Thursday, 17/8/2017
Promoting education quality accreditation to contribute to improve the quality of higher education
6/7/2017 10:29' Send Print
Photo: Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha

So far in Vietnam, the legal framework and policy on education quality accreditation have basically been completed. Independent assessments by national and international accreditation organizations have also been conducted. As of March 2017, about 15% of the universities (excluding military and public security universities) were evaluated externally (1). The results of the independent accreditation showed major weaknesses in teaching staff, facilities, among others, helping the educational institutions come up with clear orientation for quality improvement. Education quality accreditation has been an important driver for quality culture development and improvement of the quality of training, scientific research and service to community and society.

The development of the quality accreditation system for higher education in Vietnam

Education quality accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operation of educational institutions or programs are evaluated officially to determine if applicable quality standards are met. In Vietnam, started in the early 2000s, the education quality accreditation system has developed in terms of legal framework, policy, staff of education quality assurance in general and the education quality accreditation in particular and a system of independent quality accreditation centers has been set up.

So far, the system of education quality accreditation documents has basically been sufficient for the implementation of education quality accreditation. In order to facilitate the state management, and create a legal corridor for education quality accreditation implementation in a stable and sustainable manner, over the past years, the system of legal documents, guiding documents and guidelines on education quality accreditation have gradually been improved. The Party, National Assembly and Government have increasingly paid attention to education quality accreditation through the promulgation of lines, laws, policies, guidelines, such as the 2005 Law on Education, the 2009 Law on Amendment and Supplement to a number of articles of the Law on Education, the Law on Higher Education, Resolution No. 29-NQ/TW of the Party, decrees of the Government, and decisions of the Prime Minister. The Ministry of Education and Training started the project "Developing Education Quality Accreditation System in Higher Education and Vocational Education period 2010 to 2020,” and issued 38 legal normative documents, 42 directives and professional guidance on education quality assurance and accreditation for concerned units, including educational institutions and education quality accreditation organizations to implement.

The education quality accreditation model has been gradually established and initially put into effective operation. The first education quality accreditation bodies in Vietnam were established, learning from experience of countries with developed education. In general, these countries consider education quality accreditation a particular type of service, because the decisions made by accreditation bodies affect the reputation of institutions and the interests of concerned parties. That is why, the establishment and recognition of education quality accreditation bodies, especially at the institutional level, is relatively strict. Therefore, the number of accreditation bodies at higher educational institutions is not many (six in the United States, two in Indonesia, one in Thailand, one in Australia and t two in the Philippines). However, the number of institutions that accredit training programs in these countries is often very high. While institutional accreditation bodies do not perform this activity outside the national territory, program quality accreditation bodies are geared to both local and international clients.

In fact, in many countries in the world, the authority to set up education quality accreditation bodies is very different. For example, in the United States, the Ministry of Education does not set up a quality accreditation body, only recognize the legitimacy of these organizations. In many countries in Europe and Southeast Asia (ASEAN), the accreditation agencies are established by the Ministries of Education. In Vietnam, the Law on Higher Education stipulates that there are two types of accreditation bodies: one directly established by the Ministry of Education and Training and the other is recognized by the Ministry of Education. Up to now, four education quality accreditation organizations were established, licensed and are operational. Of them, three public accreditation organizations were established by the Minister of Education and Training (the Institute for Education Quality Accreditation of Vietnam National University Hanoi, Center for Education Quality Accreditation of National University Ho Chi Minh city, and the Center for Educational Quality Accreditation of University of Da Nang). In order to ensure independence and objectivity, these centers are not licensed to accredit quality education for all educational institutions and training programs under their management. In addition to the above three public centers, the Ministry of Education and Training also allows the Vietnam Association of Universities and Colleges to set up a quality accreditation body to accredit all higher educational institutions and programs nationwide.

The quality accreditation staff has been systematically trained. The quality of accreditation depends heavily on the professional level of accreditors. In education quality accreditation, accreditors must not only fully grasp quality standards but also have a deep practical understanding of higher education, especially in program design, training, conditions for quality assurance, and especially must be righteous and adhere to professional ethics. To provide a basis for the development of training and retraining of this staff, the Ministry of Education and Training issued Circular No. 18/2013/TT-BGDDT of 14 May 2013 on Program on training education quality accreditors of higher and secondary education. The training of assessors is authorized to major educational institutions in the three regions of Vietnam: Vietnam National University Hanoi, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang University. From 2014 to date, these institutions have conducted 23 training courses, and granted completion certificates to 704 people. According to the regulations of the Ministry of Education and Training, the General Department of Testing and Accreditation also selected and granted certificates to 236 assessors.

Some issues of quality education from the results of quality accreditation

By the end of March 2017, 34 higher educational institutions were externally accredited, accounting for about 15% of the total tertiary institutions (not including those under Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Public Security). Of them two are not yet eligible for quality accreditation. In addition, at the training program level, 7 training programs externally evaluated in according to the standards set out in Circular 04/2016/TT-BGDDT dated March 14, Ministry of Education and Training. This is a set of standards designed in line with the program quality standards of the ASEAN University Network- Quality Assessment (AUN-QA).

Besides accrediting the quality of education according to Vietnamese standards, the Ministry of Education and Training encourages educational institutions to register for evaluation and accreditation with reputable international quality assurance organizations. Up to now, five universities have been externally assessed according to standards of the French High Council of Research and Higher Education (HCERES), ASEAN University Network Quality Assurance (AUN-QA); 84 programs were externally evaluated and accredited of which 59 programs were evaluated by AUN-QA, 16 programs evaluated according to standards of the French Engineering Accreditation Institution (CTI); two programs were evaluated in accordance with the standards of the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ABET) - a leading prestigious organization in the US, and seven were evaluated according to standards set by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA) - a quality assurance organization of the Swiss Government. Currently, FIBAA has two representative offices in Bonn, Germany and Zürich in Switzerland. The mission of FIBAA is to accredit, evaluate and develop educational institutions and programs around the world.

The purpose of education quality accreditation is not just evaluation and accreditation. More importantly, it is a mechanism for social monitoring of quality. Evaluation results also point out the strengths, weaknesses to overcome. Quality analyzes of 34 universities and seven programs accredited independently showed that there remain limitations in areas of activity of these institutions.

First, university governance and university management organizations of many universities have not met requirements. For example, eight out of the 34 universities (24%) have not yet had organizational structures that comply with University Regulations and other relevant regulations (University Councils have not yet been set up; some universities have not yet updated and develop regulations on organization and activities according to law). Nine universities (26%) did not have yet strategies or plans for development, or had impractical strategies and lacked monitoring and evaluation solutions for implementation of plans and strategies.

Second, about program and organization of training: 13 universities (38%) did not design programs according to the regulations for training programs of regular type, and thus quality of training using these programs has not been assured. 14 universities (41%) did not implement periodic assessment of training programs and implemented quality improvement based on evaluation results. On the other hand, when implementing the training activities, 13 universities (38%) did not pay due attention to methods and procedures for examining and evaluating learners' performance. Attention was not fully paid to collecting feedback from learners, labor users and stakeholders for adjustment of programs. Ten universities (29%) failed to meet the criteria. The development of the output standards was nominal and spreading and did not meet requirements of the labor market. Courses did not have a clear connection to output standards.

Third, about the teaching staff: 23 universities (68%), did not have sufficient number of staff to conduct training and scientific research; the average number of students per lecturers in some majors was too high (45 students per lecturer). 13 universities (38%) did not yet have a balance of experienced and young staff as required. In particular, staff of 16 universities (47%) fell short of required standards, some engaged in training subjects that are not their majors. These universities did not ensure the professional structure and qualifications as required; foreign language and computer skills did not meet the requirements of training and scientific research.

Fourth, on scientific research: the biggest constraint was that many researches of 16 universities (47%) have not been carried out and accepted as planned. In addition, science and technology researches’ applicability and transfer were weak, showing that revenue from scientific research and technology transfer was low, and universities did not make due investment as required thus 23 universities (68%) did not meet the criteria on transfer of science and technology.

Fifth, on facilities and equipment: 22 universities (65%) did not meet the requirements of university library criteria (not sufficient quantity of books, teaching materials, Vietnamese and foreign language reference materials; no web-based e-library; e-libraries have not yet effectively served teaching, learning and scientific research. 16 universities (47%) did not have enough land area as required; the overall land area has not met the required minimum level.

Sixth, the connection of universities with labor users was very weak. Most of the universities did not put in place coordinating mechanism to enable labor users to engage in developing and changing training programs or research in the direction of application and transfer. Thus, only approximately 60%-70% of the graduates could find jobs that conform to their training.

Quality improvement after quality accreditation

The results of higher education accreditation have been used to determine the quality of higher education, position and credibility of tertiary educational institutions, as one of the criteria for exercising autonomy and self-responsibility of educational institutions in preparation for ranking of tertiary educational institutions, as a basis for managing agencies to support investment and assign tasks and as a basis for the State and society to supervise the operation of tertiary education establishments.

Since education quality accreditation has been intensified (especially after the first educational accreditation agency was put into operation by the end of 2014), pressure on higher educational institutions has been increased. On the one hand, management agencies require higher educational institutions to apply for education quality accreditation. On the other hand, public opinion always requires evaluation results to be opened to the public. Pressure also comes from inside educational institutions (from staff, trainers, and learners) when seeing that other schools apply for national or international accreditation. It is this pressure that has made a difference in the perceptions of educational managers. The most visible changes that can be observed are:

First, substantial self-assessment of quality has been given more attention to. Self-assessment reports have more closely reflected the state of educational institutions with fewer contents on achievements. Through this process, managers, staff and learners have been more aware of the institutions weaknesses. Some institutions have conducted pilot internal and external accreditation to have an objective “check-up” against standards, thereby overcoming limitations.

Second, management of evidence documents has been standardized with evidence gathered and rearranged not only for assessment purposes, but rather to be used in management in subsequent time.

Third, many activities and regulations have been implemented to meet quality standards as recommended by external assessment. External assessment teams often make evidence-based recommendations for quality improvements. In order to implement these recommendations, many educational institutions promptly convened staff meeting to discuss the plan to overcome the problems. Some other institutions, after accreditation, developed and announced educational goals which had been discussed for the next stage of development as recommended, immediately set up Councils of universities, reviewed training program and scale, re-adjusted staff structure and enhanced scientific staff’s professional level by sending them for further training and capacity building.

The emphasis on improving pre- and post-accreditation quality also has an indirect impact on the international ranking of Vietnamese universities. At present, two national universities are the first institutions of which member institutions have been accredited nationally or internationally. These educational institutions have early paid much attention to education quality accreditation, have built a professionally internal quality accreditation system and actively participated in the assessment activities according to regulations of the Ministry of Education and Training. As a result, the rankings of some Vietnamese universities in the list of leading universities in Asia are positively improved (according to QS University Rankings Asia, in 2016, the Vietnam National University Hanoi stood at 139, the Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh city ranked 147).

Solutions to accelerate education quality accreditation to meet requirements of radical and comprehensive renovation of higher education

In the context of rapid globalization and international integration, typically the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the explosion of the industrial revolution 4.0, the education and training sector of Vietnam, especially higher education is confronting many great challenges. In order to turn out the workforce with sufficient knowledge and skills, ready to compete and integrate into the dynamic labor market of the region and the world to avoid losing at home ground, it is an urgent demand to strengthen the management, assurance and improvement of education and training quality. Therefore, accreditation of education according to national, regional, international standards should be enhanced. Education quality accreditation is considered one of the important solutions for implementing two of the nine main task groups of the 2016-2017 academic year and the following years. In particular, re-planning of the network of educational institutions should be based on quality assessment and accreditation in order to create mechanisms for institutions to merge, dissolve or adjust activities. In addition, educational institutions will be assigned with levels of autonomy depending on their performance. If a university fails several times in accreditation, it will be controlled, sanctioned and even asked to stop operation.

To continue realizing the Government Action Program to implement the Party Central Committee's Resolution No. 29-NQ/TW on radical and comprehensive renovation of education and training and resolutions of the Party, National Assembly, Government and direction of the Prime Minister, the following measures should be taken in the coming time:

First, continue to perfect legal document to create a sufficient legal corridor for the implementation of education quality accreditation to keep up with regional and international standards in anticipation of the Law on Higher Education revision. In the immediate future, it is necessary to promulgate new regulations on accreditation of higher educational institutions, using the ASEAN University Network Quality Assurance (AUN-QA)’s Framework for Institutional Level. Study and propose incentive policies or appropriate mechanisms to motivate educational institutions to participate in education quality accreditation, observing the principle of education quality accreditation stipulated in the Law on Higher Education.

Second, improve the education quality assurance system, strengthen the capacity of regulatory agencies, and organizations on education quality accreditation, specialized units on institutional quality assurance, assessors and accreditors; strengthen the capacity of education quality accreditation organizations in combination with supervision and assessment of their operation in order to ensure that they carry out assessment and accreditation as required, strengthen the capacity of staff and specialized agencies to provide quality assurance service in educational institutions through workshops, training, dissemination and sharing of experiences. Step up the training and selection of quality auditors who can be adaptable to new changes in education and training. It is expected that by the end of 2018, 500 accreditors and by the end of 2020, 800 accreditors will be trained.

Third, speed up education quality accreditation of both educational institutions and programs preferably by international standards. By the end of 2017, 35% of tertiary institutions and 10% of teachers’ training colleges will be accredited. By the end of 2020, the first round of external review of education institutions will be completed; about 10% of the programs which will be nationally and internationally accredited will well implement accreditation and publicize the results of education quality accreditation, quality assurance conditions of the training institutions for the society to facilitate their supervision.

Fourth, strengthen international cooperation in the field of education quality assurance and accreditation. Encourage education quality accreditation organizations and domestic educational institutions to participate in international quality assurance networks in the Asia-Pacific region; encourage educational institutions to register for assessment and accreditation of training programs with reputable international and regional assessment and accreditation organizations.

Accelerate education quality accreditation is an urgent task of the entire education sector in order to contribute to the radical and comprehensive renovation of education and training, meeting the requirements of industrialization and modernization in the context of the socialist-oriented market economy and international integration under Resolution No. 29-NQ/TW of the Party. The educational sector has made significant strides in education quality accreditation resulting in positive changes in quality of higher education.

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(1) External assessment is the process carried out by a education quality accreditation organization based on the education quality assessment standards promulgated by the Ministry of Education and Training in order to determine the level at which a education institution has met education quality standards (Circular No. 62/2012/TT-BGDDT of the Ministry of Education and Training).

This article was published on Communist Review No. 895 (May 2017)

Phung Xuan NhaMember of Party Central Committee, Minister of Education and Training