The Culture of Quality Assurance:  Mandatory from Within

[Address to the PASUC General Assembly, Century Park Hotel, July 6, 2017, 3:30 pm.]

 

It is my privilege to be asked to address the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) at this convention whose theme is, “PASUC @ 50: At the Forefront of the Global Dynamic of Public Higher Education.”  I am even moπre pleased to share my thoughts with you on the topic that was assigned to me: “The PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations: Levelling of Expectations on Quality Assurance.”

As immediate past chair of the COCOPEA, I had the privilege of working with President Ric Rotoras of PASUC to forge the current partnership between PASUC and COCOPEA.  This is a historic partnership through which, for the first time in Philippine educational history, Philippine higher education, public and private, resolve to “work together in complementarity to improve the quality of higher education in both public and private HEIs” (Resolution 4).[1]  It has committed itself “in academic freedom and responsibility to its shared mission of providing quality higher education to the Filipino people and to find the appropriate structures to support and govern itself under the reasonable regulation of government as higher education in the Philippines” (Resolutions 8).

The resolutions to work together in self-governance was in support of a Philippine System that provides “access to quality higher education to all qualified Filipino students” (Resolution 1).  Clearly, as these resolutions make evident, among the clear shared desiderata of PASUC and COCOPEA is quality higher education for all in public and private HEIs.

It is in this context that PASUC and COCOPEA passed Resolution 7:  “That PASUC and COCOPEA jointly commit itself to the culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework and request the Philippine Government for necessary funds to support this commitment.”

In addressing my topic, “The PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations: Leveling of Expectations on Quality Assurance,” let me first say that the PASUC-COCOPEA conversations were first and foremost a very pleasant discovery that the educators “on the other side” of either the public or private education divide were not all that different from one another.  The educators “on the other side” were as concerned as they were to provide quality education to their students, hindered however by their policy environment, the limitations of human and material resources, and the shared experience of legislators more concerned about legislating for political advantage rather than for true improvement of the educational system.  This was experienced particularly in the discussion on free education in State Universities and colleges (SUCs), where public and private educators found themselves “on the same side” advocating quality higher education for all and not just access, recognizing that the complementarity between public and private universities might be a boon not only to improved access but to improved quality as well.  As the PASUC-COCOPEA resolutions which I mentioned earlier indicate, the first leveling of expectations that emerged from the Conversations was that all were committed to quality higher education, even if it was clear that that would involve both sides in a shared journey towards improved quality.

On this journey, potholes would have to be filled and roadblocks would have to be overcome not only to level conceptual expectations pertinent to quality assurance, but to arrive at a culture of quality assurance that would truly improve the quality of our graduates and institutions in the service of our many stakeholders.

Much can be said about this shared journey we must travel together towards improved quality.  Eventually, I hope that PASUC and COCOPEA through its Committee on Quality might be able to come up with a clear PASUC-COCOPEA Roadmap to Quality Culture.  As those immediately responsible for the quality of higher education in the Philippines, we should know where we want to go on this journey towards quality assurance, and how we intend to get there.  The ongoing conversation of colleagues and friends on a shared journey will level the expectations.

For this talk, however, in the little time that has been given me, I would like mention talking points that might contribute to such a Roadmap.    Talking points stimulate the conversation.

When we commit ourselves to delivering quality education in the Philippines, quality assurance is about assurance.  We must, first, assure ourselves that we are delivering the quality we claim to be delivering.  We know we make many claims about what we are doing.  All of us claim to deliver “quality,” “excellent,”  “world class” education.”  We must be able to assure ourselves that despite the challenges that we face with limited facilities, uneven performance of our teachers, uneven preparedness of our students, changing markets, and the fallibility of our administrative decisions we are actually delivering the quality education we say we are delivering.  Second, we must also assure others – regulative bodies, other educational institutions here and abroad, and our stake holders – that we are delivering this quality.  Ultimately, we are interested in quality assurance because of our need as educators to educate well.  This is primarily a demand from within.  We need to know – and we want others to know – that we are delivering valuable education, and not just churning our trash diplomas.

Quality assurance is about structures and activities that assure ourselves and others about quality.

