Quality and an International Higher Education Space

By Eaton, Judith S. | International Educator, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview
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Quality and an International Higher Education Space


Eaton, Judith S., International Educator


THE COUNCIL FOR HIGHER EDUCATION ACCREDITATION (CHEA) held its fourth International Commission meeting earlier this year. Individuals from a dozen countries addressed several questions about the regional and international quality assurance and accreditation initiatives.

Regional Undertakings: Quality Assurance and Accreditation

Commission members examined two significant regional undertakings: European initiatives in accreditation and quality assurance and steps toward the establishment of a regional accreditation body in the Arab world.

Europe's current focus on quality assurance and accreditation is an outgrowth of the Bologna Declaration of 1999. The active "Bologna Process" (as it has come to be known) now involves strengthening the relevant policies at the national level and building a European-level structure for quality assurance and accreditation that serves the interests of universities, quality assurance bodies, and students. The issues dominating the dialogue include whether to create a European QA Register for quality assurance bodies and how to advance the role of peer review, enhance a quality culture within universities, and sustain the autonomy of higher education institutions.

In the Arab world, quality assurance and accreditation authorities, ministers, and higher education leaders are looking into creating new quality assurance bodies and strengthening existing national operations. They are considering the creation of a regional quality assurance and accreditation body. At the core of these discussions lays assembling the key actors-universities, ministries of higher education, nongovernmental bodies, and businesses to create a robust quality assurance and accreditation environment.

What Is Happening Internationally?

Commission members examined three very different international responses: (1) a trade response through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and negotiations related to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS); (2) a multinational response through the Joint Guidelines Project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and (3) a higher education association response through a statement on quality provision developed by the American Council on Education, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and the International Association of Universities.

The WTO/GATS negotiations continue, perhaps at a slower pace than in prior years and without higher education, at present, as a major focus. The negotiations influence the international space for higher education with questions such as what quality has to do with nationality. Even though many opine that the role of trade is not to determine quality, WTO/GATS is a powerful presence in the international space, forcing higher education and quality assurance leaders to address the impact of trade on the role and function of institutions and providers. It is likely that negotiations will continue into 2006, and perhaps into 2007.

The multinational organizational response through the OECD/UNESCO project is conceived, at least in part, as a reaction to WTO/GATS and may ultimately emerge as a defining feature of the international higher education space. This effort is focused on quality provision in cross-border higher education and is intended to support and enhance student mobility and protect students from dubious providers of higher education.

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