Daniel (2003) suggests that there is ample evidence of distance education (DE) in Asia making great strides with regard to access, equity, and cost-benefit. What is uncertain, however, is whether DE in Asia is providing quality education.
Over the last few decades, there has been a substantial growth in DE in Asia. There are now at least 10 mega-universities, over 70 open universities, and a growing number of conventional institutions offering DE, as well as a rapidly growing number of private and/or for-profit DE providers operating in Asia (Latchem & Jung, 2009). With the phenomenal expansion of DE and an increasing dependency on DE to provide education, especially higher and further education, there has been growing public concern over the quality of DE delivered.
The meaning of quality in DE, in particular, has attracted debate. As suggested by Perraton (2000), the goal of DE for some countries (or providers) is to achieve a level of quality on par with that of face-to-face education. However, Stella and Gnanam (2004) have suggested that DE is so distinctive that the aims and methods of face-to-face education cannot be applied in assessing its quality. Furthermore, as Koul (2006) has commented, DE should be judged by the standards of face-to-face education while factoring in some distinctive features of DE, such as open entry, flexible operations, and technology-based course delivery.
In addition, quality in DE has presented different meanings for governmental policy makers, institutional administrators, teaching staff, and students. Governments may be more interested in efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and public accountability (Koul, 2006), whereas DE providers may be more interested in the quality of their management, staffing, courses, and graduation rates (Hope, 1999). Teachers may be more concerned with the quality of the learning processes and outcomes (Jung, 2011), while students may be more preoccupied with the costs, flexibility, and interactions in their learning (Cashion & Palmieri, 2002; Ehlers, 2004). Moreover, societal and cultural environments affect quality assurance (QA) policies and practices, as indicated in Jung’s (2010) ecological model of QA in DE. QA depends upon reconciling all of these different perspectives, considering societal and cultural variations, and reaching agreement on the quality criteria and standards by which to judge the quality of input, process, and output of DE.
Various national, regional, and international initiatives have been undertaken with regard to QA in DE, including e-learning. Examples of national initiatives include the UK Quality Assurance Agency’s Guidelines on the Quality Assurance of Distance Learning (see http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/codeofpractice/distancelearning/contents.asp), the Norwegian Association for Distance Education’s Quality Standards for Distance Education (see http://nettskolen.nki.no/forskning/DISTUMQualityAssurance.pdf), the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and E-Learning’s benchmarks for DE and e-learning (see http://acode.edu.au/resources/ACODE_benchmarks.pdf), and the National Association of Distance and Open Education Organizations of South Africa’s quality criteria for designing and delivering distance education. To mention a few examples of regional and international initiatives, the African Union Commission developed the African Higher Education (including DE) Quality Rating Mechanism (see http://www.africa-union.org/root/UA/Conferences/2007/aout/HRST/06-10%20aout/African%20HE%20Quality%20Rating%20Mechanism-%20E.doc), the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities produced the Quality Manual for E-learning in Higher Education (see http://www.eadtu.nl/e-xcellenceQS/files/members/E-xcellenceManualGrey/index.htm), the Asian Association of Open Universities offered the AAOU Quality Assurance Statements of Best Practice, and the International Council for Open and Distance Education launched a pilot project (see http://www.icde.org/?module=Articles;action=Article.publicShow;ID=1765) to identify regulatory frameworks for distance and online education in different regions, to investigate the best practices, and to examine the rules and regulations hindering distance and online education development.
In Asia, several countries have recognized the need for well-defined QA policy frameworks for DE to assure that quality education is delivered to both students and the public, to safeguard against unscrupulous practices, and to initiate development of QA systems, specifically for DE. This study investigates national QA systems for DE at the higher education level in Asia. Its primary objective is to develop a better understanding of the current development of QA in Asian DE and to offer policy makers directions for developing and elaborating QA systems for DE in their own jurisdictions. DE in this study refers to various forms of technology/media-supported education, such as e-learning.
The study was carried out between January and December 2010 and employed three data collection steps: (a) 11 cases (10 countries and one territory) from East, South, and Southeast Asia were carefully chosen to include those with relatively well-established QA systems, those just introducing QA systems, and others still in the process of developing QA concepts in DE; (b) formal documents published by QA agencies (research institutes and governments in the selected countries/territories) and other references were analyzed to delineate DE development, QA policies, procedures, standards, and criteria for higher education in general and DE specifically; and (c) face-to-face, email, or telephone interviews with local experts working in the QA agencies and DE institutions were conducted to verify the data obtained. No quantitative data related to QA policy development and implementation (e.g., the number of accredited/assessed DE institutions, the number of QA criteria, and standards) were collected because they were not considered necessary for the purposes of this study. This paper outlines the development of DE in each of the 11 cases, discusses differences and similarities, and concludes with a set of recommendations for the further development of QA for Asian DE.
