19 October 2023

The Key Ingredient for Successful Quality Assurance is Leadership, AUN-QA IC 2023 Agenda 4

Patitin Lertnaikiat
AUN Programme Officer;

Quality Assurance (QA) – with its multiple purposes including, but not limited to, university programme standardisation, fostering a quality culture, or even bolstering the rankings of an institution – is a complex ecosystem involving many systems, guidelines, and personnel. As the number of QA players and mechanisms tend to grow into a large working unit collaborating to achieve the same mission, maintaining unison between these puzzle pieces can become challenging, especially when operations grow too large with many more aspects to manage. This is why leadership is absolutely crucial to ensuring the success of QA. Such a role needs to ensure the operation keeps running like a well-oiled machine.

That leads us back to the AUN-QA International Conference 2023. For Agenda 4 of the two-day conference, the topic for discussion is “The Catalyst of Success: Leadership at the Core of Quality Assurance Enhancement in Universities”. With the session organised in a talk show format, our panellists were able to explore the agenda and interact with one another, as well as the audience, in a more dynamic and free-form dialogue.

The four panellists and moderator for the fourth agenda were:

  • Prof. Dr. Didi Sukyadi, Vice Rector for Education and Student Affairs of Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia
  • Dr. Yu Un Oppusunggu, AUN-QA Council Member, and Senior Lecturer at Universitas Indonesia
  • Prof. Dr. Eddy Chong Siong Choy, AUN-QA Council Member, and Executive Dean, Faculty of Business and Law, Taylor’s University
  • Dr. Maria Resurreccion P. Alejo, AUN-QA Council Member, and Director, Loyola Schools Quality Assurance Officer, Ateneo de Manila University

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Prof. Wan Ahmad Kamil Mahmood, Ph.D., Special Advisor to AUN Executive Director

Management Experiences and 29 Years of Working in the Higher Education Field - Prof. Dr. Didi Sukyadi

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Prof. Dr. Didi Sukyadi shared his experiences from working 29 years with higher education academia and his current role as Vice Rector at Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI). When it comes to leadership, different leaders have different styles.However, it all comes down to having the skills that are needed for varying situations; Some situations may call for strategic leadership skills, others may demand an active role. Whatever the case may be, a leader must have skills ready to handle it.

In terms of management, leadership policies can enable leaders to have an influence on universities, but sometimes they have to use another hand to lead towards the right direction. An example provided by Dr. Didi was the quality of laboratories that were in need of improvement – and the matter had been proposed to top management multiple times. In order to give management a push to follow up with improvements, related study programmes were encouraged to conduct external accreditation. The results from the accreditation then demanded that laboratory equipment must be upgraded to satisfy standards. In this scenario, what used to be a request became a requirement. The result of the effort is top management is now obligated to meet the requirements.

According to Prof. Dr. Sukyadi, data is a highly effective tool for leadership, when certain things in the institutions are not moving, a data-driven approach can be what you need to get the ball rolling again. When we need to tell our colleagues to do something, it is much more effective to approach them with data in hand. Sometimes, you have to touch their dignity with cold hard facts, being compared with others such as rankings is often the push one needs to start moving and doing something.

We are Changing the Status Quo, Make it Simple - Dr. Yu Un Oppusunggu
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Dr. Yu Un works based on one basic principle, everyone is busy. Everyone does not want more work and no one cares about the top management because each person has their own work and interests to take care of. So when it comes to dealing with new terms like “authentic assessment”, it is hard to get people on board. How do we tell entire organisations to move forward? We have to change the status quo and change behaviour. 

But how does one bring change to a well established state of affairs or change the way people behave? Keep it simple, everybody likes it when it is simple. Simplifying ideas and concepts can be challenging, but it can help a lot with the onboarding process and project mobilisation if they can be made easy to digest so people just know what to do. 

So, for the leaders out there, keep it simple.

Leaders Must Know What they Want and What is Needed - Prof. Dr. Eddy Chong Siong Choy

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Most of us would agree that different university leaders have different goals. There are things they want to go for or let go, whether willingly or reluctantly. Dr. Eddy provided two perspectives when it comes to QA leadership, one as an assessor, and one being a leadership position. 

First as an assessor, he shared an experience that demonstrates why assessments are not supposed to be for improving programmes only. The scenario was that a washroom was located next to the meeting room and was assumed to be for minimising walk time. However that was not the case as it turns out the water supply has been out for months, rendering other washrooms out of order. Making sure amenities are working is vital to making sure there is good quality of life for students and staff alike, and it is also the role of assessors to take note and suggest improvements to not only programmes but to the university as a whole. Outside of this experience, Dr. Eddy also recalls a common issue in which faculty members would approach him with a request for assessors to relay concerns and suggestions to the top management. This is not ideal as staff should be able to approach leaders when needed, and leaders should know and acknowledge what is needed.

Next is his perspective on leadership, where he touched upon whether management of Higher Education Institutions are ready for the future and do they know what is needed? This is because Generation Alpha will be coming to the higher education ecosystem soon. The oldest of this generation are those born in 2010, meaning they will be 13 years at the oldest at this time. In just less than 10 years, we will be seeing a new generation of young graduates arriving at universities. How prepared are we for this new generation? As they have different characteristics and behaviours, there will need to be new learning and teaching methods for a digital technology dominant generation. In addition to such looming challenges, other concerns with technology are also happening right now in the education space, from ChatGPT making a big impact on how students work to cheating contracts, as Dr. Eddy pointed out, where students are having their thesis being written for them at a price, whether by a real person or even AI assisted. 

Technology is constantly getting more advanced and Generation Alpha is rapidly approaching, are we ready?

The Kind of Leaders Acting as the Catalyst of Success - Dr. Maria Resurreccion P. Alejo
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As QA is always changing, the kind of leaders that bring success to this environment must be able to navigate the process of success and change. First, as a leader, there must be people to lead. How would they lead the people under them towards changes?

Having the right mindset is key to navigate this process. However, people tend to be not cooperative in changing from what they are used to, even if it is for the better. Leaders must learn to appease the people, compromises might have to be made to at least get a start. As such, not everything has to change at the same time, some things can remain constant such as ideals and desires. Leaders have to understand that every person is valuable. It is a collective that all should contribute.

In addition, leaders are always looking for continuous improvement. However, they must not fall into the trap of changing things that are not broken just for the sake of “new” or supposed “improvement”. 

According to Dr. Alejo, the bottom line should be that, in order to mobilise change for the improvement of the education quality that the students are paying for, effective leaders should always plan, act, check and have a strategic plan in place that can be cut into chewable bits that makes it easily digestible for people to understand. They should communicate the results and celebrate the small wins, anything that helps to keep people on board. Successful change is a team effort after all.

Read more about good QA practices and insights emerging from AUN-QA International Conference 2023 the list below: