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Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters
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Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters


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text of the speech at the Seminar on “Emerging Trends Impacting Higher Education: Managing Quality, Competition and Expectations” organized by Knowledge Resources Development and Welfare Group at …

text of the speech at the Seminar on “Emerging Trends Impacting Higher Education: Managing Quality, Competition and Expectations” organized by Knowledge Resources Development and Welfare Group at India International Centre, New Delhi on 31 August 2013.

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  • 1. Delivering Quality in Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy: structure and parameters By Sanjaya Mishra Director Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, New Delhi At the Seminar on “Emerging Trends Impacting Higher Education: Managing Quality, Competition and Expectations” organized by Knowledge Resources Development and Welfare Group at India International Centre, New Delhi on 31 August 2013. Text of the speech 1. Good Morning to all the distinguished experts and thinkers present here. At the outset, I am thankful to the organizers for their kindness for considering me worthy of making a presentation before this august gathering. I truly believe that there are others in this audience who can articulate better on this topic than me, and I am humbled by the invitation to speak before you. 2. The Commonwealth of Learning was established in 1987 by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training. The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) was established by COL in 1994 to encourage, develop and foster the exchange and sharing of educational media techniques and resources, and promote meaningful and appropriate use of educational media in Commonwealth Asia. CEMCA has widened its scope over the years to embrace emerging educational technology formats, even while broadening the scope of education itself to cover formal, non-formal and lifelong learning. However, our focus remains “Learning for Development” and we continue to foster quality improvements through appropriate use of media and technology.
  • 2. 3. My presentation will focus on some of our current work and my experiences in promoting quality in Indian higher education. Being a teacher and trainer in Open, Distance and eLearning, quality has always been a matter of concern for me, as I have to continuously explain people around me, including other teachers, institutional decision- makers, policy-makers, friends, and even family members that the topics I am engaged in is worthy for everyone. We all have our notions of quality, and see things from our won angle. I will also speak from my own experience. I also wrote the introductory guide on Quality Assurance in Higher Education for the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, and some of my presentation today will be drawn from that publication. 4. What quality is? I quote Pirsig (1974) “Quality … you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about it. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist… So round and round you go spinning mental wheels, and nowhere finding any place to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it? (p. 179).” Thus, it actually means many things to many people; it is contextual (for example if you do not have food, for you the quality if having food; and if you are in a five star hotel, you may be looking at the presentation and behaviour of the staff; it happens by design and not by chance; and needs common understanding by all stakeholders involved. 5. Our understanding of higher education decides the way we look at quality. The popular understanding of the role of university as centres for teaching, research and extension has been there for some time now. But, all have our own understanding of what higher education should do and what not. Ronald Barnett, a contemporary thinker in Higher Education states that Higher Education largely does four roles:
  • 3. • Higher education as the production of qualified human resources • Higher education as training for a research career • Higher education as the efficient management of teaching provision • Higher education as a matter of extending life chances 6. The Delors Commission emphasised the role of higher education as: to prepare students for research and teaching; to provide highly specialized training courses adapted to the needs of economic and social life; to be open to all, so as to cater to the many aspects of lifelong education in the widest sense; and to promote international cooperation through internationalization of research, technology, networking, and free movement of persons and scientific ideas (UNESCO, 1996). For some of us, it should provide employable skills, and for other, it should promote innovation and research. Whereas, it is not just one, but multiple views of higher education that makes what it is. 7. Quality in higher education is all about the “iron triangle”. The biggest dilemma of educational administrators all over the world is to increase access to higher education, improve quality, and reduce costs. While this is possible by using technology enhanced learning systems that my organization -- Commonwealth of Learning promotes, the same is yet to be mainstreamed. We see the emerging trends in technology and its applications such as the Massive Open Online Courses has the potential to increase access, improve quality and reduce costs. Quality in higher education is “a high evaluation accorded to an educative process, where it has been demonstrated that, through the process, the students educational development has been enhanced … not only have they achieved the particular objectives set for the course but, in doing so, they have also fulfilled the general educational aims of autonomy of the ability to participate in reasoned discourse, of critical self- evaluation, and of coming to a proper awareness of the ultimate contingency of a thought and action” (in Barnett, 1992, p 61)
  • 4. 8. Currently I am reading a book entitled “the art of thinking clearly”, and the author talks of “Swimmer’s Body Illusion” and I think it is highly contextual to bring this at this juncture, as to how we perceive quality. Largely, we fall into an illusion trap while making decisions. Dobelli asks this question – Does Harvard Make You Smarter? “Harvard has the reputation of being a top university. Many highly successful people have studied there. Does this mean that Harvard is a good school? We do not know. Perhaps … it recruits the brightest students around” (Dobelli, 2013). This is true of many of our Indian Higher Education institutions. 9. Now, let me turn to Indian higher education in particular. We are concerned about rank of Indian higher education institutions in the Times Higher Education ranking and QS World ranking systems. There is a need to understand the business of ranking as quality. While there is some truth about what the rankings show, there are also concerns about the methodology as well as statistical errors in the processes. 10. A quick analysis of the criteria adopted by some of the well-known ranking systems will show that these are not contextual, and therefore, Indian universities are bound to face the difficulty of being on the top list. In most of these rankings the quality of research is the main focus. These also look into the income from the industry and number of international students and faculty. While exchange rates will have impact on the parity of calculations of the earnings, local policies, cost and quality of living have impact on recruitment of foreign faculty. So, for quality to be ingrained, it is better to focus on the processes than to the indicators of the ranking industry. 11. This brings to quality in inequality. The whole quality paradigm as applied in education draws from the business and industry. While it has its own merit, and I will emphasise some points later, we need to understand the inequality within the educational systems largely supported and maintained by the Governments as a public good. Institutions across the country, for that matter across a state/province do not get equal treatment in terms of funds and encouragement for
