- Leaders representing accreditation groups and institutions from around the world gathered at the Council for Higher Education (CHEA) conference last week in Washington, D.C. to discuss the "new normal" for accountability practices, with participants concluding there needs to be a broader global effort to improve quality assurance, especially because institutions are increasingly enrolling international students with greater mobility.
- As to why the conversation around accreditation ought to be global, Judith Eaton, CHEA president, explained at a session, "we all operate in an international context as accreditors that recognize institutions in other countries; we work together in places like UNESCO, OECD and the World Bank, and we talk about issues of mutual concern. Accountability, learning outcomes, transparency and public confidence in what we do is an international issue."
- Eaton also said that organizations can learn from each other to build best practices and become more innovative, while Jamil Salmi, a global tertiary education expert, also added to the discussion. "There's a lot of convergence between regional networks around the world," he said. "The Bolognia network has been working on harmonization between groups, and the Sub Saharan African countries are trying to follow that process now. This is seen as a global process. We need to keep sharing good practices and ask ourselves what impact each of these endeavors is having to move forward."
Throughout the CHEA conference, leaders including Ed Klonoski, president of Charter Oak State College, said there is not a clear understanding or set of guidance on the type of work institutions are or are not doing to be excellent.
"We need more from the results of accreditation to say what we do well and where we are exemplary and where we are failing," he said during a panel discussion. "The results of a 'P' or 'F' are not sufficient," he explained, noting that there are around "six regional accreditors, six national accreditors 78 or so programmatic, four faith-based accreditors," each providing their own standards.
So, when it comes to coming up with a system of best practices for measuring quality, expanding the conversation globally seems like it would only add confusion. However, leaders at the conference explained putting the social accountability of universities and colleges within a worldwide context will help accrediting groups come to a consensus.
An independent higher education expert from Brussels noted that international conversations will give stakeholders more data points to look at, and they can learn from each other on what works and what doesn't. It can be helpful to know the practices of other groups, he explained, as long as the individual recognizes the diversity, local contexts, and different paces of development of those other places. He added that while there is a lot of variety in standards, there is also a lot of common ground that can be used across the board, such as with fair assessment and granting proper information to students.
Others, like Peter Okebukola, president of the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi-Africa), explained there's even a business imperative for higher education groups to work on the conversation internationally.
"The pay off of doing this is it is useful for institutions to be able to meet the not only the regional standards, but global standards because then your students are more employable. Students are not only going to work in your country. The pay off is if you are in a program that has global quality, then your esteem is higher," said Okebukola.
Herman de Leeuw, executive director of the Dutch stichting Groningen Declaration Network, who deals with student data documentation for lifelong learning, explained that students are getting global credentials more frequently given the proliferation of online education. With this reality, he said it's important for students to understand what their degree means given the context of the nations they are getting them from, and this can be best solved with global standards.
"Now that digitization, [massive open online courses] and online courses, students don't have to sit at the lecture, they can pick up credits in a number of ways. So now there is a need for accommodating a global acceptance of records and quality assurance is a big part of that," said de Leeuw.