Quality assurance, then, is also about quality.  Remarkably, there is no single definition of quality that is accepted by all internationally.  In the Philippines, quality is often just another word for “good” or “expensive” or “private” or “exclusive.”  UP, Ateneo and La Salle are considered quality schools.  But we also know that some of the most expensive or exclusive schools fail to deliver on their mission statements, fail to achieve the academic outcomes they target, or fail to satisfy the requirements of professional organizations or industry.  In some of the best schools there is misbehavior and bad decisions that impair quality.  Part of our PASUC-COCOPEA Roadmap to Quality Culture would be for us all, public and private universities, to agree on a definition of quality.

With Dirk van Damme,[2] I propose quality needs four inevitable components:  the achievement of minimum standards, the drive for distinguishing excellence in learning, the ability of the educational institution to achieve its purpose, and the ability of the educational institution to meet the fair expectations of the stakeholders and the market.[3] Quality assurance must assure quality.

Quality is based, first, on the institution’s self-realization of its identity and fulfillment of its mission.  If a State university, for example, is to be a Filipino University missioned to promote the sciences among the poor, it must show evidence that it does just that, that as a university it is in academic freedom engaged in higher-level instruction, research and outreach, and that it is primarily serving the interests of the nation and of Filipinos, and that it is not overwhelmingly serving the rich and the established.  It must show that this engagement is governed by a plan that is actually executed.

Second, it must achieve the minimum standards set by government of its academic programs, its research and its outreach.  The articulation of minimum standards support academic freedom, for there is a difference between minimum standards and standards of excellence.  Between minimum standards and highest levels of excellence there is a range in which HEIs can aim at achieving higher or lower levels of excellence, depending on the discipline, the position of the discipline in the architectonic of the HEIs academic offerings, the readiness of the HEI to invest more towards the achievement of higher levels of excellence.  A school may choose in academic freedom to perform better, and therefore invest more, in engineering rather than in music.  There is a tendency of those who set minimum standards to incorporate every best practice among the minimum standards.  The outcome of this would be all HEIs doing the same thing.  But would this be good?  This would not promote independent thought, critical thinking, innovativeness, and a culture of ongoing improvement.  I would like to propose that the PASUC-COCOPEA, representing all academically free HEIs, play a larger role in discerning and setting  the minimum standards which government confirms, and that this be part of our Roadmap to Quality Culture.

Third, it must evidence excellence based on learning outcomes.  Excellence is achieved in learning outcomes that surpass minimum standards outstandingly, distinguishing the HEIs against other HEIs.  A school that is distinguished for the humanities achieves excellent learning outcomes in such as literature, mathematics, languages and the natural sciences; its quality is co-determined by this distinction.

Finally, it satisfies its stakeholders.  Among the stakeholders of universities is industry and the needs of the economy.  Much, indeed, has been said about the mismatch between academe and industry.  But the stakeholders in universities are much wider than just industry.  Society in general, human culture(s), human morality, the environment, religious interests, the secular sphere, and peace, for example, are major stakeholders in the university.

PASUC and COCOPEA have committed itself to a culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework.

A culture of quality assurance means for us freely generating, promoting and implementing activities that assure the quality of our schools, and continually improving these activities.  It means cultivating habits of assuring ourselves and others that we are delivering the quality we say we are delivering.  It means having agreed-upon processes of checking objectively that the quality is there, and assuring others that the quality has been objectively checked and clearly ascertained.  Because of the objectivity, it means being able to compare the quality of our schools and their products with the quality of other schools and their products not only in the Philippines but in the entire ASEAN region, if not beyond ASEAN.  The quality of the learning and competencies, for instance, of an electrical engineering graduate or of an education graduate for secondary schools would be ascertainable in the Philippines and comparable to similar graduates in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei.   The quality and competencies of teachers and students would also be assesssed  objectively, allowing the exchange of teachers and students to enrich the quality of the schools.  In fact, the Philippines has committed itself to a culture of quality assurance in the entire region through ASEAN, even though bringing the HEIs to understand, own and be freely part of the commitment is clearly yet a work in progress.  But it is in this context that as PASUC and COCOPEA have committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance, they have also accepted to be guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework.

