Integrating internal quality assurance in Chile and South Africa

09 June 2016

This is part four 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 all of the case studies on its website. The results will also be discussed at the IIEP Policy Forum this week at the Xiamen University in China.

Internal quality assurance (IQA) is a growing phenomenon whereby a higher education institution implements a series of feedback tools and processes to help encourage a two-way conversation on quality improvement. Such a system includes the collection and analysis of feedback from stakeholders, both within the university and beyond, the use of internal evaluation methods and the monitoring of selected quality indicators. Together, all of these initiatives can help enhance links between academic programmes and labour market needs and strengthen the role of the university in society at large.

However, as IQA proliferates around the world, more and more universities are facing a similar set of challenges. To help address these, IIEP launched an international research project with eight universities worldwide in 2014. Pulling together the best innovative and effective features of IQA, the project aims to share possible pathways to the creation of an IQA that will work in a variety of contexts. For this final part of our series on these eight case studies, we highlight how two universities in Chile and South Africa have integrated an IQA into the university’s overall management structure.

Quality assurance emerges in post-Apartheid South Africa

External quality assurance (EQA) – which takes place outside of the university structure – became a mechanism used by South Africa’s new democratic government after the collapse of Apartheid to spur integration within the higher education sector. In 2001, a national system of QA was launched and later implemented in 2004. While universities across the country responded in varied ways, the University of the Free State (UFS) embraced EQA early on and used it as a tool for internal transformation.

As an Afrikaans-speaking university until 1994, UFS became a majority black university by the end of the decade with the integration of two traditionally black universities. Today, UFS has three major campuses with an enrollment of some 31,000 students.

IQA parallels FSU’s growth

IQA at FSU has grown in tandem with the university’s own transformation throughout the years. In the late 1980s, it took first steps to develop self-evaluation. Later IQA became part of FSU’s response to national EQA requirements and led to the creation of a dedicated structure and policy at the university. More recently, since 2014, the university has developed an integrative institutional approach to quality improvement.

Central to this approach is a shared understanding of the strategic, pedagogic, and political importance of knowledge and for transformation. This knowledge is expected to feed into the improvement of the core elements of teaching and learning. As a consequence, IQA at UFS has been integrated into academic planning, rather than forming a stand-alone function.

- Authors of the IIEP case study on FSE, Lis Lange and Lise Kriel. 

What this specifically means is that IQA at UFS is not merely an add-on to the universities core functions. It is part and parcel to its overall planning, implementation and evaluation processes.

Mainstreaming IQA in Chile’s University of Talca

The public University of Talca (UT) is at the forefront of quality assurance in Chile. Founded in 1981, the university has two main campuses today in the central-southern Region de Maule and is focused on serving this underserved region’s human resource, knowledge and innovation needs. With the majority of its students being the first in their family to attend university, UT is particularly interested in bolstering the employability prospects for its student body.

Balancing growth with quality

UT has developed its IQA system over the past two decades with the creation of new administrative structures that are responsible for improving and assuring quality standards. This has followed major reforms in higher education in Chile in the 1980s, as well as the creation of a higher education quality framework at the start of the 1990s to help alleviate the emerging tension between increased access and quality.

An important feature of its IQA system is that it is entirely mainstreamed within the different components of the university management system. It is also organized across institutional, faculty and programme levels and is consequently fully aligned with the overall organizational structure of the university. It is also well integrated into UT’s management system, which ensures that IQA activities at the various levels – academic and administrative units, departments, collegial bodies and committees –are advancing institutional strategic goals.

A commitment to quality

As outlined in the upcoming IIEP case study on UT, the university’s quality policy reflects the entire institution’s commitment to quality.

In the case study, the authors write: “The general objective of the quality policy is to develop a quality culture oriented towards continuous improvement in all domains, while responding to the needs and expectations of the university community and external stakeholders and complying with the highest national and international standards of quality.”

Furthermore, it is built on a number of principles including active participation, continuous evaluation, systematic revision, accountability and innovation. Still, the case study revealed that the quality culture at UT could be further strengthened through equal participation of all stakeholders in IQA tools and processes. Furthermore, students raised concern that they were excluded from the processes of developing the quality policy and from receiving relevant feedback from IQA instruments. 

STAY TUNED: IIEP will soon publish the case studies for free download on its website.