International Commission IIJanuary 29-30, 2003
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) held its second International Commission meeting in January 2003 in Phoenix, Arizona. The commission was established in 2001 through a grant from The Ford Foundation. Composed of approximately 45 members from 20 countries, the commission is a deliberating, communication and coordination body addressing key issues in international quality review. These issues include quality in the import and export of higher education, assuring quality in distance learning in an international setting and appropriate standards by which one country may judge the quality of higher education in another country. "International quality review" refers to the policies, practices and procedures used by higher education and the accreditation and quality assurance communities to scrutinize the quality of higher education institutions and programs choosing to operate internationally.
The 2003 meeting of the International Commission focused on the issues identified above, with a particular concentration on the import and export of higher education. The CHEA Commission chose to address this topic because of the awareness of commission members that (1) exporting countries had significant responsibilities as their activities continue to expand and (2) importing countries were increasingly confronted with decisions about accepting higher education products and services in a manner that protects students against poor quality higher education and complements but does not interfere with their own higher education and quality assurance undertakings.
The commission examined (1) the motivations associated with the import and export of higher education, (2) experiences that "work" or the "critical success factors" for both importers and exporters and (3) the roles for quality assurance in the import and export of higher education.
The import and export of higher education and the accompanying need for quality assurance is a topic about which there was considerably less conversation a decade ago, and none at all a generation ago. Not so long ago, a British university could be counted on to stay in the United Kingdom and an American institution in all likelihood stayed in the state in which it was chartered. Students around the world went to a university that was in a home country. Some went abroad; they moved. Now, institutions move as well. When institutions stayed at home, life was easier for the quality assurance organizations. Import and export has also been a factor in the growth in total numbers of quality assurance organizations. The CHEA Website lists over 40 countries with quality assurance agencies. Other than in the United States, over 80 percent of these organizations did not exist before 1990.
As travel has become easier and more frequent, countries sought to expand the opportunities for higher education. Institutions in exporting countries sought to become more entrepreneurial. This entrepreneurship was reinforced by the Internet. Universities established branch campuses, set up franchises, operated through contractual relationships, developed twinning arrangements, and offered programs through distance learning to students. For countries that import, the institutions that come in are private, regardless of their status at home. By one estimate, there are more than 200 foreign academic institutions enrolling over 30,000 students in India. And by another estimate, by 2020, China alone will need another 20 million university places for its students. There is every reason to believe that importing and exporting of higher education will increase.
MOTIVATION FOR IMPORT AND EXPORT
Need for education is another major motivation to import. Consider the rapidly developing countries of vast size – India, China, and Brazil, for example. There are 1.2 billion people in China, and 800-900 million in India. And there are rapidly developing economies. In China, for example, there has been an 8 percent GNP growth every year for five to six years, a rate that is likely to continue. But there is no way the country by itself can provide all of the necessary places for higher education. They need to import and they are doing so rapidly.
Hong Kong is reasonably well developed, but Mr. Leong pointed out there are still several reasons to import. First, Hong Kong has a free market economy – anyone can come in. Hong Kong observes the World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations. There is a mindset by the government and by the people for lifelong learning – this has become very pronounced in the last five to ten years. Whereas the city was previously one in which industry was not very focused on high technology, it has now an economy which is knowledge-based with a demand for a large and well-educated workforce. Demand is not only for fresh graduates, but also for established graduates to continue their education and upgrade their skills, a compounding element. Finally, there is an attraction for the local people to have a foreign qualification.
There are 470 courses registered with the HKCAA, with the United Kingdom and Australia as the main exporters, then the United States, Canada, and others. Including those offered in combination with universities, there are about 800 courses. These courses are mainly face-to-face programs offered to working adults, and involve about 400,00 students and fees of about 200 million dollars (HK) per year.
Professor B.M. Hegde, vice chancellor, Manipal Academy of Higher Education and member of the governing council of the National Accreditation and Assessment Council in India, pointed out that there are huge needs for education in India. The country's 290 universities do not begin to fulfill the needs of 1.2 billion people. For example, England has a population of 58.8 million and 335 higher education institutions. At the rate of England, India would need 6,500 universities now. There is a growing youth population. In 50 years, 70 percent of the population will be below age 20. There will be 800 million young men and women looking for avenues to higher education.