The following section outlines the development of DE and national QA systems in China, Hong Kong SAR (China) (Hong Kong hereafter), India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea (Korea hereafter), Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka to provide a basis for subsequent analyses.
The Open University System of China (OUSC) (combining former China Central Radio and TV University, which was established in 1979, with other radio and TV universities across the country) was the country’s sole DE provider for 20 years. Then, between 1998 and 2003, the Ministry of Education (MoE) licensed 68 online colleges operating from within conventional universities such as Tsinghua University, Peking University, Beijing Normal University, and other institutions to become online providers. By 2008, the number of active distance students in China was 3,560,000, or 12% of all students in the higher education sector. Of these, some 2,250,000 were studying through the OUSC, while 1,310,000 were in the online colleges. However, facing growing public concern over the quality of the courses and programmes offered, the MoE in 2003 ceased granting approval for new online colleges and introduced a QA system that required both the OUSC and online colleges to comply with the guidelines and documents provided by the MoE and imposed nationally standardized examinations upon them. The institutions were also required to follow the Annual Reporting and Censorship procedure, which involves annual internal reviews and external audits by the Distance and Continuing Education Office in affiliation with the Department of Higher Education of the MoE.
DE arrived in Hong Kong with the establishment of the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong (OLIHK) in 1989. OLIHK was granted self-accrediting status in 1996 by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation (HKCAA). In 1997, the OLIHK was conferred the title of university by the government and renamed the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK). As of 2010, over 13,000 students were enrolled in the university’s DE programmes. As a university with self-accrediting status, programmes offered by OUHK no longer need to be subjected to external accreditation. However, the institution is required to undertake periodic institutional audits. Other DE/online education institutions/programmes in Hong Kong include the Cyber University of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the Hong Kong Virtual University consortium, and the School for Professional and Continuing Education of the University of Hong Kong. In 2007, with the enactment of the Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications Ordinance (see http://www.legislation.gov.hk/blis_pdf.nsf/6799165D2FEE3FA94825755E0033E532/08A299C8E01C2F21482575EF001FFE6F/$FILE/CAP_592_e_b5.pdf), the HKCAA was renamed the Hong Kong Council for Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ).Indonesia
Since the mid-1950s, Indonesia has used DE to train teachers, but it was not until 1984, when Universitas Terbuka (UT) was established, that DE became widely accepted and recognized within the country. Although it has been permissible for conventional universities to offer DE courses and programs since 2001, UT remains the only higher education institution that is entirely employing an open and distance education system in Indonesia. UT’s total student body was over 650,000 as of 2010. As a public university, UT must adhere to all of the quality standards and regulations applicable to higher education institutions in Indonesia, including the submission of semester-based self-assessment reports to the Ministry of National Education. UT has been accredited by the independent National Accreditation Board of Higher Education (BAN-PT). In addition, UT has voluntarily sought accreditation from other international organizations, including the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) and the International Organisation for Standardisation/ISO for ISO 9001:2000/2008.
The Open University of Japan (OUJ) (formerly the University of the Air) first offered bachelors’ programmes in the greater Tokyo area through terrestrial TV and radio and correspondence in 1985. In 1998, it went nationwide, using satellite digital broadcasts and a network of study centres. It served almost 100,000 students in 2010. Since 2001, OUJ has also provided graduate programmes, but e-learning has not yet been mainstreamed into OUJ’s system. Besides OUJ, 42 conventional universities, two cyber universities, and several graduate schools also offer DE programmes. Since 2004, all higher education institutions have needed to be reviewed and accredited every seven years by one of three QA agencies approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. These are the National Institute of Academic Degrees and University Evaluation (NIAD-UE), the Japanese University Accreditation Association (JUAA), and the Japanese Institute for Higher Education Evaluation (JIHEE). Despite this, no specific QA or accreditation system has been established for DE institutions or their programmes.
The Korea National Open University (KNOU), established in 1972, was the sole DE provider in Korea until the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) legislated for the creation of cyber universities in 2001. As of 2010, there were 18 cyber colleges and universities offering bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in various majors. KNOU has over 170,000 students, while the cyber universities served over 30,000 students in 2010. All universities offering four-year programmes, including KNOU, must conduct self-evaluations at least once every two years and submit their findings to the Korean Council for University Education (KCUE)—the only government-recognized agency allowed to accredit four-year universities as of 2011. In the case of cyber universities, the Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS) monitors their quality programmes based on guidelines established in the Cyber University Evaluation Handbook.
