How does Internal Quality Assurance impact quality and employability?

  By Michaela Martin and Christine Emeran, IIEP-UNESCO


Experiences from eight universities gives new insight on how higher education institutions are monitoring academic quality and boosting prospects for graduates. 

Rapid change and constant transformation are common themes today in higher education. The sector is quickly expanding, and higher education institutions (HEIs) and programmes have become much more diversified and are often privatized. Within this context, the quality of institutions and their programmes are increasingly questioned. This has triggered the development of external quality assurance (EQA) mechanisms in higher education throughout the world. Governments are also engaged in the quality control of higher education institutions and/or their programmes through periodic external assessments using accreditation, quality audit or evaluation. 

Although externally driven at the beginning, many HEIs in different parts of the world have strengthened their internal processes to assure academic quality and employability by applying IQA mechanisms. For instance, many HEIs are now periodically reviewing their academic programmes, also in light of their relevance to the labour market. For this purpose, they are systematically collecting data from students, graduates and employers. But HEIs also face many challenges in organizing IQA methods. Information systems are often too weak to support quality analysis. Consequently, information is collected without being used for planning, resource allocation and decision-making, and there is also often internal resistance to IQA.  

IIEP leads comparative research on IQA

In 2014, IIEP-UNESCO launched an international research project focusing on effective internal quality assurance (IQA) solutions for higher education systems around the world. The project includes eight case studies from Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Chile, China, Germany, Kenya, and South Africa. They were selected for their innovative practices and strong IQA principles. An international survey investigated state-of-the-art IQA systems in a broad sample of HEIs worldwide. The case studies were based on a multi-stakeholder approach comprising of a survey of both academic and administrative staff’s perceptions of IQA, as well as in-depth interviews with leadership, academic administrators and students. The overall goal was to illustrate approaches and options that can be considered as good principles and a source of inspiration to guide other HEIs in the design and development of their own IQA systems. 

IQA helps spur reforms

The research project found that in the institutions studied, IQA has helped to initiate a large set of reforms, particularly in the domain of teaching and learning where the introduction of IQA has generally improved the internal coherence of study programmes as well as their alignment with labour market needs. In addition, thanks to IQA, management processes have been streamlined and better integrated with data analysis and evaluation. IQA also motivated universities to strengthen their management information systems and improve their ability to make data-based decisions by collecting survey data from internal and external stakeholders. 

The research data also revealed a number of common factors for success, although they largely depended on the context of each individual institution. Overall, the participating universities agreed that leadership support and stakeholder involvement were of tremendous importance. The effectiveness of the IQA system also relied heavily on the level to which students and staff were aware of and involved in its processes and tools. Students and staff felt that they did not receive enough feedback from certain IQA tools, such as course evaluations or student satisfaction surveys, the study found. Finally, the data from certain tools was not always used to maximum effect by the intended audience. For instance, the results of graduate tracer studies were predominantly used by management rather than academics who are in charge of the revision of study programmes. Therefore, IQA is most effective if it leads to a regular internal dialogue on quality. This dialogue fosters a quality culture that is also the ultimate purpose of IQA and will help pave the way to improved academic quality and graduate employability. 


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