Quality Tertiary Education

[Address to the Foundation for Upgrading Standards of Education (FUSE), FUSE Learning Center for Teachers, Manila, 25 July 2017, 8:00 am.]


We wish this morning to talk about quality tertiary education.  One of the promising recent developments toward quality tertiary education is the new partnership between the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of Public and Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA).

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.  For the first time in Philippine educational history, Philippine higher education, public and private, resolves to “work together in complementarity to improve the quality of higher education in both public and private HEIs” (Resolution 4).[1]  It commits 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 are in support of a Philippine educational system that provides “access to quality higher education to all qualified Filipino students” (Resolution 1).

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 bringing this to your attention this morning, allow me to say that the PASUC-COCOPEA conversations were 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.  This shared concern, however, is hindered by their respective policy environments, the limitations of human and material resources, and legislators more concerned about legislating for political advantage than for true improvement of the educational system.  This was experienced particularly in the discussion on free tuition in State Universities and colleges (SUCs).   Here, 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.

In committing themselves to improved quality, they committed themselves to quality assurance.  But, what is quality assurance?

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 the identity of a school is a university, it cannot neglect genuine research.  If the mission of a state university is to the poor, it cannot be serving the richest students in the Philippines.

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. PASUC-COCOPEA, representing all academically free HEIs, may play a larger role in discerning and setting  the minimum standards that government confirms.

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 themselves 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 the 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.  The most familiar form of quality assurance in the Philippines, and perhaps the most demanding, is voluntary accreditation. 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.

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 educational institution itself, not in government, nor in the stakeholders (like industry), nor even in the EQAA. The institution itself through its top management is responsible for its culture of quality
  4. The National Qualifications Framework in the Philippines is established by Presidential Executive Order 83 issued by Benigno Aquino III in 2012. A Philippine Qualifications Framework National Coordinating Committee (PQF-NCC) is now completing its work on this.

My task was to talk about quality tertiary education.  I have shared with you how PASUC and COCOPEA have resolved to work together towards improving tertiary education through a quality assurance culture guided AQAF.

Thank you.


[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.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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