Internal Quality Assurance : Enhancing higher education quality and graduate employability
Martin, Michaela, ed.
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Higher education systems and institutions are exposed today to constant changes. As the sector has rapidly expanded, institutions and programmes have become more diversified. Many institutions have been privatized. Within this context, there has been a growing concern about the quality of higher education institutions (HEIs) and their programmes. This situation has prompted the development of external quality assurance (EQA) mechanisms in higher education in various parts of the world. Indeed, governments have engaged in the quality control of HEIs and their programmes through periodic external assessments, by means of such tools as accreditation, quality audit, and evaluation. Although the phenomenon was initially externally driven, a growing number of individual HEIs have responded to quality concerns by setting up internal quality assurance (IQA) mechanisms for monitoring and management. This publication is based on the findings of the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) research project ‘Exploring effective and innovative options in internal quality assurance’, which aimed to identify international trends, as well as innovative practices and good principles, for IQA. It is hoped that the findings it presents will be useful as a guide to HEIs planning to design and develop their own IQA systems. The research also sought to identify the various effects of IQA, and the internal and external factors which condition its effective functioning in universities. With these objectives in mind, the methodology chosen for the project was an international baseline survey and eight in-depth university case studies. The publication begins with a comparative overview of international trends, derived from the international survey. This reveals that while IQA is often focused on teaching and learning, there can be gaps in its development. For instance, often neglected are IQA tools to monitor student assessment systems, the physical environment, and the employability of graduates. A more in-depth view, considering all eight case studies, makes clear that there are a variety of understandings of IQA. Indeed different IQA systems have different orientations and use diverse tools and instruments. In short, IQA means different things in different places. Innovative structures for IQA are explored. In the eight case universities, the importance of linking IQA tools with other university functions emerges as a critical success factor for effective IQA. The University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) in Germany, for example, developed IQA to function as an integrated system of tools and processes. The University of Bahrain (UoB) achieved a balance between centralization and decentralization of decision-making in IQA. In South Africa, the University of the Free State (UFS) integrated IQA with academic core processes to allow IQA results to feed directly into academic planning. In Chile, the University of Talca (UT) integrated IQA with the strategic management of the university. Also discussed are innovative IQA tools in support of quality, employability, and quality culture. The importance of effective formal and informal communication structures for IQA is identified as a critical success factor. It is one of the key features of IQA at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), an Austrian university that deliberately avoids technical language when involving academics in IQA. The systematic collection of perceptions on necessary quality improvement from different university stakeholders is discussed in the chapter on Xiamen University (XMU) in China. IQA tools and processes that address issues of quality and employability are highlighted from the experiences of Daystar University (DU) in Kenya and the American International University ─ Bangladesh (AIUB). Both universities have been influenced by a context of rising graduate unemployment and a rapid expansion of enrolments in higher education, and their IQA systems are thus particularly geared towards the collection of information from graduates and employers. The publication presents a comparative analysis of the effects of IQA on teaching and learning, employability, and management. This discussion identifies a number of changes to improve the quality of study programmes – e.g. changes in content coverage, assessment systems, and teaching and learning methods – which often enhance the employability of graduates. When evaluating management structures and processes, IQA leads to organizational changes and new practices that better support academic core processes.