New approaches to quality assurance in different regions of the world are contributing to a global dimension in the field. EUA’s Tia Loukkola takes note of frameworks in Africa, Asia and Europe, examining their differences and similarities, while warning that implementation needs time and perseverance.
The African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ASG-QA), developed in the context of the Africa-EU Partnership, were published in the end of 2018. They are part of a larger process in Africa that aims to ensure the implementation of the Pan-African Quality Assurance Framework (PAQAF), and were developed under the Harmonisation of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation Initiative, funded by the European Commission.
In parallel, over the past few years, the South East Asian (ASEAN) countries have been disseminating and piloting the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) in the context of another EU-funded programme, EU-SHARE.
It is interesting to note the similarities between these regional key documents and the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). While interregional collaboration has been one of the building blocks, both in Africa and the ASEAN, the processes have been based on crucial ownership by the regional quality assurance and higher education leaders and experts. The Europeans, rather, shared their lessons learnt from regional collaboration in quality assurance since the adoption of original ESG in 2005.
Of course, there are differences between the frameworks, as there should be, so to ensure that they are applicable and useful in each specific context. The most notable, perhaps, is that when it comes to internal quality assurance, the ASG-QA cover institutional activities such as research, innovation, community engagement and institutional management, as well as education, whereas the AQAF and the ESG touch upon these just to the extent they are relevant for educational quality. Similarly, the ASG-QA make specific references to distance and e-learning, which are an important vehicle in widening access to higher education in Africa. While e-learning and its quality assurance are discussed in the ASEAN and Europe as well, the framework documents make no explicit refences to it. A specificity of AQAF is that it also includes guidance for assuring the quality of qualification frameworks, whereas the ESG and ASG-QA make references to qualifications frameworks in relation to the expectations they lay out for educational programmes. The emphasis put on student participation in quality assurance processes and requirements to publish external review reports in full remain European particularities.
Still, the similarities out weight the differences. All documents cover internal quality assurance carried out by higher education institutions, external quality assurance carried out by external quality assurance agencies and quality assurance of the agencies’ activities. The principles for quality assurance of education provision are very similar, even if their practical implementation may vary greatly from one context to another. These fundamentals include the institutional responsibility for the quality of education and the importance placed on quality culture; respect for institutional autonomy and independence of external quality assurance; reliance on self-evaluation combined with peer review and site visits as a basis for external quality assurance.
In all three regions, the efforts towards developing a shared view on good practice in quality assurance are part of wider regional integration processes in higher education, which are expected to contribute to both economic and cultural integration. Quality assurance is expected, among other things, to increase trust and transparency between education systems, thus allowing smooth recognition of qualifications and work force mobility. The regional approaches converging takes us one step further in this ambition contributing to the development of a shared language that facilitates mutual understanding and global collaboration.
Decisive steps in this direction have been taken. Yet, the experience in Europe shows that it takes time to reform higher education systems and institutions in order to align them with regional aspirations. The importance of investing in awareness-raising and capacity-building activities should not be underestimated. It is perhaps even more challenging and time-consuming a task than agreeing on the common framework. Therefore, while important milestones have been reached in different regions, the path towards ever better higher education is long and arduous but will eventually bear great rewards for both our local and broader societies.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.