There appears to be an increasing effort to ensure the academic quality of higher education institutions across the globe, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Education is leading the way in that region. Starting in early 2018, all licensed colleges and universities will be issued a star rating based on a variety of data that when considered holistically will reveal useful information regarding each institution’s quality, relevance, innovation, and efficiency. Within the context of these four pillars, determinations will be made regarding institutional teaching quality, public reputation, and internationalization (globalization), likely with a drill-down to the programmatic level. For the most part, these criteria are similar to what other nations have focused on. However, the UAE Ministry of Education has decided to take it a step further by adding another criterion by which to rate the quality of its licensed colleges and universities: that of research. Program efficacy and impact are often key indicators of an institution’s quality, and thus the UAE will also be looking at the quality, quantity, and impact of research conducted by its colleges and universities.
I find this both fascinating and encouraging. The UAE is right to hold institutions accountable for their quality of instruction, their commitment to local communities, and for their contribution to a global society. Where I believe they are breaking new ground is in the area of research—few accrediting bodies or governmental agencies have considered the important role that conducting high-quality research can and should play on the advancement of civilization. Institutions of higher learning should not only be supporting faculty members in their professional growth and development as researchers, but programs should be developed to teach students how to become researchers in their respective fields of study. And then there’s the impact piece: It’s not enough simply to conduct research—the point is to use what is learned from the findings to trigger positive change across areas that touch multiple aspects of our lives (social, educational, medical, industrial, etc.).
As they move forward I’m sure the UAE Ministry of Education as well as governmental agencies from other nations will continue to examine and refine the criteria by which they determine the quality of their educational institutions. I would like to offer a few additional thoughts for consideration:
- Institutions of high quality should make data-driven decisions based on a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data.
- Data should be triangulated, with both input and output data considered.
- Data should be collected and reviewed per an established cadence; a periodicity table should be constructed whereby specific data are collected, analyzed, reviewed, interpreted, and acted upon throughout each academic year.
- Institutions should be making decisions and connecting long-term and short-term goals that are directly related to an interpretation of their data.
- External stakeholders such as the UAE’s Ministry of Education should be able to easily connect the dots between each institution’s data and their vision, mission, and strategic goals.
- The efficacy of programs should be criteria-based and performance-based.
- A portion of an institution’s efficacy should be measured by the impact its program completers has on the lives of those they touch after graduation. For example, teachers should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on the academic achievement of their students, while healthcare providers should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of their patients. Educational policy agencies, accrediting bodies, and institutions should collaborate in advance on a definition of what types of data would be acceptable to demonstrate this positive impact.
There are additional things to be considered when making judgments about an institution’s quality. However, it is vital to begin the conversation so that everyone can begin working toward a common goal: To prepare current and future generations for service to others. The extent to which we will be successful in this endeavor lies in our firm commitment to academic excellence.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.