Internal quality assurance in Bahrain and Germany

20 May 2016

The following is part two in a series of articles on IIEP’s international research project focused on innovative and effective internal quality assurance systems in eight public and private universities around the world. IIEP will soon publish eight case studies available for download on its website. The results will also be discussed at the upcoming IIEP Policy Forum from 9-11 June 2016 at the Xiamen University in China.

What are the tools and processes involved in an internal quality assurance (IQA) system? How aware are all members of the university community of its inner-workings and overall structure? To help uncover some of the intricacies behind innovative and effective IQA systems around the world, the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) has turned to eight universities in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. In the second part of our series, we present now two universities located in Bahrain and Germany with some of the key recommendations for building a robust IQA system.


GERMANY: QUALITY ASSURANCE SPREADS ACROSS THE REGION

Quality assurance in higher education institutions (HEIs) in Europe has been boosted by the Bologna Process when Ministers of education signed their agreement with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area in 2005. Soon after, external quality assurance (EQA) systems sprung up in nearly every country within Europe. In Germany, quality assurance agencies took over responsibility for the accreditation of study programmes from the regional (Länder) authorities, evaluating the degree to which programmes met pre-established standards. With this shift came a new call for universities to develop their own internal quality assurance (IQA) processes.


The shift from external to internal

IQA refers to the procedures, instruments, and measures a higher education institution applies autonomously to meet both external standards and criteria, as well as to reach its own development targets in its various fields of activity. In Germany, and across Europe, IQA processes developed rapidly in part because EQA consumed time and effort, yet often did not necessarily result in follow-up measures that improved the quality of study programmes.

By internalizing quality assurance, universities could ensure continuous improvement, evidence-based decision-making and supply students with indicators to help monitor and increase the quality of their experiences as students.


The University of Duisburg-Essen

The IIEP case study on Germany focuses on the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE), which was founded in 2003 as a result of a merger of two universities in the German cities of Duisburg and Essen. This had a dramatic impact on existing structures and paved the way to fertile grounds for the implementation of a new IQA.


A unique opportunity

The research on UDE’s IQA provided a unique experience in which the university could examine levels of awareness and involvement amongst all university stakeholders.

"We found out that IQA structures in place are also a well-received driver for other change processes in the University,” said Christian Ganseur, the Managing Director of the Centre for Higher Education Development and Quality Enhancement (CHEDQE) at UDE, adding that continuous communication was found to be the underlying principle for promoting quality culture in HEIs.

The study also allowed the University to map out its IQA activities and identify shortcomings and areas for improvement. The final report outlines a number of recommendations based on findings from a series of surveys and interviews with academic and administrative staff and students.

These include:

  1. Support the autonomy of organizational sub-units, especially faculties,
  2. Add flexible and qualitative tools to standardized quantitative instruments,
  3. Develop communication for reaching all staff members,
  4. Integrate IQA with other management processes,
  5. Balance the objectives of quality enhancement and employability in IQA.

FOCUS ON BAHRAIN: A GROWING DEMAND FOR QUALITY

Quality higher education is on demand in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Since 2002, the student population has drastically risen, responding to the changing demands of the local labour market. As the country transitions from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy, improvement in the quality of higher education has become a priority.


The University of Bahrain

Founded in 1986, the University of Bahrain (UoB) is the Kingdom’s largest and only national university with over 20,000 students enrolled in 2014-15. Quality assurance at UoB was initiated externally, but over the years, moved to an internal model that allows it to continuously improve the quality of its academic programmes and to enhance the employability of its graduates.

An evidence-based IQA

Today, UoB taps into a number of tools to produce data directly intended to enhance the quality and labour market relevance of its programmes. Overall, UoB’s IQA system is strongly evidence-based and includes the use of measures and key performance indicators (KPIs), outcomes, and feedback from students, staff, and the larger community. It has also struck a balance between centralized and decentralized procedures, meaning IQA tools are implemented at the college and departmental levels while the preparation of policies and its overall structure is overseen at the central university level by the university’s Quality Assurance and Accreditation Centre (QAAC).


The importance of balancing responsibilities and coordination

Bassam Al Hamad, the Director of Quality Assurance and Accreditation Centre at UoB, says this balance has maximized the benefits of the IQA system with 71.4 per cent and 67.3 per cent of the academic and administrative, respectively, viewing the IQA system as effective. This was also reflected in the UoB case study. "Making a system out of tools is also about balancing central and decentral responsibility as well as giving sub-units the autonomy to create their own understanding of quality within an agreed overarching systematization,” said Ganseuer.

In terms of which part of the IQA has had the biggest impact on teaching and learning and employability, Al Hamad pointed to programme self-evaluations, audits and the advisory committees. Furthermore, he said the study highlighted three innovative features, all of which underpin the effectiveness of UoB’s IQA system.

These include:

  1. The integration of policies, processes, and instruments for IQA, which enhances overall effectiveness,
  2. The balance between central coordination and decentralized responsibility,
  3. The establishment of an effective information management system to promote communication between different stakeholder groups.

Coming soon: the full case studies for Bahrain and Germany will be available to download on the IIEP website.