Pete Materu, director of educational operations, African Virtual University (AVU) in Nairobi, represents an organization which is a "middleman" between the institutions which are the direct imports and the exporters of higher education: AVU is an organization of 17 countries at this point and plans to have all 53 countries in African in its network by 2007. Africa is a continent of 700 million people, and over 50 percent are under age 20. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is a 5 percent gross enrollment ratio in higher education, compared to a world average of about 16 percent. It is very far behind, which explains why it is difficult to attract investment, particularly in this knowledge economy that requires a higher level of skills. Also, the cost of putting a student in bricks-and-mortar university costs over 400 percent per capita per year – so people just cannot afford it. Expanding opportunities for education is a very arduous task for these countries. Therefore, the opportunity to get education to students based on someone else making part of the investment is very attractive.
A second reason that AVU imports is quality. Some governments have taken in many more students without much more in the way of resources – more faculty, more materials – and the result is a deterioration of quality. The opportunity to have well-packaged, well-developed courses from other institutions that have adequate human capacity is very attractive. The third reason AVU imports is cost effectiveness. AVU is aggregating the resources of various countries to leverage and lower unit cost. AVU is a work in progress and ".every day some tiger jumps out of the bush and we have to deal with it, but we have a lot of hope," Materu said.
The fourth reason that AVU imports is the perceived better quality and higher marketability of a foreign institution's qualifications. Students, parents and others are looking for qualifications that will make them marketable beyond their national boundaries. There is a perception that a degree from an external university has better marketability, gives more mobility, and makes the holder more competitive in the international market.
Motivations for Export of Higher Education
Mr. Cook described some of the reasons for export that he hears from institutions. He said that the "siren call of international travel" encourages institutions to think about doing something abroad. Also, institutions seek to be distinctive. To be able to say – whether or not it has any relevance to students at home – "We have campuses in other countries," lends a kind of self-importance. Institutions seek to internationalize themselves. Exporting higher education gives them a chance for professional development for their faculty. And possibly, they think, some of the students from abroad will come to the U.S. campus and help internationalize it.
Another factor in export is a desire to serve – and here it is very difficult to separate rhetoric from reality. Institutions say, "Students abroad can't come to the United States" (this is particularly true after September 11, 2001) and we have something useful to offer them, so we'll take it overseas and serve students who would not otherwise be served." Last, cash flow and profit are factors as well. Institutions do not go abroad for purely altruistic reasons. They do not do it unless they can make money.
Peter Williams, director of institutional review, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in the United Kingdom, pointed out that there is similarity between the motivations that have caused U.S. universities and British universities to engage in international operations. This is interesting because the two export systems are slightly different. In the United States, the model has been through branch campuses and contractual relationships, whereas in the United Kingdom, the model has been more by franchising programs to organizations in other countries and also by validating – offering the British award – to programs developed and offered in other countries.
Mr. Williams indicated that British universities tell him that their prime motivation for export is the opportunity to do something that is not regulated by the funding organizations in Britain. There is an opportunity born of an interest in international activity, a wish to be part of a wider scene. There are strictly instrumental interests in attracting students who might come to the United Kingdom as well as being provided with educational opportunities in their own countries. There is an element of fashion about it: institutions look at each other and say, "They're working there, shouldn't we?"
Altruism was at one stage a motivator, but Mr. William stated that he has not seen much of this of late. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a stage about ten years ago when a number of universities in the United Kingdom believed that overseas activities were a source of free money – something of which they have been disabused. And they realize now, for export to work, it has to be properly resourced. Mr. Williams concluded by saying that there are a variety of motivations, but that he is increasingly convinced that the motivations for export are reputable and honorable, and that what is on offer is something that is, if not something we are fully content with, something we are increasingly willing to support and endorse.
EXPERIENCES THAT WORK FOR IMPORTERS AND EXPORTERS
Success with Import and Export
Mr. Williams offered a list of critical success factors in links between British universities and others. The first is clarity of purpose – everyone knows what they are in this for, why they are doing it. The second is clear relationships between partner organizations. Ideally, there is someone at the British university who champions the export link – someone who will foster and nurture it, and not simply see it as something hundreds or thousands of miles away about which they do not really need to worry. There also needs to be a clarity of responsibility within the awarding institution for the standard of quality of the award. Very frequently, the institution needs to be willing to develop staff in the partner institution. If one sees the staff as simply technicians or plumbers "delivering," the effort is likely to founder. It is much better for staff to be drawn right into the academic community of the franchising body.
Contacts cannot simply be maintained through virtual means. There needs to be a reasonable amount of face-to-face contact and very clear information for everyone about what is on offer and what is being provided. Costing of the relationship needs to be full; there is no such thing as free money, even when full costing reduce profits. From the beginning, there needs to be exit strategies. These relationships may not last forever, and when they stop, there needs to be an assured way of making sure that students' interests are protected.