DE programmes have been offered by DE units located within conventional universities such as the University of Science, Malaysia since the 1970s. During the past decade, three dedicated distance universities have been established in Malaysia: Open University Malaysia, established in 2000, Wawasan Open University in 2006, and Asian e-University in 2008. Together they served approximately 90,000 distance learners in 2010. The Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) was established in 2007 to monitor the QA practices of all higher education institutions—including distance universities—and to accredit their programmes. Until 2010, programmes offered by the DE universities were accredited using guidelines, criteria, and standards developed for conventional universities. In Malaysia, both conventional and DE programmes must first obtain provisional accreditation from the MQA before approval can be given by the Ministry of Higher Education for student recruitment. Programmes with a provisional accreditation status are required to undertake the full accreditation audit in the semester prior to the graduation of their first graduates. Universities that have successfully completed several cycles of programme accreditation may be invited by the Minister of Higher Education to undertake an institutional audit, the successful completion of which can lead to the awarding of self-accrediting status. Institutions with self-accrediting status are no longer required to undertake programme accreditation.
Mongolia does not have any dedicated DE institutions. However, some DE programmes are offered by a number of institutions, including four public universities (Mongolian University of Science and Technology [MUST], National University of Mongolia, University of Health Science, and Mongolian Educational University) and a few private institutions. Among these universities and institutions, MUST has been the most active in developing and implementing e-learning programmes. Between 2007 and 2010, MUST offered 16 masters’ degree programmes online as well as integrated ICT in the delivery of its undergraduate courses. The Mongolian National Council for Education Accreditation (MNCEA) was established as a government initiative in 1998 to evaluate and accredit universities and colleges in an attempt to address public concerns over the quality of higher education. In 2002, it started accrediting vocational and technical institutions as well.
As an archipelago of 7,100 islands, the Philippines would seem to be an ideal place for the development of DE. However, only 17 higher education institutions offer DE programmes. Among the existing standalone DE providers are the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), which is part of the University of the Philippines System, CAP College, the Asian Institute for Distance Education, and the Southeast Asia Interdisciplinary Development Institute. The rest are conventional universities offering a few of their programmes by way of DE. Most of the DE provision is at the graduate level, which would perhaps account for the low DE student enrolments nationwide. As of 2010, UPOU, the most comprehensive DE institution in the country, offered only two undergraduate programmes and had a total enrolment of about 2,500 students per semester. Public institutions are monitored and assessed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and undergo voluntary accreditation by the Accrediting Association of Chartered Colleges and Universities of the Philippines. Private institutions are required by CHED to be certified by the Federation of Accrediting Agencies of the Philippines, which includes the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities and the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities’ Commission on Accreditation.
The government of Singapore currently does not accredit programmes or higher education institutions. However, the Higher Education Quality Assurance Section of the MoE has been auditing universities that offer four-year degree programmes under the Quality Assurance Framework for Universities (QAFU) since 2004. The main DE provider in Singapore, UniSIM, uses a blended approach for delivering education wherein e-learning is used to supplement face-to-face classes. Its emergence can be traced back to 1992, when the MoE appointed the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) to collaborate with the UK Open University to offer the Open University Degree Programme (OUDP). In 2002, OUDP was granted accreditation status by the UK Open University and renamed SIM Open University Centre (SIM-OUC). In 2005, SIM-OUC was granted full university status and renamed UniSIM. As of 2010, UniSIM served over 11,000 students and fell under the MoE’s Quality Assurance Framework for Universities (see http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/files/2003/05/report.pdf) in terms of its institutional QA audit.
Since its establishment in 1978, the Open University Sri Lanka (OUSL) has been the only DE provider. In 2010, it had an enrolment of around 25,000 students. In recent years, with the implementation of the Distance Education Modernization Project (DEMP) of the Ministry of Higher Education, which is funded by the Asian Development Bank, several universities have developed DE programmes and DE materials. Both conventional and DE universities are accredited by the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council (QAAC) of the Ministry of Higher Education. QAAC was established in 2003 to ensure quality, continuous development and efficient performance of Sri Lankan higher education institutions. Working jointly with the Commonwealth of Learning, the ministry produced the Quality Assurance Toolkit for Distance Higher Education Institutions and Programmes (see http://www.col.org/PublicationDocuments/pub_HE_QA_Toolkit_web.pdf) in 2009.
