Why student participation in quality assurance matters

Some 49 countries, including Turkey, contribute to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and to the Bologna Process and embrace reforms based on common values, such as facilitating student and staff mobility and employability, autonomy for institutions, academic freedom, freedom of expression and independent student unions.

One of the key indicators in the EHEA’s Bologna Process implementation reports is to ensure student participation in higher education processes. Student participation is monitored in terms of their participation in the governance of national quality assurance organisations, in their role in institutional evaluation teams (as a team member or observer), in the preparation of internal evaluation reports and in decision-making processes regarding external evaluation and monitoring processes.

These may all sound quite challenging tasks to an outsider, but students’ involvement and enthusiasm in their education and future can be remarkable.

Turkey is a good example of the transformation brought about by the Bologna Process. In 2015 the country had only two major avenues for student participation, whereas by 2020, student participation is possible in four different areas.

In the past couple of years Turkey has established a student commission on higher education institution quality assurance, trained hundreds of students as quality ambassadors and motivated them to participate in the Turkish higher education landscape. They have contributed to quality assurance studies done by the European Students’ Union and even to the national authority for higher education quality assurance.

The Turkish Higher Education Quality Council (THEQC) strongly advises rectors to work with at least two student advisors nowadays.

A new model for quality assurance participation by students

The aim of THEQC’s Quality Ambassador Training programme is to ensure the participation of students in the country’s higher education quality assurance system, to spread a culture of quality higher education and to increase students’ competence in the field of quality assurance.

Programme Coordinator Dr Gonca Uludag defines quality ambassadors as enthusiasts who conduct studies at national and international level to improve the visibility of students, the main stakeholders in the higher education system.

The programme offers a comprehensive training scheme which includes face-to-face access to the top-tier higher education quality professionals in Turkey, sessions about basic concepts, inspirational sessions about the value of quality higher education and the chance to share experiences with international counterparts.

Training is provided regularly in order to create a pool of student ambassadors. Completing the training programme is required for students to participate in quality assurance processes, including evaluation, accreditation and even in council board discussions.

Training programmes have received an immense amount of interest from students so far. Thanks to the pandemic, students are now focused more than ever on the higher education system, especially on the aspects of flexibility, adaptation to crises and mobility.

Emergency online transformation

During the pandemic, students’ enthusiasm for quality education was understandable given the switch from face-to-face teaching to online instruction, an area where students – as digital natives – were the experts.

Education professionals have a lot to learn from students, according to Mehmet Bora, the student commission leader, who describes students as the major stakeholders in a new era of higher education.

As students are physically away from campuses, they have more time to explore the quality dynamics of their institutions and their procedures and they often have practical ideas about how to improve the ‘new normal’. Mehmet adds that when students actively participate in building quality education, their motivation and sense of belonging to their institution are impacted in a positive way.

Involving students more in the quality assurance processes of institutions has helped to establish a shared vision and is important for all key aspects of the higher education system in Turkey – both when it comes to Bologna progress reports and in terms of on the ground improvements in the system.

Professor Dr Muzaffer Elmas is president of the Turkish Higher Education Quality Council.