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Enhancing the quality of higher education

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The Asia-Pacific Quality Network had its conference and annual general meeting in Bangkok recently, at which members discussed the advancement of quality assurance in higher education throughout Asia and the Pacific region. 

The pursuit of quality will lead to an increase in the skills possessed by Thailand’s graduates. STEVE GRAHAM

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In order to instil quality in all areas of our education system, important lessons can be learned from other countries and the systems that they use for quality assurance. More than 100 international participants from approximately 30 countries arrived in Thailand to join local educationalists in helping to provide a shared vision by improving the quality of higher education in the region.

Delegates who presented papers explained how their countries and organisations conducted quality assessment, demonstrating that there are many ways to initiate quality, including the different frameworks that can be used to measure and ensure accreditation.

The differences were quite stunning. Having listened to Dr Luise Ahrens explain the plight of Cambodia and its lack of resources and comparing her country's situation to that of India and China, it is obvious to any onlooker that there is a huge disparity within the region.

Different strokes

There has always been heated discussions concerning the access-quality continuum. The balance between making education available for all and maintaining quality has divided scholars as well as practitioners, depending on which side of the fence they're on.

One of the highlights of the conference was a presentation by Joao Cancio Freitas, PhD, the minister of education of Timor Leste, one of the newest and smallest countries. He explained how there were 20 higher education institutions under review, of which only 14 put in their paperwork for assessment. Those that did not submit their paperwork were closed.

Of the 14 establishments that put themselves forward, seven were accredited immediately, five were placed under probation for one year and two had to close as they didn't meet the criteria. Of the five under probation, three were finally accredited and two fell by the wayside.

A gentleman next to me was somewhat outraged at the idea that an emerging country could deny access to education for so many students by closing establishments of higher education. The minister remained unrepentant and explained that as his was a young country, his government wanted to have quality assessment from the outset and not try to tighten controls later on.

Lessons for Thailand

Different countries have chosen different routes to quality assurance within the Asian-Pacific region. However, I believe that in Thailand, there is a severe lack of internal quality control, resulting in higher education establishments paying lip service to the existing external quality control mechanisms in place operated by Onesqa (Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment).

In my opinion, the idea of quality is not fully appreciated by many of Thailand's practitioners, resulting in a mass market of degree mills working to the detriment of quality education. Access needs to be expanded while promoting quality, and at the same time attracting and retaining quality teachers and researchers.

International conferences like this one provide examples of how other countries are developing a quality culture, giving Thailand a benchmark on which to assess its current quality assurance standing. We should not let this opportunity pass us by if we truly want to produce quality graduates.

Steve Graham is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. You may discuss matters related to this article, by sending your comments to 'In My Opinion' at education@bangkokpost.co.th .

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