Further, there needs to be clear understanding of the conduct of student assessments, since this is how the standard and credibility of the award will ultimately be established. And there must be a clear understanding of the local environment in which the franchise is operating. Too many people assumed that they body with which they are doing business is, in fact, just another college in England, which is rarely the case.
Mr. Cook stressed that, in the United States, export works when it is a contractual relationship in which the home institution takes its programs and presumably its standards and engages a local entrepreneur who is going to implement the arrangement: recruit the students, hire the faculty and provide the day-to-day supervision. His accrediting commission's criteria, for example, require an oversight from the institution.
Mr. Cook indicated that the more successful export model in his experience is the branch campus. The home institution goes to the host country and offers the program – puts administrators in place and invests significantly in infrastructure and human resources, and typically its faculty go there. The best recent example at CIHE is Suffolk University in Boston, which has a branch in Dakkar. Suffolk was invited to offer the first two years of a bachelors program in business and eventually a full degree program. The Suffolk faculty go to Dakkar. There is an on-site administrator. There is a lot of input from the home institution.
Dominique Abrioux, president of Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada, said that there are two reasons – one educational and on business – why distance learning providers want to export. From the education perspective, exporting enables them to provide a much richer learning environment for domestic students by creating an international community of learners. Enriching the domestic market is a positive reason for exporting education.
With regard to the business reason, international activities can help develop a regional domestic market. From this business point of view, international activities are about branding: how to position a provider in order to have an international reputation to help attract and serve domestic students. Franchising is not compatible with these two goals. It will not typically create a common community of learning and there are real issues with branding because franchising is not recognized as being the same quality.
Problems with Import and Export
Mr. Hegde stated that he was familiar with some bad experiences with franchising as a form of export. He specifically mentioned experiences with the Middle East that have not been very good because the franchises are not necessarily authentic. If the franchises are not authentic, the student's degree will not have value and cannot be accredited. And there is no way we can make these providers comply with regulations. Distance education is a ticklish issue as well.
With the present WTO regulations and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) that include higher education, Mr. Hegde pointed out that there is a need to re-think what is being done because there is an uneven playing field and this should not be sustained. In India, the universities that come from abroad have no restrictions, no regulatory bodies in have a say in what they do. And this has already resulted in diploma mills coming to India. Yet, the psychology is that any degree from abroad is better. The question is, how is India going to regulate these operations? And how can an even playing field be created where the same rules and regulations apply to importers and to the exporters?
Mr. Williams pointed to several things that can go wrong with export. One problem is too liberal a use of advanced standing and not understanding the mechanisms by which advanced standing can legitimately be granted. A change of ownership of the partners can bring a fundamental change to the nature of the import-export relationship and to the security of the standards of quality on offer. A lack of effective communication can also cause problems. When relationships are allowed to lie fallow, there is an assumption that all is well – but things could be diverging from expectations.
Mr. Cook said that all of the problems that Mr. Williams identified can be summarized in the word capacity. Does the institution have the capacity – and commitment and willingness are a part of this – to engage in these exercises abroad? This is typically the case with very small institutions that see in these international ventures opportunities they may not have at home, particularly profitable opportunities. Problems come when there is a lack of capacity and therefore a real lack of control.
Mr. Materu indicated that importing was more difficult when the awarding of certificates, diplomas or degrees was involved than when these awards were not made. Negotiations can be very complex. AVU seeks partnerships that will help build capacity in African institutions so that, at some point, they too can develop and deliver courses on their own for their students and possibly across the African continent. AVU seeks material that can be contextualized in African content; however, some providers say, "I'm not ready to stand behind the outcomes." This is not acceptable to AVU.
A second area of difficulty related to pedagogy and delivery methods. Most of the exporting institutions with which AVU deals have moved into full on-line learning. Africa is not quite ready for that and still insists on mixed mode delivery. Exporters say that this is yesterday's technology and they want to deliver fully on-line.
The third area of difficulty is accreditation and awards. AVU wants to make sure what is offered satisfies the quality assurance framework of the exporting institutions. At the initial point of cooperation, AVU wants the exporting institutions to award the degrees and certificates to the students – as proof that the institution has worked at the same standard of quality that they would with their own students. This raises a number of issues, including money, and sometimes causes conflicts between the quality assurance framework of the exporting institution and the hosting African institution. It is a very difficult issue and takes time to resolve.
There are also intellectual property issues that cause difficulty. Most exporting countries have good frameworks for this and for quality assurance, but most African countries as yet do not. AVU has had expensive legal costs to get these matters properly handled so we can work together.