In the ten countries of ASEAN, quality assurance is done differently.  In some cases it is driven by governments seeking to control and mandate quality.  In other cases, it is driven by private initiatives undertaking to develop and invite better quality.  Some quality assurance systems are mandatory, others are voluntary.  Some governments visit schools to check quality; some regulatory commissions test graduates and certify professional preparedness.  Some schools voluntarily benchmark with one another; they freely share best practices to help one another.  The most familiar form of quality assurance in the Philippines, and perhaps the most demanding, is voluntary accreditation.  But the number of accredited schools in the Philippines is still relatively low.  In this diversity of quality assurance practices, efforts are being exerted to increasingly bring the countries through a regional quality assurance framework into a common space.

The ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) is our regional quality assurance framework.  It consists of four interlocking quadrants: (1) The External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA); (2) The External Quality Assurance Policy, Standards and Processes;  (3) Internal Quality Assurance (IQA); and finally (4) the National Qualifications Framework.

The AQAF links us to the other ASEAN countries through its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework (AQRF).  In the diversity of quality assurance practices in the ASEAN, the AQRF introduces us to common space.

The AQAF is now being pilot tested in UP Los Baños and in Angeles University Foundation.  PASUC and COCOPEA would do well to monitor this pilot testing and understand its implications for us all.   Through a set of principle statements for each of the quadrants, AQAF seeks to bring diverse quality assurance practices together.  We use the AQAF to guide us in our quality assurance culture.[4]

We do not have time to discuss all the Principles of the AQAF.  For that, we would need a whole day.  But very briefly let me say:

 

  1. The EQAA must have autonomous responsibility for its operations and its decision-making processes and judgments made are free from undue influences. It cannot be a body that is beholden to or unduly influenced by school owners, government, the private or party interests of politicians, the performance reports of administrators or administrations, the budgetary needs of schools.
  2. The EQA-Standards and Practices place the interests of students and society at the forefront of external quality assurance processes. It is therefore not the interests of teachers, administrators, capital investors, and politicians that primarily determine quality. The processes must check learning outcomes, and how these outcomes affect society.  Of interest is not only the mismatch between academe and industry, but between academe and society.  This means pressing social concerns such as social justice, culture, the environment, religious freedom, and terrorism.
  3. AQAF sees the primary responsibility for quality in the institution itself, not in government, nor in the stakeholders (like industry), nor even in the EQAA. This institution itself through its top management is responsible for its culture of quality.  It ensures that the quality culture underpins all institutional activities including teaching, learning, research, services and management This entails an internal system of quality assurance which involves the participation of all: administration, faculty, studentry, and adjunct staff.
  4. The National Qualifications Framework in the Philippines is established by Presidential Executive Order 83 issued by Benigno Aquino III in 2012. A Task Force on Qualifications Framework is now completing its work on this.  But because the NQF establishes levels of and standards for educational qualifications achieved progressively in elementary, secondary (junior high school, senior high school), and tertiary levels of education, it should be legislated for policy stability.

 

In summary, the quality that we assure through our EQAAs using appropriate EQA-Standards and Processes driven primarily by our own drive for quality through our IQA systems within our own NQF is comparable with the quality of other ASEAN countries through the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF).  The AQRF is a translation mechanism.  Differing NQFs of ASEAN countries understand one another through the AQRF.

My task in this talk was to speak on: “The PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations: Levelling of Expectations on Quality Assurance.”  PASUC and COOPEA in their conversations were very emphatic in their commitment not only to greater access to higher education, but to quality higher education.  In this context, PASUC and COCOPEA committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework. Towards leveling expectations on quality assurance, I have attempted to unpack the meaning of this culture of quality assurance in the ASEAN context, thinking this may also contribute to your reflections on yourselves “at the forefront of the global dynamic of public higher education.”  We reviewed the meaning of quality assurance, but also of quality. We appreciated how in ASEAN quality assurance is done within the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework.  Articulating a Roadmap towards Quality Assurance in the Philippines would be helpful.   Ultimately, quality assurance is about the truthfulness of our being HEIs in the Philippines and in our ASEAN region, if not in our world.  It is about the truthfulness of our communicating truth, discovering truth, and about how we are contributing to our communities as HEIs.  Because what we do in our HEIs in academic freedom has a crucial bearing on what we do in educating our students for society, building our nations, keeping our economies healthy, keeping our societies humane and securing the peace, quality assurance is about keeping ourselves honest.  As necessary as this is, it cannot be forced.  What is imposed can be too easily undermined.  It is something that must be driven from within.  This is what I think PASUC and COCOPEA have done in committing themselves together to a culture of quality assurance.  They have committed themselves to voluntary quality assurance that is mandatory from within.

