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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №4 - 2007

Автор: Шелухина Ю.В.

In connection with the changing political and, especially, economic situation in the country, the system of higher education is also a subject to significant changes. The universities are given more freedom in governance and providing their services in comparison with the previous years of the Soviet period. Any university finds itself under the process of “marketization”, where it sells its services or products – students, knowledge, and degrees – at a definite price. The result of such changes, of course, bears not only positive, but also negative sides, which are particularly visible for the first time. One of the negative effects of his almost “overall” freedom is the lessening of the quality of the services provided. It is understandable that during the first years of “freedom”, the supreme goal of the universities was to survive in the market by any means. At present moment the situation in the educational market has changed to the positive direction. The universities have learnt to survive; they are able to orient in the given environment and to find the possible ways out. Nowadays the university management comes across another occurring problem – competitiveness in the educational market. There is a wide range of different services, and potential customers select those, which seem to be the best ones. The main characteristic, according to which the customer chooses, is the quality of the provided services. Because of it, the universities have to assure the customers of the quality of their services. In my article I’d like to show the system of quality management at the campus-based university, exactly at Kazakh-American Free University; I will also cover and consider the problems of quality assurance in the following aspects of higher education – quality control over rapid programs and course development, quality review of foreign institutions established in my country, and the system of evaluation of online and distance education programs. I will try to emphasize the problems and find possible ways out, concerning the system of quality control.

System of Quality Management at Kazakh-American Free University

Kazakh-American Free University has also to survive and to sell its products in the educational market. In my opinion, it is more difficult for this university to stay in the market e.g. in comparison with East Kazakhstan State University or East Kazakhstan State Technical University. The first reason is that it is a private university, and in our country there is still a rather preconceived opinion towards the private universities. The second reason is that the university exists only eleven years and it has not only to prove the quality of the provided services, but also to present something unique, which doesn’t exist at any other university e.g. intensive English learning or international educational programs. Another endeavor for quality and uniqueness assurance was the accreditation of the university by the British Company NQA in February 2006. This step showed that the university is sure in the quality of the provided services, and ready to pass the accreditation not only at the republic, but also at the international level. As for the international accreditation, it is not an easy matter. Before passing the annual international accreditation for quality conformation, the university has to pass through a range of different internal audits, conducted by the university management and a special representative from the university management, responsible for quality management. At KAFU it is a manager for quality assurance. These people elaborate the policy and goals in quality assurance. They also plan, establish and develop the whole system of quality management. The analysis of the system of quality assurance is conducted no less than two times a year at special meetings of the university management and academic council. The individual meetings with the manager for quality assurance also take place. It is done in order to see the results and to examine the adequacy of the whole system. Moreover the departments’ goals, which are determined for every year in accordance with the main university goals, are also analyzed at these meeting. If these goals have been not achieved, the reasons of failure are discussed and possible ways out are considered. Of course, the ways of system improvement are also discussed. Only after thorough internal audit the university goes through the external audit, conducted by NQA Company, which analyzes the quality according to the customers’ demands. It examines the achievement of the set goals mainly according to the documents and reports, but also by the personal meeting with the students, teachers, and other workers of the university. Of course, this system of quality assurance includes a range of the measurements, directed at planning, management, organization, support, analysis, and improvement of the services in order to correspond to the demands and expectations of the customer. I won’t list a topic for a separate paper. I will dwell on the moments, which seem to be more vulnerable with respect to the system of quality assurance.

Quality Control over Rapid Programs and Course Development

Our society is vigorously developing in all directions, and as a result of it, the demands of the society are increasing. Mostly it is connected with the fact that our republic develops its international relations and it tries to correspond to the requirements of the world. This process of globalization touches all aspects of life and demands its innovative changes and improvement. The most popular spheres of international collaboration now are the international business and law. Of course, all the spheres, concerning international cooperation demand their development and innovative changes. The only possible answer occurs – we need the specialists, able to develop these spheres and implement necessary innovations in order to correspond to the requirements at the local, republic, and international level. Such needs of the society are profitable for the universities to some extent – if the specialists are needed – we will “produce” such specialists. So, we can see the mushrooming of the new programs and courses at the universities, the primary of which establishment is to correspond to the changing demands of the society. I’d like to dwell on the example of East Kazakhstan State University, which opened the course, and even a new specialty “International Relations”, just, in my opinion, to be on an equal level with other leading universities in our country. As I understand, the graduates of the specialty, should work at the Ministry International Affairs, Embassies or, at least, in some foreign company. We don’t have either Ministry or any Embassy in our city. The companies are hardly to be called “foreign”. Only one consular department exists, where two-three persons are able to maintain all the work. The question occurs – what was the purpose of opening this specialty? In my opinion, it is nothing, except that it sounds modern and attractive. I think that this specialty is useless in our city. First of all, it is explained by unemployment among its graduates. I had the conversations with some graduates and I know that they are not able to find a job not only in our city, but also in other cities of our republic. I have two reasons for the explanation of this phenomenon. The first reason is that our republic doesn’t need so many specialists in the field. As far as I know, earlier it was only one university with such a specialty – Kazakh National University. It carried out the requirements of the republic demands, and a number of graduates of the university were enough for fulfilling the work in the sphere. The second reason, in my opinion, is directly connected with the problems in the system of quality assurance and correspondence of the course to the necessary standards. Any program, especially, newly-opened one, should be under a strict quality control. I suggest putting the following aspects under the quality control:

