Group sets out global principles of quality assurance

Noting a "sense of urgency for a shared understanding" of higher education quality in an increasingly global landscape, an international advisory group has released a set of principles around which it suggests quality assurance policy might be organised.

At just under 200 words, the seven-point statement of principles sticks to broad themes, highlighting accountability and commitment to student learning, for example, and the role of government in encouraging and supporting quality higher education. It also establishes a framework for international deliberation.

"The quality of higher education provision is judged by how well it meets the needs of society, engenders public confidence and sustains public trust," says one principle. Another addresses the certainty that times will change: "Quality higher education needs to be flexible, creative and innovative; developing and evolving to meet students’ needs, to justify the confidence of society and to maintain diversity."

Developed by the Washington-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation or CHEA’s recently launched CHEA International Quality Group, or CIQG, the principles serve as an initial response to the profusion of international activity, including student mobility, faculty exchanges and cross-border institutional partnerships. CIQG plans to follow up the release with additional resources, including webinars and white papers.

The principles grew out of conversations during CIQG's inaugural meeting last year, where members noted a lack of clarity on the topic.

A draft version of a "framework of action" presented last month at the World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea, similarly describes quality assurance as a "growing area of concern, in particular in countries where administrative systems are weak". (Among the Forum's target goals for 2030 is to ensure equal access for all to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.)

Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic, senior adviser on international affairs to CHEA and CIQG, said the seven principles, along with CIQG's follow-up initiatives, provide a sort of "checklist" that can also help institutions, systems, accrediting bodies and other parties make a case to decision-makers for reforms. "You have this excuse to say, 'This is how it's done internationally. Why don't we go along that road?'" she said.

CIQG's advisory board, whose 19 members hail from nine countries and represent all regions of the world, sought to find common ground while respecting the "many differences of history, culture, beliefs and values that shape our systems of higher education and our perspectives on quality", the document says.

Those differences will define to some extent how the principles might be acted upon because higher education is "driven by culture, by traditions... and those are very important distinctions and differences that we want to keep", said CHEA president Judith Eaton.

The principles are designed to complement, not compete with, existing standards for quality developed by other regional and international organisations, including UNESCO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, and the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education, or INQAAHE.

While those groups have developed best practices and similar recommendations, CIQG's quality principles aim to provide "inspiration", Uvalic-Trumbic said.

Peter Okebukola, chair of the CIQG advisory council and president of the Global University Network for Innovation – Africa in Nigeria, said African nations are already at work to harmonise quality assurance programmes.

"There is a need to put in place some mechanisms" for comparing and measuring quality, he said. The principles "give us a solid foundation for ongoing conversations".