Accreditation proposals ‘risk mass university closures’

Forty Chilean universities out of a total of 56 would lose their accreditation and would even risk closure if the new criteria proposed by the National Accreditation Commission (CNA) are not altered.

Furthermore, they “would gravely affect the higher education system, limiting its growth, development and diversity”.

Only 16 universities meet or surpass the basic indicators proposed and could therefore gain accreditation. Another 40 do not have 30% of their postgraduate offer accredited, as the new guidelines require.

These are the main conclusions of a new study of CNA’s proposed guidelines, carried out by the think-tank Acción Educar.

The study also maintains that the new indicators, published in October, are too ambitious and ignore the diversity and trajectory of higher education institutions, including internal factors such as student profile and institutional aims, as well as external ones such as the COVID pandemic and Chile’s economic difficulties.

The 18 new proposed indicators for institutional accreditation – which go from excellent to advanced or basic, depending on each institution’s progressive development – apply to PhD and MA programmes and to medicine, odontology and teaching careers.

The indicators will be used to evaluate and verify the fulfilment of quality standards and criteria related to teaching and formative process results, learning processes, strategic management and institutional resources, internal quality assurance, external relations and research and innovation.

Ignacio Sánchez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, said in a letter to La Tercera daily newspaper, that CNA’s criteria have the risk of furthering “a technical and far too formal approach” which leaves behind a more systematic approach based on the confidence in higher education institutions and in their internal ability to innovate and to improve their quality.

“This proposal does not promote development and quality… It is not good news for higher education,” Sánchez concluded.

For his part, Julio Castro, rector of Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello, said in a letter to the online newspaper El Mostrador that the “measurement system used is not realistic in most cases and is not aligned with the framework of Chilean higher education institutions. A critical issue if we consider that institutional accreditation is mandatory.”

Castro also argues that the form in which the criteria and standards are presented reflect a controlling and regulating role by CNA but, instead, it should take the approach of supporting and educating higher education institutions, fostering continuous improvement and preserving the valuable diversity of Chile’s educational projects.

Castro maintains that the criteria and standards proposed by the CNA “are not innovative and, in terms of quality assurance, value in excess the more formal and procedural aspects to the detriment of the more substantive dimensions such as teaching, learning and the experience gained by the students”.

He also says that the standards proposed do not allow measuring of improvements or shortfalls of an educational project. Furthermore, the metrics used are not realistic in many cases, nor are they aligned with the framework of Chile’s existing higher education institutions, he says.

“Universities require flexible criteria and standards – not a single model – able to adapt to the diversity of existing educational projects and contribute to generating and strengthening a quality culture in each institution, focusing on promoting those good practices that have a bearing on learning improvements.

“We cannot standardise the system; we have to respect the mission and purposes of each institution”.

Higher education institutions have 60 days to hand in their observations and make recommendations on CNA’s proposals.