Over the last 20 years, there has been an increasing trend worldwide for public scrutiny of tertiary education. As part of this trend, higher education institutions have been called upon to make explicit statements relative to the quality and effectiveness of their programs and Quality Assurance became a part of the higher education landscape. According to Vroeijenstijn as cited by Kis (www.oecd.org/edu/tertiary/review), quality assurance refers to the “systematic, structured and continuous attention to quality in terms of quality maintenance and improvement.” The same document discusses the various ways of looking at quality as follows:
• Exception: distinctive, passing a minimum set of standards;
• Fitness for purpose: relates quality to a purpose as defined by the provider;
• Value for money: a focus on efficiency and effectiveness, measuring outputs against inputs; and
• Transformation: education as doing something for the students, and includes concepts of enhancing and empowering.
Fitness of purpose and transformation seem to be the most accepted definitions of quality based on surveys made with senior managers of HEIs. One description that requires perfection (zero defects) was removed as it is impossible to attain.
Quality assurance of higher education programs has become very important for several reasons. At the global level, countries have to show that the level of quality of their education programs is comparable to similar programs in other parts of the world, both to improve the employment opportunities of their graduates and to enable the country to attract investments. This is becoming even more crucial because of globalization and rapid technological changes. At the regional level, there is an increasing trend towards regional markets such as the Asean. Within such markets there should be free movement of trade, labor, capital and services. Mutual recognition of degrees is desirable. For example, the Philippines is now a member-signatory of the APEC Engineer Registry and negotiations are going on for similar such registries in Nursing and Accountancy. At the national level, each institution must show to its different publics: the students and their parents, the business sector and the government regulators that the school is giving back their money’s worth in terms of the quality of the graduates that they produce. The HEI must prove that it is capable of producing graduates with the appropriate skills and can compete not only nationally but globally as well. Furthermore, the university has other important national development roles, such as providing the research necessary for the socio-political, economic and technological development of the country; molding the students to be morally upright, enlightened and productive citizens; and the preservation, enhancement and transmission of the nation’s cultural heritage.
The country has a long history of quality assurance for its higher education institutions. Starting with the Bureau of Private Schools, the higher education sector has been highly regulated with the imposition of policies, guidelines and minimum standards. Each course has defined requirements and a curriculum that have to be followed strictly by the schools. The different courses go through a process of evaluation before given temporary permits to operate and, later, given recognition. Each graduate is given not only a diploma by the school but also a “special order” by the government agency mandated to regulate higher education. In addition to government regulation, private HEIs may undergo voluntary accreditation under any of the following accreditation agencies under the Federation of Accrediting Associations of the Philippines (FAAP): the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (Paascu); the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities Commission of Accreditation (Pacucoa); the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities Accrediting Agency, Inc. (Acscu-AAI). Public HEIs undergo accreditation with the Accrediting Agency of Chartered Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (Aaccup). The accreditation movement in the country started as early as 1951 with a group of private education leaders who were convinced of the importance of ensuring the quality of higher education. Since then it has become a strong force in the advocacy for educational excellence.
Dr. Palispis of Acscu-AAI defines accreditation as “a form of certification or formal status granted by an accrediting agency to an educational program/institution which meets standards of quality over and above those prescribed as minimum requirements for government recognition.” This involves a process of self-evaluation and the judgment of peers, which may be done in conjunction with a site visit. The judgment is based on the effectiveness of its programs according to its institutional objectives and its unique role in the community that it serves. The assessment is done based on the following components: Purposes and Objectives, Faculty, Instruction, Library, Laboratories, Physical Plant and Facilities, Student Services, Social Orientation and Community Involvement, and Organization and Administration.