1) Program content. Each program consists of a number of courses, which should be relevant to the essence of the program. I think that only a special board of experts should decide which courses are to be included to the program. The people, who conduct it, must be acquainted with the similar programs, existing at other universities for a certain period of time and bearing good results.

2) Instructors. In connection with course content, the next problem occurs – the specialists, able to teach appropriately and give the students the necessary knowledge. Often it happens so, that people, who lack not only the previous experience, but also the education in the field, begin to teach. You can imagine what kind of future specialists, taught by such teachers, we will have.

3) Adequate materials. It also seems to be very important, just because even perfect instruction cannot be realized without appropriate materials. Students must have enough books at their library in order to study and to find the answers to the occurring questions; and teachers should have sufficient materials in order to use them at their lessons for the better students’ instruction. I consider the problem to be rather soluble in comparison, for instance, with the problem of the lack of appropriate instructors. The problem must be solved by the management of the university, who has to provide money for purchasing the materials.

4) Practice. Any theoretical knowledge must be applied into practice. Students, while studying at the university, should get not only theoretical, but also practical knowledge. In the case of new programs, it happens so very often, that the students are not able to put their theoretical knowledge into practice, as, for instance, with the students of the field “International Relations” at EKSU, just because, there is no suitable organization!

The final employment of the graduates of new programs depends on these factors, I think. Exactly these ones must be taken under the strict control. Only at the first sight the problem of new courses and programs development seems to be easily solved. Of course, it is easy to open a new course, but it is not so easy to open a new course, which will correspond to the necessary quality requirements. It doesn’t mean that we must not open new courses, because of the occurring difficulties – just opposite – we must, but we should take into account all possible problems and find their solutions. I don’t see any insoluble problems with the new programs, even the problems with instructors and practice might be solved to some extent by special trainings and agreements with the organizations in other cities correspondently. The only condition is that these problems in the sphere of quality assurance must be solved with the help of a special group of experts and managers, able to organize the whole process in an appropriate way. Also, I think, that heads of the universities should carefully consider if the really need to open new programs and if they are able to maintain these courses on the relevant quality level.

Quality Control over Online and Distance Education Programs

In new competitive environment, the universities have to offer something unique in order to attract their customers. They have to improve already existing programs and implement some innovative changes in them. At the same time, the new emerging task of the universities is to create something that will be absolutely new, attractive and promising to bear fruit. The “new form of competition” is the appearance of online and distance education programs. The idea to establish such kinds of courses appeared mostly at private and new-emerging universities, which have to survive in the severe competition with the universities, existing for a long period of time and having proved their good reputation. In contrast to their traditional century-old forms of education, the new-emerging universities began to offer new programs, which they try to establish according to the needs of their potential customers. The emergence of distance learning programs has its own as positive as well as negative sides. The positive sides are:

1) Flexibility. Students are flexible in their education. They can study at the university they prefer and at the time they like. It is very appropriate for those people, who combine work with their study.

2) University Honesty. With online education it is rather difficult to take the bribes, which is so typical of the campus-based universities in our country. Moreover, there is almost no personal conflict, which may emerge by face-to-face instruction between students and teachers.

The negative sides exist alongside with the positive ones. They are:

1) No face-to-face instruction, and as a result - no direct opportunity to talk to your teacher and to be in traditional educational environment.

2) No control over online and distance learning programs. In my opinion, it is the main negative side of the programs. It is almost impossible to measure if these programs are corresponding to the necessary quality standard. I think that the quality of educational services is measured by the advancement of the students. How are we to measure the quality of the provided online education programs? This question remains almost insoluble at the present moment. Another problem is how the students should determine the quality of the online and distance learning programs and decide what online courses they will attend. In my work I’ve trued to suggest the possible mechanism, which can be applied to system of quality assurance of the distance programs. To be more exact I offer to investigate and analyze the following aspects, included into the whole system of quality assurance of online and distance learning courses:

1) Course Content. Every program should consist of a number of courses, relevant to its essence. Moreover, I suppose that every university, having such kind of program should constantly improve the content of its programs in order students can find this unique information only at the university.

2) Availability of materials. In the case I speak mostly about the availability of electronic resources. If the university offers the programs of online and distance learning, it should provide their students with the necessary amount of materials. In the case of online education, the electronic library must be an integrative part of the educational process. Otherwise, the instructors should give the appropriate sources where students can find necessary materials.