Mr. Leong said that the HKCAA, having looked at hundreds of courses, has certainly found some problems. The main problem is a lack of adequate control mechanisms by the exporting institution. A second problem is an over-reliance on inexperienced local operators when there are franchises. There are instances where the central administration has very elaborate regulations and quality assurance mechanisms, but when these are filtered down to departments conducting the franchise operation, everything is diluted to a very poor level. Franchising is a big problem because the main goal is to make a profit.
Second, there is a lack of understanding of the local education system. For example, in admissions, perhaps excessive advanced standing may be given. For a three-year program, an exporting institution may give advanced standing so that students can do only one year of the three and still get a degree. Of course, this is done to increase student enrollment. There is also non-adherence to entry requirements. Everything said in the brochure is fine, but when it is carried out locally, those requirements do not pertain. The other big problem is with the teaching staff. Of course it is expensive to have home staff go to foreign countries to teach, especially on an extended basis. So, exporters rely on local staff who may be under-qualified. The reason is obviously financial. There are many institutions that use industry practitioners, who of course are useful, but are not necessarily good at tertiary teaching.
There are also cases where the self-learning distance learning materials are very flimsy and not of sufficient quality. There may be excessive use of block teaching. These are very intensive courses where the home teachers come for a few weekends and the program is compressed into that time. Finally, course duration may be a difficulty: for example, the duration of a part-time course given to students in Hong Kong is shorter than the full time course given to students in the home country. Library resources can also be a problem, though electronic access helps.
THE ROLE OF QUALITY ASSURANCE IN IMPORT AND EXPORT
Commission members also pointed out that quality assurance organizations would aid both import and export by developing an "information template" for students, identifying good practices and exploring means to assure that various countries have comparable quality assurance operations. This should be accompanied by a focus on student needs and continued efforts to develop a common vocabulary and formats, where appropriate.
Importing Countries and Quality Assurance
Hong Kong is also establishing a voluntary accreditation based on benchmarking against local courses. This provides comparability of standards, not just comparability with the home course. Some institutions are coming to Hong Kong voluntarily for accreditation, which is obviously a much bigger exercise. The incentive is that they get recognition and also that their students are eligible for some government loans.
Mr. Materu said that there is a need in Africa to support strengthening national frameworks for quality assurance and accreditation. Here the international community can assist by providing broad guidelines and criteria that national bodies can use in evaluating the quality and strength of exporters that come into their countries. The World Bank report (Constructing Knowledge Societies: New Challenges for Tertiary Education, 2002) offers a number of criteria that could be applied. Mr. Materu said there is a need to work on this at an international level, and here CHEA could play a role.
On a second matter, AVU has started working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Except for the Council for Higher Education in Francophone Africa, there is no mechanism for recognizing awards across borders within the continent – the English speaking part in particular. So AVU is taking it upon itself to provide leadership within the continent, working with individual countries to develop a framework. AVU will also provide advisory assistance in quality assurance. Here again, the international community, UNESCO, CHEA and others can be of great assistance.
A third matter is economic and deals with the emphasis on commercial value in contrast to the public good. Commercial values cannot be underestimated here and are part of negotiating an agreement with the importing countries. This applies to trade agreements as well.
Mr. Hegde suggested that it would be useful if every exporting country and every importing country had its own accrediting agency that has standing internationally. The two should cooperate and complement each other's efforts so that the students who graduate from such programs have degrees with international standing. This would also help the licensing bodies, such as medicine.
Wai Sum Wong, executive director of the HKCAA, pointed out that, among the hundreds of courses in Hong Kong, most are twinning arrangements, but with many variations. The quality assurance mechanisms and the role played by the exporting institutions vary according to the specific arrangements. When the exporting institution is twinning with an established university that is providing some of the teaching and resources, there is the advantage of having an academic institution as the local partner. It is difficult for the exporting institution to maintain full control from a distance. However, when the exporting institution has a commercial agent as partner – someone with no experience in tertiary education – a lot more control is expected from the exporting institution. Often this is not happening.
Exporting Countries and Quality Assurance
Mr. Williams indicated that, in relation to outcome standards, the general quality assurance solution using traditional approaches will not do because their criteria are unlikely to be able to accommodate the diversity of what is on offer. And if outcomes are to be done properly and thoroughly to a level that would command confidence, they would be too time-consuming and too costly. We need a different kind of solution.
Mr. Williams' answer is to look at the students and their needs. What is it that students need as they look at international solutions to higher education? The answer is: reliable information. The key is to provide students with information that allows them to make rational choices. The information needs to be provided by the people offering the program, but that creates the problem of who is going to verify the information.