Asia currently has more open and distance teaching universities and more distance learners than any other region in the world (Latchem & Jung, 2009). The ever-expanding demand and increasing availability, sophistication, and affordability of technology is encouraging governments to urge more institutions to adopt DE, seek new markets, and offer their courses online. However, the biggest challenge facing all of these institutions is how to assure and improve quality, while at the same time widening access, reducing costs, and developing the kinds of mechanisms that will best support such efforts (Jung, 2005). This study revealed that diverse QA systems exist in Asia. Nevertheless, common elements are also clearly noticeable. This section discusses the differences and similarities found in various aspects of the QA systems in the 11 cases studied.
An analysis of the cases shows that Asian countries have adopted three approaches to QA in DE.
The first category, as exemplified by Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka, considers DE as an integral part of higher educational delivery and thus applies the same procedures and criteria to all types of educational provisions. Some show consideration toward the uniqueness of DE during the accreditation or auditing processes.
The second category, covering countries such as China, India, and Korea, acknowledges the distinctive features of DE and thus applies different QA procedures and criteria.
The third category, which covers countries like Japan and Mongolia, has yet to determine its position or is in the process of developing QA procedures and criteria considerate of the distinctive features of DE.
Brennan (1999) has suggested seven purposes for QA in higher education: (1) ensuring accountability for public funds, (2) improving the quality of educational provision, (3) stimulating competition within and between institutions, (4) verifying the quality of new institutions, (5) assigning institutional status, (6) underwriting transfer of authority between the state and institutions, and (7) facilitating international comparisons.
In Asian countries, the common rationale behind the adoption of a QA system for DE is to ensure accountability and improve the quality of DE provision, although several other purposes for QA have also been observed.
To ensure public accountability and assign institutional status, accreditation is often adopted in several cases. Accreditation is the process of external assessment and peer review that determines whether an institution (or programme) qualifies for a certain status or to be recognized or certified as having met certain requirements. The result of accreditation is that an institution or programme either receives or does not receive accreditation. Accreditation for DE institutions or programmes takes place in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Under the aim of improving the quality of DE provision, academic audits are frequently used. Academic audits focus on the processes that an institution has in place to ensure quality. Typically, documents to be submitted include a critical self-analysis report and an external review verifying the self-report via an onsite visit prior to recommendations being made for improvement. A subsequent monitoring process is also put in place. Academic audits ask, “How well are you doing what you say you are doing?” They adopt either performance indicators that are developed and collected at the institutional level or standardized national performance indicators against which institutions are audited. In Asian DE, the regulatory authorities in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Singapore conduct periodic academic audits. QA also focuses on verifying the quality of new institutions and stimulating competition between DE institutions. This is particularly true in China, Korea, and Malaysia, where conventional universities are increasingly providing private DE.
To stimulate competition within and between institutions, performance-based funding has been adopted in a few cases. Performance-based funding ties public funding to the performance of an institution or a programme. In the case of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Korea, the outcomes of accreditation or academic audits are directly or indirectly linked to governments’ funding decisions.
To provide valuable information that allows the public and policy makers to make decisions and reflect on the customer-oriented focus of DE provision, several countries have made moves to publicly disclose QA information. Performance reporting refers to a QA approach that makes reports on institutional performance available to the public and submits them to government and/or QA authorities. While most Asian countries make the reports public, some countries, such as China, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, disclose either the final outcome on the status of accreditation or audits only or limit sharing of the reports to those within institutions and QA authorities.
In the cases of Singapore and Hong Kong, where self-accreditation has been adopted, QA provides the basis for underwriting the transfer of authority between the government and institutions.
There exist different types of regulatory frameworks for QA in DE.
In Asia, the regulatory approaches covering accreditation and/or academic audits for DE institutions/programmes can be either mandatory or voluntary.
Table 1 outlines these features of the QA regulatory agencies/units in selected Asian countries/territories.
The QA regulatory systems practiced in the 11 Asian countries/territories generally adopt both internal and external reviews and follow four common procedures.
Some QA agencies (e.g., Japan’s NIAD-UE and Mongolia’s MNCEA) assist the institutions by providing training on how to prepare a good self-assessment report. Many agencies provide training for external reviewers. In the case of India’s DEC, an institution’s readiness is assessed before it is put through the formal QA process.