3) Affiliation. It is extremely important to which university these online course are affiliated. In my opinion, the university’s reputation plays a great role. In the case I speak both about the reputation of the traditional campus-based programs and as about the reputation in the sphere of distance education.

All these aspects should be thoroughly investigated by students, who want to study in online and distance programs. As for the universities, they should present the whole current information concerning the content of their courses.

In the beginning of this paper I’ve mentioned that the quality of the educational program depends on the advancement of its students. It seems extremely difficult and, almost impossible to assure the quality of online courses, just because you cannot even see if the right person studies and does all the work. This question remains open and insoluble at the moment. As for me, I suggest the following – to conduct the final face-to-face examination at the affiliated university. It should be a complex of the examinations and tests, like at a traditional campus-based university, even for the purpose to verify if this person has really studied at the program. I fully understand that it causes a lot difficulties and costs for the universities, organizing such programs, but now I see it as the only way-out in the system of quality assurance of online and distance courses. Of course, the date of the examination should be more or less flexible in order to be appropriate for the students. We can see such a system of education on the example of Tomsk State Polytechnic University, which opened the so-called distance educational programs in East Kazakhstan. Its students have to go to the university two or three times, while they study and also for passing their final examination and defending diploma. All other time they talk to their teachers only via Internet and pass their works via e-mail. I suppose that a number will refuse from such education, but those, who stay, will be sure to a certain extent that they get really qualitative education.

Quality Control over Foreign Institution, Established in our Country

Nowadays any country tries to develop its international relations in all spheres of life. Higher education is not an exception to the rule. Our students are getting provided with more opportunities for their personal development and future professionalism. They are free in their choice concerning the field, the university, and even the location of the university. It is prestigious to get higher education at one of the foreign, especially European or American, universities or just at the university with very good reputation, which was proved by many years of its existence. Because of this reason, many students of our country strive for getting a higher education at one of the universities with good image e.g. located in Russia. Earlier, even several years ago, it was easier. Nowadays it is getting more difficult, because of two reasons: expensiveness of education and cost of living, and problems connected with visa regime. In order not to lose the students, foreign institutions try to make it easy for the students to get an education in their home country by opening their branches there, which officially correspond to all standards of the head institution. It is not a secret that in reality it is not so. Many standards are violated, and what is more important a normal study environment and ways of teaching are also violated. Our national government can do almost nothing in this case, just because these foreign institutions are under control of their head institutions of another country. All the violation is the reasons of low quality of the educational services, provided by these institutions, and our students, the future of our country, get an education, which is of low quality. I think that our national government and Ministry of Education should make some concrete steps in order to control the foreign institutions to a certain extent. In my work I try to suggest some spheres, which must be obligatory controlled.

First of all it should be done by the joint commission, consisting of the member of national and foreign delegations. It should be executed no less that twice a year by national commission and even one time a year by joint commission. They must thoroughly verify the following aspects:

1) Course Content and Materials Availability. I have mentioned these aspects earlier.

2) Faculty. It seems to be vitally important who teach the students, how experienced they are and if their education corresponds to the standards

3) Study Environment. It is known that many foreign institutions open their branches in buildings, which are hardly to be named universities. The general state of classrooms, lack of necessary utilities, e.g. even insufficient number of desks, chairs and blackboards, to say nothing of computers in this case. As for the moral state, it is extremely important how the lessons are taught and if all the standards are kept.

As I’ve also mentioned earlier the quality of educational services depends on the students and their knowledge. In connection with it, I think that the most relevant verification is the verification of students’ level of knowledge. It might be conducted in two ways:

1) Annual testing of students of foreign institutions in order to analyze the overall level of their knowledge and any changes if those occur;

2) Participation of the students of foreign institutions in special competitions with the students of other universities in order to compare the knowledge level, to determine strong and weak sides, to analyze, and to take measures for further improvement.

I conclusion I’d like to emphasize that the quality of educational services has become one of the most important problems not only in our country, but all over the world. Because of it, many independent companies, assuring the quality of organizations are established. Of course, these are independent commissions who should examine any organization in the sphere of quality of the provided services, otherwise it will be senseless. Nowadays it is rather difficult to organize such verifications in our country in an appropriate way. The first and the main reason is that the quality of the services remains at a low level and we are afraid of being told it that may lead to the further closing of an organization. In any case many organizations in our country have been already accredited by independent quality assurance companies, and this tendency continuous. In my opinion when we will be sure and proud ourselves of the quality of the provided service, we will be able to come into the world market to full extent, and will be recognized by the world community. Nowadays we make all possible attempts to achieve this goal, and I think that we have rather succeeded in it. I am fully sure that this tendency will go on.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Salmi J. Tertiary education in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities. Higher Education Management Vol. 13, No. 2

2. Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. ENQA report on Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area.

3. System of Quality Management. Quality Manual. (2005) Kazakh-American Free University. Ust-Kamenogorsk



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №4 - 2007


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