23 November 2023

Looking Beyond Measuring Quality: AUN-QA IC Agenda 8

Patitin Lertnaikiat
AUN Programme Officer;

Quality Assurance (QA) is one among several other essential ingredients that contribute to the formation and delivery of quality education. Once quality is achieved, the future of education is now looking beyond measuring quality. That is why, during the 8th Agenda - “Special Panel Discussion: Beyond the Measuring of Quality” of the AUN-QA International Conference (IC) 2023, experts on higher education development touched upon and elaborated more on the prospects of traversing unknown territories beyond the safeguards of QA.

For the 8th and final agenda of AUN-QA IC 2023, the speakers were:

  1. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bundit Thipakorn, Chair of Sub-Committee on Higher Education Standards Accreditation, the Commission on Higher Education Standards, Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation (MHESI), Thailand
  2. Dr. Lilian A. De Las Llagas, Chairperson of the Internationalization of Higher Education Panel of Eminent Experts (iHOPE), the Philippines
  3. Mr. Jamaluddin Ibrahim, President of Malaysian Higher Education Institutions Quality Assurance Network (MyQAN), Malaysia

The moderator for this session was Asst. Prof. Dr. Supachai Chuenjitwongsa, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Educational Innovation and Program Quality Assurance, Chulalongkorn University.

The Pandemic Acceleration - Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bundit Thipakorn

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When prompted with the question “what is beyond quality?”, Dr. Bundit summed up his answer in one word, “evolution”. Education on all fronts is not as static as it used to be. The big contributing factor is that technology and the internet have allowed us to share and learn from each other at a massive scale. However, the greatest catalyst we are experiencing now was the COVID pandemic. It may seem as though the 3 years of the pandemic has resulted in education loss, but the truth is that it has caused an urgency for education institutions to quickly adapt and evolve. What came out of the pandemic were the development of classes being shifted to learning online and education's rapidly increasing dependency on technology and the internet.

The result of adaptation to online learning at a worldwide scale has opened the doors for people and machines to work side by side, turning what was once a static landscape to a now digitally dynamic one. It cannot be denied that the pandemic disrupted HEIs, and from here on out we are looking at a new normal. Today, there are educational systems that are still static, but for HEIs to be truly evolving, they have to grasp upon the idea that we live in a transforming world. Nothing is permanent – everything just comes and goes. In regard to QA, there will be reinforcement through continuous improvements, innovation, and a commitment to a culture of excellence. In the future, HEIs have to leverage advanced technologies and use data-driven approaches in order to achieve and maintain high levels of quality, as well as using it for innovation and creativity to move beyond quality.

“Beyond Quality: Principle and Practice of Self-Determination” - Dr. Lilian A. De Las Llagas

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Dr. Lilian provided this quote to lay the groundwork of going beyond quality: “The path to developing HEIs culture of quality is primarily determined, molded and pursued by the institution itself, imbued by its ideals, systems and aspirations.” The meaning of this pertains to the idea that National or Premier Universities established by Law should embrace the practice of nurturing the principle of self-determination, self-monitoring, safeguarding, self-evaluating, and self-propelling. To be more specific, HEIs should be proactive in crafting their own standards and initiating innovations, research, and development while ensuring academic freedom and excellence in various disciplines and professions. In response to more recent developments, HEIs should also embrace the use of emerging technologies that have disrupted the teaching and learning process by equipping students and staff with the necessary 21st century technology skills to ensure readiness and future-proof its community.

A great example of how HEIs have already been aiming for going beyond quality assurance is through global university competition influenced by reputation and rankings. Academic rankings of niversities across the world such as Times Higher Education (THE), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Rankings, have had a profound impact in greatly motivating HEIs to be assessed and evaluated. The incentive of gaining recognition has been a great motivator in pushing universities to be self-determined and competitive towards climbing the rankings. When universities are self-determined and continually strive for improvement, this results in higher rankings and heightens trust in their own systems and gives strong confidence in achieving excellence. 

In conclusion, shooting for beyond quality all comes down to a university’s self-determination. Universities must have trust in their own systems and the confidence to lead as a measure of excellence not only for themselves but for other universities as well.

High Performance Culture - Mr. Jamaluddin Ibrahim

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Before universities start chasing for “Beyond Quality”, Mr. Jamaluddin emphasized the importance of understanding first what quality means in the first place. He gave 6 key points on what it means:

  1. Client Satisfaction
  2. Value Added
  3. Value for Money
  4. Fitness for Purpose
  5. Threshold Standards
  6. Excellence of Standards

In measuring quality for HEIs, it can be through either standards or metrics. Standards will involve national or international accreditation or assessment institutions that can be at programme or institutional level. Metrics, on the other hand, are ranking and rating organizations such as THE or QS, where rankings compare universities and ratings are based on a set of criteria. This has been the de facto way of QA for many years, and since then it has been the safeguard for ensuring quality to a set of standards, and will likely continue to be the status quo for the foreseeable future. To push beyond quality, Mr. Jamaluddin stresses that having the right mindset helps lay the foundation. And from it, culture is the answer.

What is culture? In the words of Mr. Jamaluddin, it is “the way we do things around here”. The culture reflects the lessons learned that were important enough to pass on to the next generation. It is what we do when we think no one is looking. He introduced what is called High Performance Culture (HPC), a culture that inspires people to go the extra mile – to make and execute good decisions even when nobody is looking. 

The characteristics of HPC are:

  • People want to give off their best
  • Led by principles
  • Motivated by cooperation
  • Empowerment: Information shared and decisions are made by the person closest to the task
  • Low performance is addressed quickly
  • Interested in growth
  • People feel inspired when they are using their strengths and believe in what they are doing
  • Focused on results

Furthermore, such a culture can be measured through a traits visualization which allows HPCs to gauge their level of clarity and alignment.

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There are four traits to consider for measurement, Adaptability, Mission, Involvement, and Consistency.

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HPCs of high levels of clarity and alignment will contain more and consistently filled blocks while lower levels will contain less or sporadically filled blocks.

Overall, the mission to go beyond measuring quality boils down to the self-determination of universities. The pandemic has been a catalyst that greatly accelerated HEIs towards emerging technological advancements, leading to a new normal at this very moment. A culture that is highly focused on going the extra mile and executing good decisions is also a major aspect for education excellence in HEIs.

This article now brings us to the end of our running series of agendas presented at AUN-QA IC 2023. In total, there were 8 agendas, all packed with the best practices and insights from an international cast of QA experts. If you would like to read about the other agendas, the articles can be found at the list below: