External Quality Assurance Model: IAAR practice

ZHUMAGULOVA  A.B.
Candidate of Juridical Sciences, General Director of the IAAR

Education quality improvement is associated with global changes in the integration process to the world educational space. Quality culture promotion in higher education is the main goal of our time. The priority task for Kazakhstan is to elevate the national level of education to the level of world educational leaders. As it is noted in the “Kazakhstan-2050” Strategy, nowadays knowledge and professional skills are becoming the defining guidelines for the development of a modern education system, training and retraining of personnel, whereas integration into the international educational space is becoming a vector of achieving a high level of world education standards.

The main trend of the digital era is openness and continuity of education based on increasing the competitiveness of educational services. Therefore, quality improvement remains the main priority of our time. The training of in-demand personnel and the implementation of scientific research directly affect the formation and development of the human potential of society and the stable growth of the national economy. In this regard, the establishment of a new architecture for the quality of the education system is particularly relevant today.

The key players in the improvement system of education quality are institutions of higher education and followed by accreditation bodies and society itself. This interaction would certainly have a synergistic effect if the efforts of the three parties are effectively combined as a “triad of improving the quality of education”. Higher educational institutions are responsible for the internal system of quality assurance and for improving the competitiveness of educational programmes as part of the implementation of three missions of modern higher educational establishments: education, science and the promotion of social development. At the same time, needs of society for the required specialists will be met and the labour market will be replenished with qualified personnel every year. Education policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan is aimed at increasing the competitiveness of educational services and is based on interaction with higher educational establishments, availability of information for stakeholders and collegiality in decision-making.

Kazakhstan has implemented all the mandatory, recommendatory and optional parameters of the Bologna process. For example, a three-level education system has been introduced – bachelor-master-PhD, as well as ECTS credits, which allows expanding of the opportunities for academic mobility of students and teaching staff, and improving the quality of higher education. To date, the Republic of Kazakhstan has formed the National Quality Assurance System for Higher Education, which includes various monitoring and evaluation procedures that meet the European ESG quality standards.

The role of international accreditation is to assess and recognise the quality of the activities of higher education institutions and educational programmes following international standards for accreditation and harmonisation with national legislation. Accreditation agencies provide external quality assessments following international ESG and WFME standards.

The main issues of international accreditation are:

  • monitoring of the university’s compliance with international quality standards;
  • improving the teaching and learning process;
  • increasing the achievements of the university based on an external assessment;
  • a steady growth of the university to improve the quality of education.

The mission of the Independent Agency for Accreditation and Rating (IAAR) is to continuously support and ensure the quality of education, to increase the competitiveness of educational services at the national and international levels, based on ongoing activities for external quality assurance in education.

The strategic goals of the IAAR are:

  • development of a quality assurance system taking into account the best world experience;
  • informing the public about the results of the quality assessment;
  • monitoring of the national system for education quality assurance;
  • conducting rating research.

To ensure the quality of its activities, the Agency has developed a Development Strategy until 2023, has formed its internal quality assurance system, which allows the Agency to effectively improve its management processes. The concept of thematic analysis, developed by IAAR for five years, allows analysing and evaluating activities as well as informing stakeholders about current trends in the education system every year. The established system of stakeholders’ feedback, based on the annual survey of higher educational institutions, experts and coordinators, allows getting timely information and improving the quality of work of IAAR. This not only improves the activities of the agency itself but also improves the quality of accreditation processes in higher educational institutions, which positively affects the quality of educational services.

During the 10 years of IAAR’s professional activity, important results have been achieved in three main trajectories. First, from the national point of view, IAAR was included in the Register of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2012. Second, in the international dimension, IAAR became a full member of the world’s leading quality assurance networks and registries – ENQA, EQAR, WFME, and APQR. Finally, IAAR has expanded the scope of activities and since 2018 has been conducting international accreditation outside the borders of Kazakhstan (Figure 1). IAAR conducts cross-border international accreditation in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine. IAAR’s field of activity is expanding from year to year.

 

Through the conduction of accreditation in different countries, IAAR obtained huge practical experience and wide possibilities to analyse the activities of higher educational institutions, to identify general trends and their peculiarities. This provides an impetus for further development, identification of key priorities and elaboration of new approaches for education quality improvement.

The annual analysis of the activities of foreign higher education institutions shows that stakeholders are not always involved in the development of educational programmes, and practitioners are rarely involved in conducting classes. Thus, it is only 6 percent in Tajikistan, 9 percent in Moldova and about 10 percent in Ukraine. The practice of attracting stakeholders is much wider in Kazakhstan.

It should be noted that there is no monitoring of the employment of graduates in countries where IAAR conducts cross-border international accreditation, in comparison with universities in Kazakhstan, which constantly monitor demands for graduates in the labour market, and also have Alumni Associations that actively work in many universities of the Republic.

IAAR through the conduction of institutional and specialised (programme) accreditation of universities, constantly carries out analysis based on feedback from stakeholders. This allows IAAR to identify ways to improve the activities of higher education institutions for further quality improvement.

According to the analysis, 30% of the experts’ recommendations are aimed at developing relationships with foreign universities. In many universities, as experts note, Plans for the implementation of the higher institution’s Development Strategy were absent. Higher educational institution’s present Strategies do not always take into account risks and global trends. Also, experts note a low level of publication (18%) among teaching staff, and 10% of experts’ recommendations indicate the absence of conditions for inclusive education.

What is needed to improve education quality in the universities of the Republic of Kazakhstan?

  • to expand the general framework and tools for innovative cooperation, knowledge exchange and mobility of teaching staff and students;
  • to design joint educational programmes and programmes of double-degree education, and “points of growth” for the transformation of the activities of universities;
  • the social dimension should be central to the strategies for the development of higher education institutions;
  • to introduce a risk management system and ensure the viability of universities;
  • to strengthen the publication activity of the teaching staff and increase the number of students in scientific research and international projects;
  • to create the necessary conditions for high-quality inclusive space in universities.

International IAAR accreditation gives competitive advantages, including a quality mark of education, improvement of image, recognition and status of the university, and the following important privileges:

  • international recognition and visibility;
  • integration into the global educational space;
  • entering the global higher education market;
  • comparability and convertibility of qualifications;
  • attractiveness for foreign applicants and students;
  • development of mobility and internationalisation;
  • compliance with international education quality standards;
  • expansion of international cooperation with the best universities in the world;
  • demand for graduates in the labour market and their employment.

According to the amendments made to the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Education” in 2018, higher education institutions received academic freedom, managerial independence and flexibility of funding, which expand the scope of higher education institutions’ activities in the field of quality improvement.

For the further development of higher education institutions and quality improvement, it is necessary to form an effective internal quality assurance system, improve educational approaches, processes and formats aimed at teaching the “skills of the past”, and prepare students for the modern reality through the formation of “skills of the future” necessary for students’ successful employment.

First of all, it is necessary to develop cooperative education in institutions with mentors and the community. Secondly, it is important to introduce project management to develop entrepreneurial skills and competencies. And thirdly, to increase the motivation of students, there is a need to introduce gamification into the educational process more broadly. Education today must combine interdisciplinary and supra-disciplinary approaches in training the specialists to form the skills and competencies needed in the future.

To improve the quality of education and the competitiveness of graduates, Figure 2 presents a model of external quality assurance with the key priorities as following: introduction of innovative teaching methods, dissemination of the best international experience, use of IT technologies and virtual environment, broadening of internationalisation and academic mobility. The contemporary model of external quality assurance makes it possible to successfully integrate into the global educational space. The model depends on both the external quality assessment system and the internal quality assurance policy, the interaction of which will positively affect the further development of higher education. One of the important components of the external quality assurance system is international accreditation, which opens up broad horizons of the interaction of higher educational institutions of the Eurasian region countries and is a catalyst for the modernisation of the educational system and society as a whole.