The Covid-19 crisis has led to a widening of the scope and role of internal quality assurance at universities and a shifting of the focus of evaluation practices. With the challenge of ensuring the quality of emergency remote learning and teaching, certain university activities may have received uneven attention and coverage. This article looks at the unique case of Tbilisi State University (TSU) in Georgia.
The Covid-19 crisis has changed the agenda of higher education and its impact on universities is irreversible. Together with common practices of internal quality assurance, the areas and the scope to be covered has increased drastically. Correspondingly, internal quality assurance in times of Covid-19 is gaining unprecedented attention from practitioners and researchers of higher education in Europe and around the world. The European University Association (EUA) has dedicated different publications and activities to the impact of the pandemic on higher education, including a focus group dedicated to analysing the impact on internal quality assurance. The resulting report shows that the challenges and practices at universities across Europe resemble.
Tbilisi State University (TSU) in Georgia was one of the participants of the focus group. It provided a unique contribution to the discussions, as Georgia had no pre-existing experience with online delivery of educational programmes and courses.
The internal quality assurance processes and mechanisms at TSU are focused not only on the educational programme development, but also on institutional evaluation and development. The latter covers the three university missions, teaching, research and to society, as well as institutional management, resources, services and strategic development. The Quality Assurance Service, one of the governing bodies of the university, is actively involved in such evaluations, as well as in the internationalisation of the processes and staff development. Internal quality assurance evaluations serve as evidence for decision-making and the strategic development of the university. The challenge of delivering study programmes online, assuring their quality, as well as ensuring the sustainability of learning, and teaching, student services and management of the processes, caused an uneven distribution of efforts and attention in favour of learning and teaching. Service to society stayed within the focus and expanded, while the research mission received the least attention from the Quality Assurance Service in comparison with others. No internal quality assurance instruments were modified in terms of research assessment, while the two other missions and management of the processes received dramatically increased attention. This can be explained by the fact that research sustainability, quality and impact at the university was not under the same level of threat as compared to learning and teaching.
As the pandemic hit Georgia and emergency online learning and teaching began, quality assurance focused more on ensuring the attainment of students’ intended learning outcomes; n; the availability of services and resources, as well as serving society during these challenging times. The inexistent experience of online teaching, at the institutional and national level, made the transition even more challenging. The internal quality assurance practices at TSU during the Covid-19 crisis have shifted focus and expanded their scope while the established practices have remained the same. For instance, the systemic internal quality assurance processes had to examine how study programmes could be delivered online while maintaining their quality. As none of the 232 educational programmes were planned for online teaching, the teaching methods, assessment and activities, as well as the structure of the programmes needed modifications.
A special emphasis developed around staff development, the Quality Assurance Service together with faculties and different administrative units directed their unified efforts on the development of regulations and capacity building of staff - designing guidebooks, tutorials, and trainings for staff on online teaching, ranging from technical support to assessment and student engagement techniques. Various trainings and webinars were also delivered by international partners. The trainings and new opportunities for online events are still available for teaching staff.
While shifting to online teaching, the issues of equity and accessibility to education were of major concern. Needs analyses of students and staff were carried out to assess accessibility to learning resources, equipment, and the internet connection.
The Covid-19 crisis accelerated the processes of quality assurance. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle needed to be shorter than one semester to ensure the timely corrective actions. Student satisfaction surveys focused on online teaching – methodology, assessment, delivery, overall quality; learning resources; staff engagement; student engagement and overall challenges students faced. Surveys of academic staff focused on online teaching – quality, student engagement, student achievements; the workload; their challenges. Surveys of administrative staff focused on challenges of online management of the processes.
The focus of quality assurance in the area of service to society development shifted to sharing experience, knowledge and best practices with other Georgian higher education institutions. The Quality Assurance Service organised several webinars on topics such as internationalisation of higher education, the third mission and inclusion and equity during and after the Covid-19 crisis.
Broadly speaking, the role of and focus on internal quality assurance has increased dramatically within the university, with a greater need to sustain the quality of learning and teaching and service to society while research received less coverage.
“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.