A framework common to all Asean members
Regional benchmarks sought to enhance qualityTo enhance the quality of education in the Asean region and support the mobility of students and others, educational and external quality assurance (EQA) agencies in Asean have joined hands to set up a so-called "Asean Regional Quality Assurance Framework."
Its aim: higher education institutions in each country to benchmark and improve member states to reach similar standards across the region.
"It's about improving our higher education system and getting quality graduates. It supports mobility of students or professionals not just within the Asean region, but also mobility of students elsewhere to other countries. They want to encourage mobility but also want to be confident about the quality of students coming in," said Prof Zita Mohd Fahmi, executive secretary of the Asean Quality Assurance Network (AQAN).
She told The Nation about the regional framework at an international conference last week held under the theme of Innovations in External Quality Assessment: Chain of Quality in Bangkok.
"It's good to have (the framework) because we have differences among our countries. But we can find an Asean common reference point - a regional standard - which every country can look up tp and benchmark to their common reference point.
"There will be different stages of development. They need time to develop the system," Zita said.
"We need to agree on common quality assurance standards and common reference points for qualifications. Good EQA bodies must have these policies and systems in place. We all are at a lower level now," she said.
"If we all agree that we should reach this (regional) standard one day, we can all work together to improve our system to meet that standard."
"EQA gives confidence in qualifications when they accredit. We should be able to respect each other's decision on accreditation of programmes. The principles should guide every one of us."
"We also want that standard to appear comparable to international standards. It would be the next step to benchmark it with all global standards to gain more recognition and improve the quality of our graduates," Zita said.
She said AQAN started working on the framework last year. The technical team has come from the Asean group to work on what could possibly be correct items in the framework and to bring up common agreed principles first - a set of principles about what quality assurance bodies should be or have, what standards and policies they should have, what quality policies pertaining to higher education institutions are. They would also include qualifications and a qualifications' framework, in which the learning outcome and credits must be similar.
AQAN will have to finalise the principles and relevant issues in October for phase 1. Then, it will need to decide how to use it. It will take time, as AQAN will need to go to all member countries to ask how they feel about the standards and how AQAN can help them to address them.
"We must get the Asean network to agree and inform the Asean ministers that we have done this. We need to get it accepted by different groups of people in Asean," she said.
"Getting the principles is not that difficult. The implementation part will be challenging. We cannot impose on t countries, but must let them grow and develop. And, these are the guidelines," she added.
Moreover, the Asean University Network has been working on a quality assurance network among its members - 26 leading universities and also non-member universities. It aims to develop a quality assurance network as the mechanism to uplift and enhance higher education standards among members. Forty undergraduate programmes have been assessed.
The Office of National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (ONESQA) director Channarong Pornrungroj said it hosted the conference in cooperation with the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of APQN. Also APQN had selected ONESQA as its "quality hub" and a lead agency in the region to promote capacity building on quality assurance in Asia and the Pacific.
ONESQA is regarded as the first agency in the region to be recognised as a quality hub, which was targeted to intensify a cooperative partnership and foster quality assurance within the region and beyond. Both agencies would work together, exchange information about EQA, support in-training, conferences and other events to raise members' competency.
"At this conference, we focused on innovations in EQA from many countries. We wanted to learn from them and expand our innovations as well. Many countries showed their interest in ONESQA's innovation that has each educational institution with outstanding EQA results mentor nine other institutions to help them improve education quality," he added.