparation of accreditation” lowers the effectiveness of quality management. Moreover, support of university management is reported to be pivotal to embrace the quality culture and practices in universities and cooperation with other higher education institutions have shown a synergetic effect in QA practices and in its promotion.
The dominant external quality assurance is generally perceived to be more for accountability and bureaucratic purposes. Similarly, a mild EQA system may not be taken serious either by management or internal quality managers. Research exhibits that a balance between IQA and EQA brings synergy and outputs are more beneficent to the institutions than individually dominated processes. Without getting in confidence stakeholders on the one-point agenda of quality assurance and enhancement, good practices for QA and quality enhancement shall remain a question mark! Research shows, academic quality managers and directors who left alone with the feeling that they are on a position merely to fulfil the requirements of external QA agencies, very soon they become unproductive and toothless for nurturing a quality culture. James Williams from School of Social Sciences, Birmingham City University reports in ‘Quality in Higher Education’ in his work “Quality assurance and quality enhancement: is there a relationship?” that quality assurance is an inflexible, result based top to bottom approach, whereas quality enhancement is a negotiated qualitative bottom to top approach. Similarly, Gosling and D’Andrea reports in their work “Quality development: a new concept for higher education” that quality assurance along with educational development can improve the quality of education.
QAA of HEC ranks QECs through a 6 criterion, which are progress against IPE (16 percent), progress against SAR (16 percent), accreditation of programs (14 percent), progress against HEC postgraduate programs reviews (18 percent), functioning of QEC secretariat (31 percent) and implementation of QAA criteria (5 percent). As per scores, QECs shall be ranked in W, X, Y and Z categories. W being in the top tier and Z being in lower tier. As per previous HEC university ranking system, QEC with a W category will add a score of 3 out 100 in the ranking of its university, whereas a QEC with ranking of Z category shall not add any scores to their university ranking. Practices and scoring criteria of QECs show that the most of their work is to provide data and assist only external QA agencies. When this is the case then where is internal quality enhancement and assurance system? QAA-HEC criterion and practices indicate that QECs are data manipulators and providers with a dominant external quality assurance system. This nullifies the research of a balanced IQA and EQA system for nurturing a quality culture and structure of QAA-HEC itself, which is based on IQA and EQA.
A working framework may be drafted for a balanced IQA and EQA allowing QECs to develop their own quality enhancement and assurance mechanisms, processes, structure and empowering their role in decision making. The model of ESG, which is based on three layers of quality assurance and enhancement or a similar model may be adopted or drafted. Let the first layer be the QECs themselves within university. Second layer should be experts from other universities to check the effectiveness of QECs practices and third be the same of HEC, as mentioned. Research has proved that suggested first and second layers shall empower the QECs role and cooperation for better quality management. Lastly, score must not reflect the role of QECs for their assistance to QAA-HEC but their contributions to quality culture development and practices.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director for Quality Enhancement Cell at Dawood University of Engineering and Technology Karachi, Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, November 20th 2018.