The study revealed that in places where there is a QA system for DE, the QA criteria or guidelines for self-assessment and external review are often specified to cover input, process, and output variables in most if not all of the 12 key areas listed below:
Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka apply the same QA criteria for both conventional and distance institutions/programmes. In Mongolia, these QA criteria are applied only to conventional universities. China, India, and Korea have developed specific QA criteria for DE. Table 2 reveals the following:
order to make the adjustments and changes necessary for qualitative improvement, and (b) monitor the processes for continuous learning and ongoing improvement. Thirty-nine countries represented by 240 international and local delegates convened in Manila, Philippines to discuss and demonstrate Education for Sustainable Development in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ESD in TVET). The international conference, organized by Colombo Plan Staff College for Technician Education (CPSC) in collaboration with the International Vocational Education and Training Association (IVETA), Capacity Building International (InWEnt) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), espoused the prominence of reversing the impact of climate change through technical and vocational education and capacity building approaches. It also succeeded in providing an interactive venue to understand how sustainable development could be integrated into education and facilitate interest and commitment in promoting SD for a greener TVET.
The conference launched a milestone Call to Action that proposes to undertake deliberate and conscientious efforts to fast-track initiatives to pull off the Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), a proclamation made by the United Nations General Assembly at its 57th session to achieve sustainable development by 2014 with education as an indispensible element to reach the decade.
A ten-point Call to Action, affirmed by 240-strong delegates of the conference, suggests to recommend “Integrating ESD in TVET” high on the international agenda; to mobilize towards a Green TVET Framework to support socio-economic aspects towards sustainable development; to promote capacity building to integrate ESD in TVET systems; to re-orient TVET curriculum and teacher education to integrate ESD in all levels of education; and to increase public awareness to promote ESD as an advocacy for greater community ownership.
It also recommended to strengthen networking and linkages to enhance multi-stakeholder partnership; to promote evidence-based research, monitoring and evaluation strategies for ESD in TVET; to develop clean and green technology programs to meet the needs of the green economy; and to prioritize investments in education and capacity building of the youth in creating a strong foundation of a society for sustainable development.
By fast-tracking these actions, the conference aims to mobilize the academic, policy and industry sectors towards working together for the reconfiguration of TVET system to meet the needs of the human capital as well as consider socio-economic aspects of development.
Among the countries represented were Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Cambodia, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Rep. of Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Palau, Pakistan, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United States of America, Vietnam and Yemen.
The conference was formally inaugurated by the Chairman of the CPSC Governing Board, HE Dato Seri Dr. Ibrahim Saad, Ambassador of Malaysia to the Philippines and the Director General of TESDA, Secretary Joel Villanueva; Dr. Shyamal Majumdar, Director General, CPSC; Mr. Klaus Sodemann, President of IVETA and Dr. Harry Stolte, Head of Division, InWENt.
Secretary Villanueva keynoted the opening of the conference stressing that the event has placed the Philippines and the issue of sustainability in the education context at the center of necessary follow-up initiatives to realize the objectives of the Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action agreed to be taken globally, nationally and locally in which human impacts on the environment. He underlined that crucial role of TVET in propagating sustainable development, which he simplified to be nothing but ensuring that a common technician understands the implication of day-to-day plat operations to the environment.
Echoing the common understanding on the important role TVET plays in skilling and building qualifications, Malaysian Ambassador Ibrahim Saad on behalf of CPSC Governing Board acknowledged that open discussion on ESD from the various perspectives, such as policy dialogues, job creation, research, and education reforms. He affirmed that ESD has its multi-dimensional purpose in life, in general; and human and resources development, in particular.
Dr. Majumdar shared that one of the key strategies to achieve sustainable development is thru Education and Training. Reiterating a UN advocacy that says “the shift towards a green economy requires Education for Sustainable Development,” he emphasized that humankind won’t be able to solve the problems it faces today subscribing to the same values and approaches that created them thus ESD will provide the framework to address climate change.
Dr. Majumdar in a plenary presentation also presented the CPSC greening TVET framework which champions having a green campus, technology program, community outreach initiatives, research and culture as a holistic approach to greening TVET institutions.
The conference tackled a range of themes that included global ESD enablers and barriers in TVET; best practices of ESD in TVET; TVET curriculum for ESD; innovative teacher education for ESD; green technology approaches in industry and education; and sustainable TVET institutions through partnerships and alliance.
Leading educationists from TVET sector as well as representatives from various development and academic institutions and government agencies shared insights and progress in utilizing education and training platforms to promote sustainable development.
These include CPSC, IVETA, InWEnt, World Bank Speakers Bureau, South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization – Regional Center for Vocational and Technical Training, Asian Institute of Technology, Asian Development Bank, ILO Bangkok, GRM International, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Botswana Training Authority, Ohio State University, University Ton Hussein Onn Malaysia.
Participating institutions in the host country were CHED, TESDA, DepEd, DAP, Western Visayas College for Science and Technology of the Philippines, Toyota Motor Philippines Foundation, Hytec Power, Eastern Petroleum Corporation, Bayan Academy for Social Entrepreneurship and Human Resource Development, among others.
