By Zafar Iqbal
Quality assurance refers to the policies, processes and actions, through which quality is maintained, developed, monitored and demonstrated. They are effective apparatuses for audit and accountability in the lifelong learning sector. Recent ‘skill agenda’ discourse reinforces the necessity for enhancing and developing quality assurance processes in education and training consequently, quality assurance is the heart of the UK lifelong learning sector. The ‘dual professionalism’ perspective of the lifelong sector, which involves a number of gatekeepers, also highlights the significance of quality assurance process for providing skilled workforce. In the UK, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has the primary responsibility for ensuring and monitoring academic standards and quality in higher education sector. Likewise, owing to vocationally- oriented spectrum of lifelong sector, quality assurance systems are also managed by Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) just as Pearson Education. They aim for setting benchmark standards, regulation, qualification accreditation and approval of relevant professional qualifications.
The ‘student voice’
As the learner is ‘the leading person participating in the learning process students are more aware about the problems than staff or visiting peers, the ‘student voice’ has become a central element of their engagement in every part of learning, including quality assurance. Learners participate in the quality assurance process through surveys, term feedback, course evaluation, lesson assessment and so on.
Reviews and reports
A key part of quality assurance is the reviews and assessment reports by regulators and quality assurance organizations such as QAA. The QAA higher education review informs students and the wider public, whether a provider meets the standards or not. Similar reviews and reports from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and other regulators aim how the providers of elementary and higher education maintain their academic standards and quality in the maintenance of academic standards, provision of learning opportunities, the enhancement of the quality of students learning opportunities.
International verification and standardisation
Educational institutes also have robust internal verification systems which include standardization, sampling of assessments, internal audit, etc. Generally, internal verification is the extension of formal holistic evaluation systems designed by awarding bodies or regulators. Some extensively practiced measures of internal quality assurance include appraisals, self-assessment and reflections, internal audits and so on.
Impact of quality assurance processes on Effective learning
The impact of quality improvement and assurance processes in the enhancement and improvement in learning and teaching is twofold: Quality assurance processes, enhance capabilities and skills, improve practices and make the learning process effective. External or internal quality reviews have great impact on learning in ‘engaging staff with new thinking that is not possible in the absence of quality assurance’. They are indispensable for the core ‘product (the learner) as they bring good practices, resources and conditions resulting significant improvement in the learning.
The Learners’ feedback
Students’ feedback helps teachers to plan according to the needs of the learners and also produce useful information for quality assurers which the relevant organisation may not be willing to share fearing reputation risk and other image concerns. The Higher Education Review mandates students to be part of its peer review teams, which offers learners an opportunity to compare their educational facilities, standards and practices with similar course providers.
Reviews and Reports
Review reports provide benchmarks and targets for efficiency and enhancement of the learning facilities, processes and practices. For instance, upon the QAA review report advice, my institute started sharing the External Viewers/verifiers feedback with the students, which helped them to have first-hand knowledge of the expectations and standards of the awarding body.
Internal verification and standardisation
Internal verification and standardisation sessions help the professionals to have a clear understanding of the standards and benchmarks, consistency, record keeping, opportunities of sharing good practices in assessment, action planning towards quality assurance and development, however, sometimes quality assurance processes may bring unnecessary workload for professionals and cause mental stress.