Government has recognized the significant role that accreditation has played in the improvement of the quality of private education institutions of the Philippines and has provided incentives for HEIs that undergo voluntary accreditation. In particular, institutions with accredited programs are given the privilege of administrative deregulation and, depending on the level and number of accredited programs, academic autonomy. In addition, the institution may receive some financial support for scholarships, faculty development and/or facilities upgrading. Over the last few years, CHED has also made accreditation a requirement for setting up graduate programs, extension programs and distance education programs.
While CHED recognizes the value of program accreditation in the push for excellence, CHED also realizes the need for institutional accreditation. CHED should be able to assess the effectiveness of the whole institution, for, after all, it is the institution that manages programs of study and the other activities expected of a university, such as research and extension. In the past, and in the absence of a mechanism for institutional assessment of HEIs, CHED used as proxy indicator for institutional excellence the accreditation of several programs. Thus, CHED defined level IV accreditation as institutional accreditation with at least 75% of the programs accredited level III for at least 10 years, in addition to other criteria. CHED recognizes, however, that most of the HEIs attaining level IV accreditation would take a very long time and considerable resources, considering all the accreditation levels one must go through. Thus, CHED decided to set up the Institutional Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Assurance (IQuAME) program.
IQuAME has four objectives: (a) to ensure that students achieve outcomes that meet internationally recognized standards; (b) to ensure the effective performance of schools with respect to their commitment to continuous quality improvement, efficient use of resources and taking steps to improve learning outcomes; (c) to ensure that HEIs are effective in addressing policy issues such as equity and access to higher education, and to keep their focus on their distinctive mandates; and (d) to provide information on higher education in the Philippines.
The colleges and universities will be judged in five key result areas: Governance and Management; Quality of Teaching and Research; Support for Students; Relations with the Community; and Management of Resources. Each has its own indicators with some as core indicators that apply to all HEIs and other indicators that apply to the institution depending on its mission and level of development. The indicators are as follows, with the core indicators indicated in bold letters:
• Governance and Management: Governance, Management
• Quality of Teaching and Research: Setting and Achieving Program Standards, Research Capability
• Support for Students: Student Services, Equity and Access
• Relations with the Community: Relevance of Programs, Networking and Linkages, Community Extension Programs
• Management of Resources: Faculty Profile, Use of ICT and Learning Resources, Resource Generation.
Based on the results of assessment, CHED will put HEIs into one of four categories:
• Category A(r): The HEI undertakes the full range of higher education functions, including research. The institution would be evaluated under all indicators in the framework.
• Category A(t): The core business of the HEI is teaching and is expected to undertake extension and networking. The HEI is evaluated against all indicators, except research capability. However, research and publications on pedagogy and professional practice are expected as part of good instruction.
• Category B: These HEIs are in the developmental stage, with the prospect of being placed in the A categories in the future as they mature and engage in other higher education activities. They are expected to be evaluated under the core indicators.
• Category C: All other HEIs. They are evaluated against core indicators.
In a recent memorandum on Autonomy and Deregulation, CHED defined the standards for declaring HEIs to be deregulated or autonomous basically using as major criteria the level and number of accredited programs, the IQuAME category and the number of Centers of Excellence or Centers of Development in the institution.
The University of the East, in its effort to retain its deregulated status and preferably to gain academic autonomy in the shortest possible time, is exerting much effort to get its programs accredited and to prepare for the monitoring under IQuAME. The College of Business Administration-Manila was visited in early March by Pacucoa and the results are expected soon. The College of Computer Studies and Systems was recently declared by CHED as one of the Centers of Development in Information Technology, and is preparing for the July visit of Pacucoa. The other Colleges in UE Manila are also expecting visits by Paascu and Pacucoa by the end of 2007 and early 2008. UE Caloocan, in the meantime, is awaiting the results of the recent Paascu consultancy visit and is busy preparing for the formal visit for Level I accreditation. It is also in the process of preparing the documents for IQuAME evaluation. As I wrote in the document University of the East Strategic Plan (2007-2012), “….accreditation is the sine qua non for all other strategies….. if we are to regain our leadership role in the education sector.”