Globalization and its Impact on Quality Assurance:
Globalization is a generic term and it can be defined in a number of different ways depending on the context. The definition - description - given by Knight and de Wit (1997) appears to be the best operational one for any discussion pertaining to higher education in this context. According to them, Globalization “is the flow of technology, economy, knowledge, people, values, ideas…across the borders. Globalization affects each country in a different way due to a nation’s individual history, traditions, culture and priorities.” To cope with the ‘Globalization’, the higher education system has to re-orient its structure and function besides enlarging the scope of its provisions to meet the challenges of Globalization. This re-orientation process is termed as Internationalization. Internationalization of Higher Education is one of the ways a country responds to the demands of globalization.
Thus, the terms ‘Globalization’ and ‘Internationalization’ are to be seen as distinct but linked concepts so far as the higher education is concerned. Globalization is the cause and the internationalization is the effect in response. With this perception of these terms in focus, an attempt has been made in this article, to outline in broad terms the strategies to be followed to internationalize the higher education at the national level and to respond to the various demands rising out of the globalization of economies and related activities. Developing this strategic plan and implementing it speedily is crucial for any nation to succeed in the highly competitive knowledge driven global economy.
The globalization of economies brings in the mobility of knowledge workers and seekers across the world in volume unprecedented in the history. If a particular country cannot produce the graduates with the skills that employers want, especially in areas like information technology, then the employers in that country may seek the employees from wherever they are available. This need not necessarily mean an influx of skilled labor into that country. There are already examples of employment in the ‘knowledge based industries’ moving to the workers rather than the workers moving. Whether the employer moves or the potential employee moves, the mobility will be dependant on the quality and standards of the qualifications offered by the educational institutions. Ensuring the quality and standards of the educational offering will constitute the first step towards internationalization of higher education. This in turn would involve restructuring of the contents, duration, quality and standards of educational offerings in line with the broad frame of higher educational systems in vogue in most of the countries of the world. Fortunately, ensuring the parity of the content and the duration of studies with those of others may not be a major problem since the qualification framework followed in most of the countries by and large fall into a common pattern, though there may be some extent of contextualization to the national culture, language and values. This is largely due to the fact that the higher education system - universities and colleges- through out the world are patterned after the medieval European model by the historical accident. All most all the third world countries have had their institutions built on the pattern in vogue in the countries of their European rulers. On the other hand, the issues of quality and standards are the main concerns, and they need to be ensured to internationally acceptable levels through careful planning.
In this context, national level External Quality Assurance (NEQA) mechanism becomes important. The National Quality Assurance processes, whether it is assessment, academic audit or Accreditation used to assess and accredit the educational institution/programs should also conform to the international practices. In addition, they should broaden their focus to the international norms instead of the national context to which they are presently oriented. With an effective and acceptable mechanism of Quality Assurance at the national level in place, re-orienting them towards assessing the educational system for the international stakeholders may not be difficult. The reorientation of the quality assurance exercises and the outcome would in turn ensure the recognition of the qualifications across the national borders in the long run.
Outlines and trends towards globalization in the Asia Pacific Region
Massification of higher education
i. Trough Expansion
The region with the fastest growing economies in the world is making plans to protect its economic interests by assuring world-class education through its institutions of higher learning. China and India, two most populous countries of the world know that they have to improve their higher education system both quantitatively and qualitatively. The massification effort of higher education is continuing at a greater pace than it has been hither to. In fact, the number of students enrolled in these two countries along with others in the region has been the highest among the various regions of the world. The current enrollment figure of about 35 million students in Asia is by far the highest among the other regions like America, Europe and Africa. In China, the enrollment figure is more than 6 million and in India, it is about 8 millions as of 1999. Though percentage of population that have access to higher education in the Asia pacific countries may be lower than the corresponding figures of the developed nations, the absolute number of well trained people in this region is substantially higher and the trend continues. The annual compounded growth rate in both India and China is maintained at about 5-6% over the last two decades.
ii. Through Distance Education
The emergence of distance learning as the effective supplementary system to the traditional universities and colleges is also an important trend in the expansion of the higher education system in the region. The increasing export market in higher education and new corporate educational programs, accelerated by the new technologies that make distance education a primary medium. Realizing this, a country like India like many in the region has established both open universities and traditional distance learning units enrolling millions of students from all over the world. Their program offerings are diverse, career oriented, relatively inexpensive and therefore attract a large number of students. Besides, institutions that formerly did not have distance learning as their core mission are also now emerging, as major providers of distance education for which there are innumerable examples.
