Higher education, quality assurance and nation-building

Recent multi-country case studies have highlighted the capacity of quality assurance in higher education to support nation-building in multiple ways, ranging from promoting a more open and transparent society to supporting economic goals and increasing graduate employability.

Presenting the findings of a study focused on Ukraine, Morocco and Bahrain, at the recent Going Global Conference held in Cape Town in South Africa, Dr Elizabeth Halford, head of research and intelligence for the United Kingdom’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education or QAA, emphasised the importance of international collaboration in ensuring successful quality assurance systems.

An international focus was also important in terms of developing skills for a global economy and to ensure employability of graduates in an international market, she said.

International cooperation

According to Halford, sharing experience and support from other countries was valuable, as were lessons from developed systems through international collaboration.

In the context of the three-country study it was clear that the purposes of quality assurance were being enacted in different ways, she said.

These included a more open and transparent society in the case of Ukraine, the encouragement of private sector investment in Bahrain to support economic goals, and the improvement of graduate skills in relation to labour market needs in Morocco.

Higher education leaders from Ukraine, Bahrain and Morocco, who attended the conference, were able to share first-hand their experiences of developing quality assurance systems in their respective countries.

A different type of society

Inna Sovsun, first deputy minister of education and science of Ukraine, said it was recognised that quality assurance could be used to facilitate the creation of a “different type of society”, one characterised by a lack of corruption and transparency, as well as high education standards.

She said reforms in higher education in Ukraine had of necessity involved quality assurance reforms. These had been geared to meeting global market needs and the strengthening of critical thinking skills to meet the challenges of development.

The Ukraine national quality assurance system was not yet functional and internal quality assurance had not yet been fully embraced by universities, she said, and there was still a need to develop a “culture of quality” at education institutions and within society.

Private sector involvement

Representing Bahrain, Dr Jawaher S Al Mudhahki, chief executive of the National Authority for Qualifications and Quality Assurance of Education and Training, said the Kingdom aspired to grow from an economy built on oil wealth to one based on a productive, globally competitive economy, shaped by government and driven by a pioneering private sector.

Mudhahki said her government encouraged investment in private higher education, with the intention to integrate it with public education.

“Our future prosperity depends on whether we can change significantly on multiple levels to keep pace with the world around us,” she said, adding that there was need to swiftly transform the economy, acquire the right skills, and boost productivity and innovation.

Improving employability of graduates

Mohamed Aboussalah, Morocco’s secretary general in the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Executive Training, said the development of an effective quality assurance system had taken the route of consulting key stakeholders in the system, tapping support within the framework of international cooperation and using best quality assurance practices and standards existing at the international level.

It is expected that the system will improve the employability of graduates, and the quality and relevance of programmes, and raise competitiveness of institutions, he said.

Halford, whose organisation also carried out a nine-country quality assurance study in 2015, said there were recurring themes in different national systems of higher education.

In all countries there was major expansion in the size of higher education systems and a growth in private providers, leading to mixed economies of public and private provision.

The QAA research highlighted the need to recognise considerable diversity within systems for both institutions and programmes.