The first in a series of Peer Learning (PLA) group meetings on Quality Assurance (QA) and Accreditation in Higher Education (HE) and Vocational Education & Training (VET) kicked off in Istanbul last week. Delegations from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan joined national experts from the EU member states Latvia, Poland and Romania and members of the CAEP Team for the three day event.
The general aim of Peer Learning (PLA) within CAEP 2 is to contribute to shaping and supporting regional collaboration between the Central Asia countries, in order to accelerate national policy development and implementation as well as sharing best practice and developing a regional mutually-trusting team. A series of three PLA meetings on National Qualifications Frameworks (NQF) successfully concluded in Latvia this autumn and has led to the establishment of a regional Working Group to support the development of NQFs and facilitate the mutual recognition of qualifications among the CA countries.
Following an introduction to the PLA method and a summary of lessons learnt during the meetings on NQF, the participants were invited to exchange views on the concept of ‘Quality’ in education, identifying different points of views on the elements, criteria and roles involved. The use of different terminology surrounding QA and Accreditation in the participating countries was also discussed as this can make direct comparisons between systems difficult. One of the practical outcomes of the meeting was the proposal for each national team to produce graphic representations of their respective QA systems and terminology for use in future meetings, to facilitate mutual understanding.
The first thematic session then looked at Internal Quality Assurance in both HE and VET, focusing on the necessary conditions for its successful development, the roles of stakeholders and the challenges faced. Short presentations were given by both CA and EU participants, followed by discussion in small groups and the identification of themes to be explored in future meetings.
The second theme addressed was External Quality Assurance and Accreditation, where further contributions from participants helped identify common trends in the systems of the different countries, including an overall move towards independent rather than state-led accreditation, at institutional rather than programme level, with increased trust in the capacity of institutions to monitor quality, as well as a focus on outcomes and the overall quality of the student experience. However it was noted that these trends are being seen more clearly in some countries than others, and the VET sector has been evolving more slowly than the HE sector.
The third theme concerned an analysis of the costs and benefits of committing an educational institution to Internal QA and Accreditation. It was noted that many of the costs of engaging in QA are not easily identifiable, such as those involved in creating a quality culture among staff and producing change in all the key organisational and educational processes. Equally, although the benefits of public recognition, funding and competitive advantage are often very clear, improved performance, ‘customer satisfaction’ and sustainable organisational development can be as important in the long term.
The end of the second day saw discussion on stakeholder involvement and the creation of a quality culture within and around educational institutions. It was agreed that stakeholders must be involved in all phases of the process of QA within a dialogue-based relationship, including not only local stakeholders but also national groups, industrial groups and alumni.
The four national groups were reunited on the third day for a wrap-up of discussions and preliminary conclusions and recommendations. The groups discussed what they had learnt that could be useful in their countries and suggested activities that could be held at national level to share these results with the relevant stakeholders. The CAEP team also proposed a number of tasks to be carried out by each country team, including:
Finally, proposals for the agenda of the next meeting were discussed, as well as the possibility of organising a webinar on ‘Institutional accreditation: challenges, methods, benefits and impact of different options available’, to be held between this kick-off and the second meeting.