26 October 2023

Roads to Avoid and Paths to Success in Quality Assurance, AUN-QA IC 2023 Agenda 5

Patitin Lertnaikiat
AUN Programme Officer;

Quality Assurance (QA) is a complex ecosystem built up by a vast multitude of components ranging to systems, guidelines, personnel, and many more. There are many parts in play, and there is always the possibility that something can go wrong. Simply put, QA is not without its challenges and limitations, and what they are can greatly vary between different contexts. Oftentimes, what can go wrong is not apparent until it is too late and staring right in front of you. That is why the advice and experiences of experts in this field is critical in making sure to avoid these mistakes.

So what are the paths to success, and what roads should we avoid? The 5th Agenda of the AUN-QA International Conference aimed to answer this question with dialogue on the topic of “How Not to Do QA: When Best Practices Turn Sour”. The honored speakers for this agenda were:

  1. Dr. Susanna Karakhanyan, Former President of International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies (INQAAHE)
  2. Dr. Robyn Philips, Director of XBorder Projects

The session was moderated by Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti, Executive Director of ASEAN University Network.

The aim of this session was to explore the limitations and challenges of current quality assurance models and their applicability in diverse contexts, providing an open-ended platform for the speakers to critically examine the shortcomings of QA practices and share insights on how to avoid pitfalls and ensure effective QA implementation.

1. Dr. Susanna Karakhanyan - Context, Design, and Balance is the Key

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Dr. Susanna, as the immediate past President of International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies (INQAAHE), had valuable and up-to-date knowledge from her experience evaluating accreditations and accreditors. Through it all, sometimes even the best practices can go wrong. The simple truth is that the best practices are only good within the contexts that allow it to be good. There are many key factors that can impact how effective practices are. Dr. Susanna listed out the following:

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  1. Technology
  2. International and Regional
  3. Socio-economic
  4. Geopolitics
  5. Culture specifics
  6. Value system
  7. Human capital
  8. Funding schemes or triggers
  9. Legal and Regulatory Frameworks
  10. Contextual peculiarities

Next in her presentation, Dr. Susanna touched on the point that the success of the QA system also begins right from the start, the design and methodology. The design to avoid is what is called the “Frankenstein’s Monster Effect”. In this scenario, the design is based on a somewhat basic structure which needs to be patched up  overtime, ending with a messy result. Instead, it is vital to aim for a coherent and elegant solution that fits the context and culture of the situation. 

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In terms of methodology, a good balance must be struck in defining standards. If it is too broad, institutions can interpret standards in too many different ways. If it is too specific, then it can become too imposing and restrictive. Whatever the defining standard, another important aspect of it must be that it must be specific enough and measurable.

2. Dr. Robyn Philips - Considerations and Challenges of QA Practices in Different Contexts

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Different contexts of Higher Education (HE) around the world makes it difficult to pinpoint the best QA practices, as well as the considerations and challenges that come along with them. That is why Dr. Robyn provided five INQAAHE International Standards and Guidelines that can be utilized for one’s own context in deciding the best practices for themselves. The five guidelines are:

1. Diversity & Inclusion

“Diversity and inclusion” is critical in the aspect of bringing in new and diverse HE players, innovation and modules of learning to the development of the sector. Firstly, the massification and commodification of HE plays an important role in increasing the diversity in the sector and in the process, brings an increased focus on assuring quality in the sector.

Secondly, Increased diversity of providers brings new ways of thinking, learning and innovation – all with their own considerations and challenges. Dr. Robyn mentioned Transnational Education and Micro-credential programmes among the current and challenging concepts arising from the aspect of diversity in HE, especially in this era of technological enhancement and transnational mobility. 

For the prospect of nurturing diversity and inclusion, regulators and higher education institutions (HEIs) may face increased workload and the need to create and tailor an appropriate quality assurance model in response to each specific challenge. 

2. Relevance

Relevance concerns the applicability of QA under different socio-economic and cultural contexts. Best practices pushing towards international contexts are generally good, but their standards need to also address the specific needs of different HE systems and respond to the socio-economic, cultural as well as administrative needs and contexts of the area, country or region in which such systems or institutions operate. The key takeaway here is that institutions are at their best when the QA system fits not only their context and culture, but also their commitment to the policy directives of the supervising government.

3. Core Values of Higher Education (HE)

According to Dr. Robyn, the Core Values of HE are: 1.) Academic Freedom, 2.) Autonomy, 3.) Integrity, 4.) Independence, 5.) Inclusiveness, 6.) Collaboration, and 7.) Diversity. 

Of these values, she provided considerations for two of the aforementioned core values: Academic freedom and integrity.

In connection with academic freedom, it is vital for practitioners and providers of HE and QA to be conscious of crossborder cultural and legislative sensitivities which may arise from the delivery of their services in different nations or regions. foreign courses in other countries.  For example, academic freedom is often noted in some national higher education standards frameworks but academic freedom of speech in some other countries is governed by local laws.

In the part of academic integrity, there has been a rise of professional cheating, which is in line with the sputtering development and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools. QA practitioners and providers need to consider the pros and cons of this new technology, and how it is challenging their work and mission.

4. Recognition

Recognition is all about ensuring that the results of our efforts are recognized. National qualifications frameworks must be up to date and keeping pace with the changes in the way learning is conducted. The learning outcomes may not be the same as it was years ago, and the students need to be recognized for their efforts.

5. Trust

Lastly, trust is important when it comes to quality. In this case, QA evaluators need to be evaluated at an international level themselves to ensure their transparency and neutrality above any potential conflicts of interest. Any concerns about QA evaluators’ conscious and unconscious bias or conflict or interests should also be addressed openly and transparently. Last but not least, the evaluators should demonstrate individual knowledge and experience to gain the trust at national and international level.

Read more about good QA practices and insights emerging from the AUN-QA International Conference 2023 at the list below: