Quality Assurance in Education
Why bother about quality?
Quality assurance safeguards the quality of further and higher education on a national, European and international level. It ensures the use of appropriate measures as a means of improving the quality of teaching, learning, training and research.
Education is an intangible service that is based on a relationship between two individuals, the teacher and the student. The relationship may happen anywhere — in formal and informal education. Schools, colleges and universities are formal communities of teachers and students, whilst education takes place in a variety of settings, including formalised organisations such as the scouts, soccer clubs and sports associations, musical societies, Catechism, and so many other formalised settings that act as a forum for learning, gaining skills and competences that will help develop the individual.
This article will delve into the necessity of standards in formal educational institutions at further and higher education, that assist in the management of the relationship between the teacher and the student.
Accreditation of Formal Learning
John Schostak (Education in Dialogue, 2005) says that “Schooling depends on there being an authority (teacher, the textbook, guru, leader etc) to authorize what is going to be counted as correct and worthy of some certificate or other symbol of accreditation”.
By virtue of Subsidiary Legislation 327 433 of the Government of Malta, the National Commission for Further and Higher Education has the remit to make and publish guidelines and criteria for the internal quality assurance (IQA) required of providers of further and higher education, as well as set up guidelines containing the criteria and procedures to be used in accreditation and external quality assurance (EQA) activities undertaken by the commission itself.
The scope of the external quality assurance applies the relevant European and international standards, guidelines and criteria to examine the fitness for purpose and effectiveness of the internal assurance processes; examine regulatory compliance of educational institutions; and ensure appropriate investigatory mechanisms to guarantee financial probity.
How are qualifications measured?
The legislation provides a framework that quantifies the constitution of each qualification. But to make sense of this framework, it is necessary to understand that the European Union has determined a scale to harmonise the determination of value for qualifications across Europe, and thus internationally.
The European Credit Transfer System, or its acronym ECTS, is valued as 1 ECTS is equivalent to 25 learning hours, out of which a minimum of 5 hours are dedicated to face to face interaction between a student and a teacher.
The Malta Qualification Framework (MQF) provides a formal qualification framework that may be awarded in Malta, and that is consistent with the European Qualification Framework (the MQF is identical to the EQF).
Undergraduate Degree-consists of a minimum of 180 ECTS spread over a three year period with at least 60 ECTS at MQF level 6.
Foundation Degree-consists of a minimum of 120 ECTS spread over two academic years at MQF level 5.
Diploma-consists of a minimum of 60 ECTS spread over a minimum of one academic year at MQF level 5 or 6.
Certificate-consists of a minimum of 30 ECTS.
Award-any qualification with less than 29 ECTS will be termed as an award.
Calculating the value of a qualification
Students are therefore expected to be actively involved in their learning, with 1,500 hours of learning spread over an academic year, out of which 300 hours are necessarily spent in a dialogue with an academic.
Serious educational institutions spread the academic year to around thirty (30) weeks over a year, which means that a student is involved in fifty (50) hours of learning a week, with ten (10) of these hours spent in class.
Therefore, an evaluator of a qualification will not define a qualification by its name, but by the effort to achieve the qualification. Therefore, don’t be fooled by a name of a qualification, but learn how to search for the signs that will guarantee that what you are studying for is worth the effort and the money.
How to identify fraud
Check for the contact hours which will determine the value in ECTS of the qualification. For example, if a qualifications on the market is named as a Diploma but the duration of the course is of just 40 contact hours, means that this qualification is nothing but an award worth 8 ECTS (40 contact hours divided by 5 contact hours gives the ECTS value) — not even qualifying as a certificate let alone a diploma!
Search for the accreditation authority of the qualification. The European Union does not accredit qualifications. The European Qualification Framework is a harmonisation framework that informs each European Union member’s own framework. Thus, a qualification awarded in Malta must either be accredited by the NCFHE under the Malta Qualification Framework or be accredited by an authority of an European Union Country and verified by the Malta Qualification Recognition Information Centre (MQRIC), also under the remit of the NCFHE. If an educational Institution does not apply for a license in Malta, it is probably avoiding being audited because it knows it cannot abide with the standards as listed below.
If it is too good to be true, then it isn’t! Determine whether the provider of the qualification is a licensed institution in its own foundation Country. Many institutions are set up without jurisdiction, and with the global reach of the internet, these institutions are defrauding thousands of individuals providing worthless qualifications.
External Quality Assurance benefits the consumer
The education institutions licensed by the NCFHE are required to adhere with the following eleven Standards.
1. Policy for quality assurance: entities shall have a policy for quality assurance that is made public and forms part of their strategic management.
2. Institutional and financial probity: entities shall ensure that they have appropriate measures and procedures in place to ensure institutional and financial probity.
3. Design and approval of programmes: self-accrediting providers shall have appropriate processes for the design and approval of their programmes of study.
4. Student-centred learning, teaching and assessment: entities shall ensure that programmes are delivered in a way that encourages students to take an active role in the learning process.
5. Student admission, progression, recognition and certification: entities shall consistently apply pre-defined and published regulations covering all phases of the student ‘life- cycle’.
6. Teaching staff: entities shall assure the competence and effectiveness of their teaching staff.
7. Learning resources and student support: entities shall have appropriate funding for their learning and teaching activities and sufficient learning resources to fully support the students’ learning experiences.
8. Information management: entities shall ensure that they collect, analyse and use relevant information for the effective management of their programmes and other activities.
9. Public information: entities shall publish information about their activities which is clear, accurate, objective, up-to-date and readily accessible.
10. Ongoing monitoring and periodic review of programmes: entities shall implement the ‘Quality Cycle’ by monitoring and periodically reviewing their programmes to ensure their continuing fitness for purpose.
11. Cyclical external quality assurance: entities should undergo external quality assurance, approved by NCFHE, at least once every five years.
Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education
A passion for excellence since 1985
Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education is a pioneer in the provision of quality higher education in Malta. Before the legislation was enacted by Parliament in 2012, the Institute depended on its Affiliation to one of the world renowned Universities — the University of London —to oversee its quality assurance, and for a decade was involved in teaching students to sit for University of London set and marked examinations. This guaranteed that alumni of the Institute today possess one of the most respected qualifications globally! Even though there was never any doubt in the validity of the qualifications, the leadership team at Saint Martin’s ascertained that all University of London qualifications were vetted by MQRIC to guarantee recognition in Malta.
Even though the Institute became one of the first licensed institutions under the new law in 2012, the Institute did not rush to provide its own awards, but rather sought an evolutionary process in developing MQF level 5 Diploma qualifications seeking full accreditation by the accreditation directorate of the NCFHE and Approved Prior Learning (APL) status by the University of London. This process is giving excellent bench-marking information from results attained by students who progress from the Saint Martin’s Institute diploma to a University of London degree, thus calibrating the standards better to ascertain success in internationally renowned examination system.
You may check out the results attained by Saint Martin’s Institute students who made the transition to the University of London degrees here.
The University of London Institutional Periodic Review
The University of London carries out its own audit of teaching institutions dotting the globe. Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education won its status as an Affiliate of the University of London after its successful audits of 2010 and 2015. To achieve an Affiliate status, an Institution must show that it surpasses expectations in the standards required by the University of London for its teaching institutions, and audited through an audit team constituting of academics from the member colleges, and administrators from the central university. A full report is published by the audit team, and an institution is expected to abide by any recommendations the audit team would have published.
The External Quality Assurance by the NCFHE
The first Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education NCFHE audit took place on the 15th to 17th March 2017
The quality audit is a tool for both development and accountability; it has reviewed the internal quality assurance system of the PFI and assessed whether the system is:
fit for purpose according to the PFI’s courses and service users;
compliant with standards and regulations and contributing to the development of a national quality culture;
contributing to the fulfilment of the broad goals of Malta’s Education Strategy 2014–2024;
implemented with effectiveness, comprehensiveness and sustainability.
The main lines of inquiry for this audit were as follows:
In interpreting its mandate, the review team determined that all activities performed by the University of London (henceforth UoL) as part of its relationship with St Martin’s Institute of Higher Education (henceforth SMI) would be considered within the scope of the review, as if they were performed by structures within the institute itself.
Furthermore, the review team decided that, as part of an enhancement-led approach, it would issue recommendations linked to all parts of the operations of the institute. The report therefore distinguishes between key recommendations which we feel need to be implemented expediently by the institute to address weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement which are merely suggestions based on our analysis and observations.
The audit intends to review the provider at a particular point in time and takes into consideration the procedures, practices and relevant documentation made available to the panel during the review.
On the basis of the findings documented in the report, the panel has concluded that SMI meets standards 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10, requires improvement to meet standards 1, 6 and 9 and it surpasses requirements for standards 4 and 11. The recommendations in the Report are meant to improve the standards already in place and to enhance good practice.