  • 5. growth and excellence. So, our efforts to assess quality and ranking are filled with inherent inequality, and thus, we largely compare oranges with apples. Certainly the process is not scientific, but is based on certain perceived values of large number of people. Yet again it is about “Social Proof”. We do some things, as it is more common and acceptable in the society. According to Pillai (2006) there are limitations in applying the market metaphor to education. According to him the products of education are not really finished products that can be bought off the shelf. The student (customer) competes to get admission and the educational institution (provider) often chooses its customers. Though the customer pays the fees, the output (graduation) is not guaranteed. The student has to play an active role in the process; and behaves more like an entrepreneur (investing time, efforts and money) to produce (acquire) knowledge and skills that are useful in the job market. Thus, quality cannot and should not be managed in the way it is done in business and the industry. There is need to rethink quality in higher education. 12. What we can learn from business and industry for improving quality? There are certain aspects that we should adopt from business and industry. The philosophy of continuous improvement is highly suitable to educational institutions. For that matter, the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle of Deming is also highly suitable for adopting in higher education. The concept of systems thinking is probably common to many of social systems, and higher education can be viewed as an open system that should be managed for excellence. Leadership, academic freedom, and collegial decision making are some other concepts that influence quality in higher education. The nature of the educational enterprise is complex, but certainly not immune to application of best practices from industry, despite its not so similar approaches. It is difficult to fire a teacher in educational institution for poor performance, whereas in industry, it may be comparatively easier. In educational institutions, everyone is a leader in their own sphere of work, and there are lot many freedoms, but still it is possible to have organizational policies aligned to improve quality.
  • 6. 13.Therefore, I would urge you to consider the basic parameters of defining quality and focus on the processes. We at CEMCA believe that quality is a continuous journey, and is not a destination in itself. We recommend certain strategies for the institutions to follow continuously to move towards the moving quality. We focus on use of technology to create an open environment for learning and research. We focus on development of policy and capacity building of all stakeholders to improve the teaching and learning process, as educational transaction is a two-way process and can’t be measured only by the inputs in the system. The transformation process and the engagement of the learner in the process are equally important. 14. Technology as enabler of quality improvement has applications in all the dimensions of the educational enterprise. Invariably, use of technology brings in transparency and openness in teaching, learning, research, and administration. Classroom teaching can be enhanced by appropriate use of technology in the classroom. Rather than using the class for information transfer, the opportunity of being in the same place and time can be used for debate, discussion, and collaborative problem solving. Technology can help save time in searching and finding resources and relevant information to conduct research. Appropriate use of technology can facilitate more time in the research lab or the sports field. 15. Research being an important aspect of higher education, it is important that higher education institutions have equal access to research information. Interestingly, this is not possible in today’s infrastructure and policies. There is high inequality of access to research information in our institutions, and therefore, it is important to create an enabling environment of Open Access to research information and results produced in our higher education institutions. At a time, when grants, funding, and industry support are related to research and visibility and impact of research, institutions should create infrastructure to facilitate improved access to research work.
  • 7. 16. So far educational institutions taught in a classroom that is only accessible to certain privileged sections of the society, and outside world was not aware of what happened there. With technology use, educational institutions can not only increase access to the educational resources to more people, it can also improve quality by peer pressure. Just by putting lecture notes on the web, MIT OpenCourseware became a wave to reckon with in the higher education sphere, which led to development of the term Open Educational Resources. Can our educational institutions share what is happening inside the classrooms? Our educational institutions should focus on teaching and learning besides focusing on the building and campus. 17. Improving the quality of teaching, learning, and research in higher education requires continuous capacity building of teachers and learners. While teachers need to upgrade their knowledge on latest developments through refresher and research, students need to develop capacities as lifelong learners. We do not teach some of the necessary skills to be successful in many of our institutions; learners teach themselves successful traits and skills. While universities are not industry and we can’t have mechanical approaches to teaching and learning, it is important to help the learners to learn themselves in a systematic way. 18. Prof V S Prasad, former Director of National Assessment and Accreditation Council argued for a value framework for improving quality in higher education. He stressed that improvement of quality is a system-wide activity and all areas of operations and all stakeholders should focus on the five value framework, covering national development, global competencies, values, use of technology and quest for excellence. 19. Finally, I would bring to your attention that if we build systems and processes that develop common understanding of quality and an enabling environment for excellence, we will achieve higher standards. 20.Thank you for your attention.