iii. Through Privatization
As part of the general thrust for increasing the size of enrollment in higher education, spurred by the need for additional resources, the countries in the region have already undertaken the initiatives to privatize the higher education. In India, establishment of new institutions by the governments (federal and State) with full grants was stopped as far back as in early 80s. All the new growth in terms of institutions, enrollment and diversification of higher education is through the private initiative. India, having the second largest network of higher education institutions in the world, with more than 265 universities and 11200 colleges, expanding its higher education system only through private resources during the past 15-20 years. From 1994-95 to 1991-99 alone, more than 2100 colleges have been established through privatization strategy. These phenomena could be seen in all the countries of the region, varying only in the relative magnitude.
iv. Through Transnational Education:
Sensing the concern for increasing the openings for higher educational opportunity in the region, many developed countries both within the region and outside have come in a large way to establish their teaching and training centers in a number of countries. More recently “transnational education” as a distinct class is emanating from countries like USA, Australia, UK, France and a few others for the countries that cannot expand the institutional base for want of adequate human and other resources. Though, this is not a major thrust in countries like China and India, transnational education is substantial in many of economically well-developed countries of the region like Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore and to some extent Philippines.
v. Through Diversification:
Consequent to the phenomenal growth of knowledge and the emergence of many multi-disciplinary subject areas, the range of educational offering have also increased substantially. Computer and computer related information technology area denote the domain of new knowledge emerging as a key sector of education. Areas like, Biotechnology, Management, New material sciences, Bio-medical engineering and the like are the examples of inter and multi-disciplinary areas. Besides, diversity also comes from the variety of new delivery system by the educational providers. In fact, the universities have become only one of the many actors in providing higher education. Examples of other providers include: 1. Telecommunication, cable and satellite companies, 2. Publishers including News paper groups, who are designing and delivering course materials, sometimes in partnership with established universities. 3.‘Corporate’ Universities and other units run courses and 4.The Virtual Universities.
All these trends seen in higher education like, Expansion, privatization, Diversification, Emergence of non-traditional and non-university type of educational provisions and the growing relevance of transnational education brings in the concern for quality and standards of the education offered for both local and international consumption. This concern has resulted in the establishment of national Quality Assurance mechanisms as a part the higher education system.
Quality Assurance and Accreditation in the region
The term Quality Assurance is the European version of the American process of Accreditation of the academic institutions and programs. The concern about quality of education and quality assurance through a suitable external mechanism is evident from the fact that more than 130 national quality assurance agencies in about 100 countries have been established in the past decade or so. These National Quality Assurance Agencies (NQAA), were originally conceived to serve the national interests. By and large their outcomes are designed either to promote quality enhancement or to ensure the accountability of the higher educational institutions to the providers, which happen to be in most of the third world countries, their respective governments. Many of the Asia-Pacific countries have already established their national Quality Assurance Agencies, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Philippines and Korea. The rest of the countries are in different stages of establishing such bodies. Being the region with the fastest growing economies in the world, it is making plans to protect its economic interests by assuring world-class professional preparations through its institutions of higher learning. In 1996, Center for Quality Assurance in international Education together with the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong, the regions first conference on Quality Assurance in higher education was held. Couple of years earlier, based on the recommendations of the New National Policy on Education, India had established its National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), in 1994 as an autonomous body to assess and accredit all the universities and colleges, numbering nearly 12000. Already, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have their national units wholly devoted for this purpose. It is clear, therefore, that the region is discovering the economic fruits of co-operation in assuring quality education at the tertiary level. In this they are not lagging behind any other region in the world. The second major conference on Quality Assurance in Higher Education under the auspices of International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) was organized at Bangalore, India, in March, 2001, where significant progress has been made to have a Asia-Pacific network of quality Assurance Agencies to promote co-operation in assuring quality and mutual recognition among the countries of the region.
Qualifications in the context of globalization
What ever may be the unit or process of assessment used by the national Quality Assurance bodies-institution, faculty, department or program- the outcome of such assessment should ultimately reflect on the Qualifications offered by them. In a sense the qualifications offered are the academic ‘currency’ for the transaction among the nations to promote academic mobility. Therefore the qualifications should be well denominated with sufficient and precise description of the purpose, content, duration and the level in a generic way. Related measures include subject benchmark details, program specification and the record of student progression. The development of National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and suitably retooled National Quality Assurance (NQA) mechanisms are therefore considered essential to enhance the acceptability of any qualification at the global level. In India and in a few other countries of the region, adequate efforts are underway to strengthen the standing of the qualifications awarded through these strategies.