There should be an international agreed-upon set of criteria for information about programs. That is, there could be an information template, and those who wished to be looked at in those terms could subscribe. The template would not require an identical mode of delivery, of standard, or nature of learning opportunities. The template would just identify the variables and ask institutions to say what they are doing in those areas. But the information should be essentially about the ends of the programs: the outcomes, the purposes of the programs. The information would address the means for teaching, learning, and assessment strategies, learning resources, and learning support mechanisms. Institutions would say clearly how they are going to help students reach the ends that they have defined in terms of their own standards.
There are a number of ways this might be done. One way would be for a consortium of quality assurance agencies in association with representative groupings of higher education institutions of exporting and importing countries to get together to agree on the standard. The process would then be embedded in all of the quality assurance agencies' processes. There would be one set of criteria, one standard, that everyone would share. But everyone would publish the outcomes of their reviews of the providing institutions that have signed up for this template. The template would be about common formats for information based on common and shared language and terms. Quality assurance agencies would facilitate the publication of information. Information is the key – reliable and verified information. It does not need to imply a conversion to a standardized set of programs or standards.
Mr. Leong raised the issue relationships among the accrediting authorities in the importing and exporting countries. He suggested that a mechanism can easily be set up, for instance, between the QAA of the United Kingdom or the similar authority of Australia and the authority of the importing country. Any good or bad practices can easily be reported, even regarding specific institutions. Mr. Leong then pointed out that having a campus in another country is the best solution for export, but that this is obviously a very expensive solution, and very often does not happen.
Diversity in an International Setting Eduardo Marcal Grilo, professor and member of the board of trustees of the Caloust Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal, raised the issue of the struggle between uniformity and diversity. He expressed concern that internationalization will give rise to convergence and a certain uniformity to models, activities, courses, and teacher training. He stressed the importance of respecting differences and "the dignity of difference." And this difference is between countries, between institutions, between projects and is very important.
The second concern raised by Mr. Grilo was about competition versus cooperation. Market competition is invading everything, and the market is important, but it needs to be balanced. There are some aspects of higher education where competition is important, but you also need cooperation and some solidarity, he said. It is not possible to exist without solidarity in what is regarded as higher education.
Brenda Gourley, vice chancellor of the Open University in the United Kingdom, reminded everyone that the original conception of universities was international. The idea of scholars moving across cultures and learning from each other is something that seems to be getting lost in the movement to the commodification model and the market model.
Ms. Gourley also pointed to the lack of respect for local culture and values and said that higher education should not add to the problems of difference, understanding each other less and less. The kind of cultural myopia found in many of the programs seeking franchises around the world is a serious quality issue, quite frankly. The learning process is seriously impeded. We need to think about how people learn and the importance of artifacts in helping people relate to local circumstances. Looking on the Internet, the so-called purveyors of education seem to be demonstrating a dismal lack of understanding about how people do in fact learn. The community needs to understand that higher education is not value-free.
Mr. Hegde pointed out that educational processes cannot be divorced from culture at all: the Indian cultural base is a foundation of higher education and there is a roof that is Indian at the same time. India never wants to close its doors and windows. Let the knowledge and wisdom flow from all countries. Exporting higher education should involve respect the culture of that country. Values are indeed very important. Higher education should not just be information over-load; it must be value-based, and this is where culture plays a very vital role.
Mr. Williams said that the diversity of what is on offer around the world means that there will be a lot of reasons why a student might want to take up one or another offer. Some students might want to take an offering because it is not their culture. Others might want to have a customized version which is embedded fully within their culture. The question is choice and the basis for making a rational decision. There is a need for maximization of choice and a full knowledge and respect for the environment in which programs are being offered, but not necessarily trying to make them seem like indigenous offerings.
Mr. Materu said that sensitivity to cultural diversity is absolutely necessary. It is present in several dimensions within Africa – language groups, religious groups, different cultural groupings. AVU is very sensitive to this, and programs and schedules take into account the individual festivities of different countries, and if this cannot be done, it is discussed with the countries.
There are also issues related to the mode of learning. Most universities AVU deals with want to offer programs fully on-line. But many students in Africa have never been exposed to technology, their literacy level is very low, and their method of communication is largely through voice and seeing. The majority are young men and women who have just finished school – they are not adult learners. A fully online program would not be appropriate for these students. AVU has had to have lengthy negotiations to make sure that there is a video and audio component in every program to ensure that all of the stimuli are used to help students learn.
As a number of the commission members noted, these vital issues affecting higher education and quality assurance require ongoing discussion and debate. The next meeting of the CHEA International Commission will be held in January 2004.
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