 

 


[1] The Resolutions cited here are from the 2nd PASUC-COCOPEA Conversation, Davao, Jan 16, 2017.

[2] Dirk van Damme, “Standards and Indicators in Institutional and Programme Accreditation in Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework and Proposal”, UNESCO.

[3] The definition of quality in CMO 46 s. 2012 includes neither the element of minimum standards nor the element of stakeholder satisfaction.  Cf:  Disqualifying CHED’s Quality Assurance: A Collection of Critical Positions on CHED’s Quality Assurance (CEAP: ADDU Publications, 2012).

[4] 1. Principles of the External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA).

  • The EQAA of ASEAN countries have mission and common goal statement.
  • The EQAA has an established legal basis and is formally recognized and trusted.
  • The EQAA has autonomous responsibility for its operations and its decision-making processes and judgments made are free from undue influences.
  • The EQAA has a standards and transparent system of appointing members of the Board.
  • The EQAA’s policies and management practices are based on good governance, transparency and accountability.
  • The EQAA keeps abreast with new developments and innovations in quality assurance as part of its internal continuous improvement system.
  • The EQAA has sufficient and sustainable resources.
  • The EQAA collaborates with key stakeholders, both nationally and internationally.
  • The EQAA has a reliable system for controlling, auditing and assessing all processes of its operations.
  • The EQAA keeps the public informed of its current policies, procedures, criteria, standards and assessment results.

 

  1. Principles of External Quality Assurance – Standards and Processes
  • Interest of students and society should be at the forefront of external quality assurance processes.
  • Standards must be comparable to international good practices and related to internal quality assurance of higher education institutions.
  • Development of standards must involve participation of relevant stakeholders to meeting current needs and demands.
  • Standards must be made publicly available and applied consistently and with due regard for cultural diversity.
  • The process normally includes a self-assessment report (SAR) of the programme or institution, site visits, feedback, formal decision and follow up procedures;
  • Assessment must be objective, fair, transparent and conducted within an appropriate time frame.
  • The EQA provides appropriate training at regular intervals for the development os assessors.
  • The EQA ensures professionalism and ethical conduct of assessors.
  • Quality assurance activities and processes are assessed on a cyclical basis to promote continuous improvement.
  • An appeal mechanism is established and accessible to all.

 

  1. Principles of Internal Quality Assurance
  • The institution has primary responsibility for quality.
  • Quality assurance promotes the balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability.
  • Quality assurance is a participatory and cooperative process across all levels. incorporating involvement of academic staff, students, and other stakeholder
  • A quality culture underpins all institutional activities including teaching, learning, research, services and management.
  • A structured and functional internal quality assurance system with clearly defined responsibilities is established.
  • The quality system is promulgated and supported by the top management to ensure effective implementation and sustainability
  • Sufficient resources for establishing and maintaining an effective quality system within the institution should be provided.
  • The institution should have formal mechanisms for approval, periodic review and monitoring of programs and awards.
  • Quality is regularly monitored and reviewed for purposes of continuous improvement at all levels.
  • Relevant and current information about the institution, its programs, achievements, and quality processes is accessible to public.

 

  1. Principles of National Qualifications Framework
  • NQF facilitates the progressive nature of learning and training with the inclusion of prior learning.
  • NQF supports student and workforce mobility through recognition of qualifications, including lifelong learning.
  • NQF is based on learning outcomes that emphasize student-centered learning and student competencies.
  • NQF supports consistency, transparency, and flexibility of learning pathways and progression.
  • NQF is generally defined by levels, descriptors and can be based on a credit system.
  • NQF must be supported by relevant national policies.
  • Stakeholders must be consulted and actively involved in the development and implementation of the NQF.
  • The implementation of the NQF is to be carried out by an authorized body and supported by a set of agreed quality assurance principles and standards.
  • NQF is dynamic and should be reviewed to meet the changing needs and development.
  • NQF should be complemented buy an authorized information enter.
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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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