High quality of higher education is one of the priorities within debates on higher education throughout the world. In European debates, we have established that quality of education is first and foremost a student topic – not only do they experience the quality of teaching daily; their future directly depends on the quality that their teachers deliver. Student organizations, including the European Students’ Union, naturally have a strong view on the quality assurance and accreditation. This view is unique because only students can see the problems with quality from the learner’s perspective. The basic principle from which our views derive is the statement that accessible higher education of low quality is worthless and high quality education that is not widely accessible is meaningless.
ESU sees still existing problem of distinguishing between quality assurance and accreditation which in many countries makes the situation of QA and accreditation chaotic. Quality Assurance is the process that ensures the delivery of agreed standards should take place on all levels: course, programme or institutional level. Accreditation, on the other hand, is both a status and process aims at certifying acceptable minimum quality and giving opportunity.
Within European debates, the need of involving student in quality assurance is seems to be no longer contested. Numerous survey, including our own Bologna With Student Eyes 2007, show that students are more and more included in quality assurance processes. Student as the largest stakeholder should be included in all levels of quality assurance due to their unique and at the same time balanced view on the issues related to higher education. Students should be the equal partners in this process reflected first of all by students on full rights to the panel of experts and study visit teams. The examples of student involvement from Netherlands and Poland are to be presented.
Thanks to mobility of student and staff the transnational dimension was present from the beginning of the discussion on quality assurance. We have seen an innovative approach to the debate in Europe as quality assurance became one of the pillars European Higher Education Area. Quality Assurance is mentioned as the top priority in all Bologna ministerial summits starting from Berlin Communique from 2003. The principle of student participation was stressed in 2005 in Bergen. The problem of mutual trust as regards quality assurance and accreditation was tackled two years later in London when ministers supported the idea of establishing the Register for Quality Assurance agencies.
But this discussion can be no longer limited to Europe as we are seeing an enormous rise in the provision of transnational education. Only European programmes like Tempus and Erasmus Mundus affect the mobility of students around the globe. The increasing number of free movers on the global level raises the question about mutual trust as regards quality of education and recognition of diplomas. The new forms of cross-border education developing rapidly in last decade make the issue even more complicated. In such situation quality assurance mechanism is still big problem to tackle. ESU strongly believes that UNESCO/OECD guidelines are the first and the very good step forward to tackle the problem of quality assurance in transnational perspective on the global level. However, they are not widely disseminated and used. ESU therefore encourages governments to continue to take a public approach to education – quality assurance and accreditation have a stronger role to play when backed up by a state.
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