Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Afghanistan: Faculty Members' Perceptions from Selected Universities

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Afghanistan: Faculty Members' Perceptions from Selected Universities

Article excerpt

Introduction

An increased focus on the quality of higher education (Ryan, 2015), particularly in underresourced nations such as Afghanistan, promises hope, but also introduces challenges. Afghanistan, having suffered from thirty years of conflict and uncertainties, needs a long time to rebuild basic infrastructure and human capital (Hayward, 2015). However, the general public perceives higher education as a key path to success and prosperity; this has resulted in a tremendous growth in student enrollment and system expansion, as well as the emergence of a vibrant private sector of colleges and universities in the last decade (Ministry of Higher Education [MoHE], 2016). Due to the rapid increase in enrollment in higher education, the government no longer takes the issue of quality for granted, but has established a quality assurance policy to ensure that university activities are in compliance with higher education standards and that increasing access to higher education does not compromise quality (Babury & Hayward, 2013). Quality assurance and accreditation (QAA) was introduced as a comprehensive national policy in the 2010-2014 National Higher Education Strategic Plan (NHESP). It mandated that all universities be subject to the process of accreditation review (Hayward, 2015). In order to support this effort, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) in 2011 established the Quality Enhancement and Accreditation Department (QEAD). Since then, MoHE has required all public and private universities to participate in the process.

Many higher education institutions consider quality an integral part of the university's performance and preparation for accreditation (Garwe, 2013). Moreover, quality assurance transcends accreditation as a means for continuous self-improvement within the system. The accreditation process begins with the development of a self-assessment report by universities, followed by a desk-review, a site-visit by peer reviewers (coordinated by MoHE), a second cycle for the self-assessment report, a second stage for peer review, and, finally, the authorization and approval for accreditation issued by the MoHE (Babury & Hayward, 2014; Hayward, 2015; Taheryar, 2017). Accreditation in Afghanistan is implemented at the institutional level because the whole process is new, and MoHE still controls it (Taheryar, 2017).

However, given that QAA processes are relatively new, universities have not made equal progress. For instance, among the 38 public and 130 private universities, only a few have passed level-one and level-two candidacy in preparation for full accreditation (MoHE, 2016). The majority of these institutions struggle to develop qualified self-assessment reports and coordinate the peer-review process that is integral to accreditation (Ibrahimi, 2014). As a policy, QAA has attracted great attention and support nationwide; however, as a mechanism to regulate university activities, its implementation has remained a challenge.

Significance of the Study

Two main challenges suggest why this study is potentially significant. First, the concept of QAA is relatively new in Afghanistan and the government uses accreditation as a mechanism to improve quality (Ibrahimi, 2014). That being said, HEIs have not been successful in transmitting a culture of quality, as both university administrators and academics perceive QAA as an external agenda that serves the government's purposes: to inspect and control rather than improve and enhance quality. Second, the QAA process is treated as an end in itself, since participation seems limited to university administrators with little or no involvement of the academic staff. Because these two challenges stand in the way of systematic implementation, the current study can help develop strategies and processes to move implementation forward to a quality-driven higher education system.

Specifically, this study will challenge faculty's assumptions about the rationale for having a QAA process in place and clarify individuals' roles and responsibilities in quality enhancement initiatives. …

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