Accreditation policy globally acceptable: UWI the only Jamaican university fully endorsed by UCJ
Yvonnette Marshall, GUEST COLUMNIST
The University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) is the national quality-assurance agency for tertiary education in Jamaica. The mandate of the UCJ is to increase the availability of quality tertiary education and training in Jamaica through the establishment and maintenance of an external quality assurance system that is responsive to national and global changes while ensuring the development of an integrated, coherent tertiary education system, and the country's human resources.
The council is the external quality assurance (EQA) body for tertiary education in Jamaica. Like its counterparts in most jurisdictions around the world, including the United States of America, the UCJ employs accreditation as the method of external quality assurance. Institutions in Jamaica are expected to submit themselves and their programmes to the UCJ for evaluation against the established standards and criteria.
The UCJ has been in existence for the past 28 years, carrying out its EQA functions. While there is yet much to be done, particularly in light of the dynamic nature of the tertiary educational environment, globally, much has been accomplished. Institutions have spoken about the positive gains from accreditation. And, there has been increased access to quality tertiary education in Jamaica. To date, the UCJ has registered 44 tertiary institutions, and accredited one university and 255 academic programmes of study.
Quality assurance in tertiary/higher education relates to a continuous process of evaluating, assessing, monitoring, developing, maintaining and improving the quality of a tertiary education system, institutions and programmes. It focuses on both accountability and improvement, providing information and judgement through the application of an agreed and consistent process and well-established criteria.
In the discipline of quality assurance (QA), we speak of two forms of QA: internal and external. Internal quality assurance (IQA) speaks to the institution's responsibility for the quality of its educational provisions.
Quality is first and foremost the responsibility of the institution. Each tertiary education institution has the responsibility to develop its own internal mechanism for the purpose of ensuring, monitoring and improving the quality of its tertiary education provisions. Real and enduring quality can only come from the actions of the tertiary education institutions themselves. The basis of these actions must be honest, objective self-evaluation.
EQA speaks to the actions of a quality-assurance body, external to the institution and institutional structures, that assesses institutional and programmatic operations in order to determine whether standards that have been agreed on are being appropriately applied and are being attained, maintained and enhanced. The institution is expected to submit itself to the authorised EQA body in its jurisdiction for such validation.
Internationally, accreditation is the most widely used form of external quality assurance. It is a peer professional review process that is considered to be an effective means of examining the academic operations of colleges and universities, inclusive of curricula, academic standards and faculty. An important function of the EQA/accreditation body is the establishment of standards and criteria to guide institutions in setting up their institutional operations and developing their programmes of study. These are the standards and criteria against which the institutions and programmes are evaluated in the accreditation process.
As a member of the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education, the UCJ operates according to clearly articulated policies and procedures that are aligned with internationally accepted and recognised standards for QA.
The UCJ's operations and decisions are respected, recognised and accepted internationally, and the organisation is recognised as reliable and valued, and able to provide credible information on the quality of tertiary education offerings to all stakeholders.
The process and practices of accreditation employed by the UCJ are equivalent to those employed by its counterparts across the world. The underlying principles are the same. In most jurisdictions, the process is voluntary. The UCJ has focused primarily on programme accreditation. However, standards are in place for the accreditation of institutions.
BASED ON EVIDENCE
A programme cannot be evaluated for accreditation until it has completed a full cycle and produced the first set of graduates. Accreditation is based on evidence, not on plans or intentions. The programme must, therefore, be evaluated in its entirety, from the development of the curriculum, through the delivery process to the production of a set of graduates. The process involves the interviewing of all stakeholders, inclusive of employers of graduates. The institution is responsible to submit the programme for accreditation when the first set of graduates is ready; and the accreditation will cover those graduates.
The University of the West Indies (UWI) saw the need to submit itself for accreditation by the UCJ, the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Barbados Accreditation Council. The UWI (Mona Campus) sought and obtained, first registration, and later accreditation from the UCJ. It is the first and only institution, so far, to have been granted institutional accreditation by the UCJ. This means that all of its tertiary-level programmes are recognised.
At the base of the decision to grant the UWI institutional accreditation is the fact that, in the opinion of the international team of assessors, the UWI has in place a strong internal quality-assurance system that is capable of managing and assuring quality across the entire institution. The UCJ is now encouraging other institutions to give greater focus to the ongoing development and strengthening of their internal quality-assurance systems.
Several issues have been raised regarding the accreditation of programmes in tertiary institutions. The UCJ understands and is sympathetic in regard to the plight of students; and, therefore, encourages parents, students, and providers of financial support to exercise due diligence and consult the UCJ, or visit its website at: www.ucj.org.jm, regarding registered institutions and accredited programmes. The lists of accredited programmes and registered institutions are also published in both major local newspapers, twice yearly. Printed brochures are also distributed at seminars and workshops; and are available at the UCJ's office.
The UCJ is aware of its responsibility to protect students and the public and is in the process of fostering further collaboration with the institutions; as well as implementing new strategies aimed at protecting students while ensuring quality.
The UCJ is committed to increased public education and taking steps to ensure that institutions provide accurate information that is clearly articulated and readily available to the public.