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Quality Assurance System in Pvt universities : Obstacles and remedies

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16th-Nov-2016       
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Prof. Dr. Abdur Rab,
Vice Chancellor, Eastern University :
Education at the university level in Bangladesh started in 1921 when the University of Dacca, the first public university in the then East Bengal, was inaugurated. Thereafter, the most significant event in university education was the passing of Private Universities Act in 1992 allowing non-profit foundations to set up non-profit universities in the private sector. Now there are 38 public universities and 97 private universities in the country.
While number of universities has proliferated with the increase in the number of students, the quality of education remains a big question in most of  them, and the reason is not far to seek - there was no organized system in any of them to establish educational quality standard and assure the achievement of the standard. And there is no autonomous or independent unit in them to verify quality. Only recently, a few universities have set up Institutional Quality Assurance System at the initiative of University Grants Commission under Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) and have started preliminary work of quality assurance.  Also there was no accreditation agency in the country except Institution of Engineers of Bangladesh (IEB) which accredits only engineering degrees. Only last week, an Accreditation Council has been enacted by the Government.
All public and private universities have an Academic Council which is responsible for setting academic standard, monitor performance and take corrective actions. In practice, however, their role has been confined primarily to approval of the curricula and students' results recommended by the Deans of Faculties. The Syndicate does the routine job, among others, of ratifying the results approved by the Academic Council. Except few universities who earned local accreditation of one or two engineering programs from Institution of Engineers of Bangladesh (IEB) or from abroad, no other university or its department has even tried to seek accreditation. We shall however confine our discussion within private universities in this article.
Obstacles on the way of Effective Quality Assurance System (QAS)
1. Inadequate awareness about quality assurance
The faculty members and educational administrators of the universities feel that as long as they are holding classes, covering course syllabus and holding exams on schedule, they are ensuring quality of education. The Academic Council is happy if they find that pass percentages are satisfactory.  They will go on inquiring if some deviation from traditional norm takes place and that again may be confined to specific cases.  That quality assurance requires a well-designed system, proper implementation, strict monitoring and corrective actions are hardly known to them.
2. Fear about Quality Assurance System (QAS)
Some faculty member's fear that QAS will uncover their inefficiencies and failures, some are afraid that it will require them to work harder and some believe that QAS requires more procedural steps and paper works. For one or more of these reasons, they are in favor of avoiding QAS.
3. Unwillingness to invest for   QAS
The academic administrators apprehend that introduction of QAS is a time consuming process and requires investment in system design, infra-structure build-up and human resource development. They are also afraid that it will increase bureaucracy due to strict maintenance of procedure, paper work and increased monitoring. So, they are not so willing to introduce QAS in their universities.
4. "Why bother about QAS when we are already known for quality"?
Institutions who believe that they are already known for quality education and feel that they have no quality problem would not be interested in setting QAS. While it is true that some institutions have built up good reputation without formal QAS, they would be able to maintain and improve their quality with a formal QAS.
5. "One shot is good enough"
Some institutions introduce the QAS, make it operational and believe that it will continue without further intervention and investment. QAS is a continuous improvement process and needs to be reviewed and improved continuously. QAS will not remain successful if they do not have long term commitment to it.
6. "Creating a quality culture is not easy"
The sustainability of quality assurance ultimately depends upon building a quality culture in the institution. Building such a culture requires not only good QAS but a positive attitude and mindset of all the members of the institution. Bringing such a change is time consuming and not so easy. Yet it is possible through effective management of change.
7. "We need no accreditation; we are already well-known nationally and internationally"
Institutions which are already well-known nationally and internationally feel that they do not need any accreditation. However, the self-assessment process and then peer review by an external expert team can help the institution uncover the areas of its weaknesses that can be taken care of to maintain the reputation of quality.
8. "Accreditation processing is expensive"
It is sometimes pointed out by institutions that the process of preparing self-assessment report requires trained and motivated manpower, huge external and internal information collection and data processing and application fee that shot up the cost of accreditation.  The argument is valid. Yet the institution should consider that the cost of accreditation is not an expense but an investment that will accrue long term benefit.  
What can be done to remove the obstacles?
Changing the mind-set of the stakeholders is the challenge. Making the top management and the academic administrators aware of the importance and benefits of QAS and accreditation is of course the first step. Assisting them in the preparation for introducing QAS and accreditation would facilitate the process. Authority responsible for monitoring, control and promotion of higher education should take up this job for the institutions which have already been set up. Provision for QAS and QAS unit in the organization structure should be made mandatory for a new institution seeking permission for its establishment. These steps will create an environment which will facilitate setting up and operation of QAS. Accreditation Council should encourage universities to seek accreditation. Once some institutions seek and get accreditation and students give priority to accredited institutions, others will be interested in getting accreditation.

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