Impact of internationalization of Education on Quality Assurance
The present nationalistic modes of quality assurance, including institutional and programmatic accreditation will inevitably have to work in conjunction and/or give way to global forms of public protection and educational quality. For serving the global market, it is important that the overall quality and standards of education available in a country must conform to certain thresh hold levels to become internationally acceptable. At the same time one has to realize that doing more or better of what one has been doing all along may not be enough to be accepted as international education. There must be a certain elements of educational provisions and the institutional basic infrastructure to make the grade as the provider of education for the international clientele. Many institutions are using several generic strategies for this purpose. Implementation of certain activities such as reorienting the curriculum focusing on the international needs and expectations, students and faculty exchanges, technical assistance from others to raise up beyond the national standards and having international students in the campuses to enhance the international ambience for the education they offer are some specific examples. Likewise, emphasis on the development of new skills, knowledge, attitudes and values in students and faculty that will lead to the development of certain identified global/international competencies, promotion of international/intercultural activities in the campus must be given priority. These may be implemented through either integration or infusion into teaching, research and services related activities. These initiatives should be backed up and supported by appropriate policies and processes at the institutional and/or at government level.
Nearly all the countries of the world have or in the process of developing quality assessment systems based on the four stage model of external evaluation of higher education, i.e., 1. A dedicated coordinating agency, 2. Submission of self-study and self-evaluation report by the institutions to the agency, 3. A peer review visit, usually on-site and 4. The preparation of a report accrediting on a two-point scale or on multi-point grade. Apparently, it would appear that this uniformity might provide a basis for a strong system of comparable quality assurance leading to the recognition of the studies and qualifications. However, there are many variations among countries in the details at each stage. Unless due emphasis is focused on the specific elements required to internationalize the higher education units, the outcomes of the national quality assurance mechanisms may not be indicative of the international quality. However, this should not be construed as implying that the national quality assessment is not important for each country. As of now, however the fact remains that most of the NQA agencies use the method that is not designed for assessing the elements that contribute to the international character of education provided.
Fitting into Globalization:
As explained earlier, globalization leads to internationalization of higher education. This involves expansion of both institutional base as well as diversification of the delivery systems like distance education, privatization for additional resources and getting into virtual mode and the like. The program offerings should also be diversified to meet the specific needs of global market. While undertaking all these measures, it should be ensured that expansion and diversification efforts are done without affecting certain minimal thresh hold levels of quality and standards as it always happen which such rapid expansion occurs particularly in the third world nations. While expanding, focus must also be on certain generic and specific skills, competencies and knowledge that are transferable and therefore usefully applicable anywhere in the world. Internationalization of higher education also involves certain conscious policy formulations at both the government and institutional level to integrate or infuse elements that add to the international character of education as outlined earlier. These include the efforts to attract foreign students and faculty, encourage collaborative teaching and research and accelerate diversification of academic programs that cut across international and inter cultural domains.
Some of the specific initiatives that need to be taken in this regard are to evolve a regional accord or formal agreement among the governments to have a common educational structure (e.g., compatible Qualification Framework) and certain level of quality and standards. The regional cooperative bodies like UMAP and UCTS, SEAMEO RIHED, AUN, AUAP, AND ASAHIL, etc., can play an important role in formalizing this accord at the inter-governmental level.
Like wise Quality Assurance Agencies at the national level should focus on the efforts of internationalizing the education through assessing the seriousness of purpose, extent of the efforts taken so far at the policy and implementation level and above all the facilities and ambience in place to promote the international education culture. These agencies should be able to interact with those of the member countries in evolving co-operatively the instruments and methods of assessment that are applicable across the region. This may include, shifting the emphasis from specific to generic parameters, revising the benchmarks and performance indicators used so far to serve the national mandate. The entire Quality Assurance process should be made open, transparent and interactive with their counter parts from the other countries of the region. This should lead to the evolution of arrangement for Mutual Recognition among National External Quality Assurance agencies on the line of Washington Accord for the technical and engineering education.
It must also be possible to evolve entirely different quality assurance strategies for international education, like the International Quality Review Process (IQRP) project pilot tested in a number of countries including a one from the region. The main objective of the project was to ‘promote the awareness of the need for quality assessment and assurance in the context of internationalization of higher education, to develop a review process where by individual institutions can adopt and use a set of guidelines to make self-assessment and enhance the quality of the efforts and to strengthen the contribution that internationalization makes to the quality of higher education.’ In fact, the Quality assurance agencies can effectively function as an instrument for catalyzing the infusion of the elements that make the higher education truly international.
It may not be out of place even to consider the option of having a common regional Accrediting body with its own set of instruments and methods for assessing the institutions offering of not only transnational but also the national education.