New accreditation system and why it matters for universities

(Kyiv Post, September, 13, 2019)

National authorities have not yet approved all of the necessary regulations for the full functioning of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance (NAQA). But some “businesspeople” have already contacted higher education institutions offering to solve all their possible accreditation related issues or to resolve different conflict situations for money. These educational institutions have received telephone calls from a person introducing herself as “Halyna Mykhailivna from NAQA.”

Needless to say, such an employee does not exist, so educators should solve all issues through official procedures, in particular through official communication with national agency experts at the time of the accreditation site visit. The accreditation of Ukrainian higher education programs started under a new system in September.

Now the accreditation process will be less bureaucratic. It will be organized online, without hard copies. Obviously, the creation of software, the “digital core,” needs time and funding, and for this we will involve not governmental, but independent sponsors’ funds.
The launch of the national agency is an important step in the reform of Ukraine’s higher education system. Certainly, there are more needs: consistent financing, realistic societal expectations, etc.

However, transparently set tasks and rhetoric itself create the frameworks for adequately understanding the situation and taking steps in the right direction.

The National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance has a mission to be a “change agent” in higher education. Our goal is to develop Ukrainian universities’ reputational capital. Only such an approach will enable them to compete and collaborate in the contemporary world of high technologies and incredible opportunities.

The National Agency will take over part of the Education Ministry’s responsibilities — particularly those related to accreditation, quality, and academic integrity. The Education Ministry will continue to be responsible for licensing.

The National Agency will submit proposals with diverse initiatives through the Education Ministry to the Cabinet of Ministers and/or parliament. Ultimately, the National Agency’s goal is to implement financial autonomy for Ukrainian higher education institutions, and shift the economics of higher education so as to open the door for higher education institutions’ academic autonomy capitalization, quality growth, and international competitiveness.

In addition, the list of higher educational institution types should be broadened so as to establish a category of so-called teaching universities subdivided into vocation-oriented (more trusted by employers) and those oriented on students’ personal growth (similar to American liberal arts colleges).

International recognition via membership in acreditation and quality assurance organizations is of great importance for the national agency. Our approach to accreditation correlates with the requirements established in European practice. According to the Law “On Higher Education” and in response to a national agency proposal, on July 10, 2019, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved a list of foreign accreditation agencies whose decisions will be recognized in Ukraine. The main criterion while establishing this list was membership in the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education.

This means that the national agency proposes to shift the emphasis for the accreditation procedure. This procedure is different but not new, or rather new only for Ukraine; it is adapted from countries with quality universities. The “Statute on Accreditation of Higher Education Programs” determines 10 criteria for educational program quality assurance. Nine of them relate to bachelor and master programs, and one includes requirements for Ph.D.

Now accreditation procedures will concentrate on evaluating the process of education rather than the results. In other words, we will investigate and evaluate higher educational institutions’ ability to organize a quality educational process, grounded in the principles of university autonomy. Accreditation will include some institutional elements, such as evaluating the internal system of higher education institutions’ quality assurance.

The National Agency will not require the submission of paper certificates; rather it will evaluate the real state of affairs, in particular through experts’ communication with students and instructors, with administrative representatives and employees, if necessary. Disregard for quality assurance criteria — not the identification of weak points — will be a reason for denying accreditation. Therefore, it is important for educational institutions not to hide their weak points, but to demonstrate their readiness to overcome such weaknesses.

Currently we are having an open expert competition. For full-scale activity, we need approximately 3,000 experts to organize accreditation site visits and 340 members for specialized expert councils. These councils will be formed following the National Agency’s decision on Aug. 29, and a list of experts will be approved in October when these experts’ specialized training and testing are completed.

The national agency has developed online trainings for experts. They will be freely accessible for everyone, in particular for higher education institutions’ representatives, in September. In accordance with Ukrainian legislation, expert committees and specialized expert councils will also include such important stakeholders as employers and students together with academic and research workers.

Concurrently we are working on urgently needed regulations and procedures for implementing already adopted regulations that need specification.
The National Agency aspires to maximal openness and internationalization in its work. An obligatory aspect of our preparation of new regulations is a requirement for public discussion and involvement of both Ukrainian and foreign experts.

We have already established institutional contacts with accreditation agencies in Great Britain, France, and Italy, as well as with the Bavarian Ministry for Education and Art. We fruitfully collaborate with significant international projects and organizations such as SAIUP, the Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project, financed by the American Councils, New Justice (the U. S. Agency for International Development), OSCE projects coordinator in Ukraine. We have their organizational, expert, material and technical support.

The National Agency receives many complaints regarding academic integrity violations, in particular plagiarism. It is important to understand that legislation gives us rights and responsibilities but does not provide regulations for direct action. Specifically, the National Agency will be able to take over responsibilities from the Education Ministry in this area only when governmental approval of a specific document called the “Procedure for Cancelling a Specialized Academic Council’s Degree Award Decision” is adopted. We have already prepared a draft of this document in conjunction with well-known experts, representatives of the professional community, and activists. It has undergone public discussion and is now under review by state authorities.

So, what should Ukrainian universities expect in the nearest future?

After the national agency’s regular meeting on Aug. 29, all higher education institutions will receive a confirmed package of regulations, recommendations, and explanations regarding all accreditation procedures.

All these materials will be available on the National Agency website. This will allow higher education institutions to understand the tasks we set for experts and will allow experts and members of specialized expert councils to observe the way the national agency communicates with higher education institutions. If needed, we are ready to further produce explanations and specify procedures in order to prevent any possible misunderstandings. The national agency provides services based on respect and common sense. I hope that soon all stakeholders along with Ukrainian society will feel our practical usefulness.

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