A regional initiative aimed at strengthening the capacity of external and peer evaluators has been deemed "a critical component of robust quality assurance frameworks".
Chairman of the Board of the Barbados Accreditation Council (BAC), Yvonne Walkes, underscored this point, as she addressed the opening of a workshop for evaluators at the Blue Horizon Hotel, Christ Church.
"The use of external expertise in the quality assurance process not only signals to tertiary educational providers that the quality assurance agency is taking
an independent route for the assessment of the institution or programme of study but also, that there is professional judgment through national, regional and international subject matter experts or professionals," Ms. Walkes stressed.
Contending that Barbados must be no exception as a high quality destination for tertiary education locally and internationally, BAC’s Chairman said: "As it pertains to tertiary education, the notion ???quality’ is widely accepted as the extent to which the institution or programme fulfills its mission and objectives, which is fitness for purpose, or the relevance, which is fitness of purpose, of its mission and objectives."
She added that given the need to meet various contexts including national, societal and institutional, it was also being widely accepted that institutions and programmes "should be assessed against their own particular situation". Evaluators were, therefore, urged when doing assessments "to take into account the various peculiarities when determining whether an institution or programme meets the
registration or accreditation criteria of the external quality assurance agency" such as BAC’s.
They heard too that concerns existed about the increasing challenges facing external quality assurance agencies as a result of the potential for fraudulent providers or diploma mills to offer low quality educational programmes that are, sometimes, supported by equally low quality agencies, termed as accreditation mills.
And, Ms. Walkes told regional participants: "The credibility of the Barbados Accreditation Council, locally and internationally will rely heavily on the skills and knowledge of its external evaluators as they will be required to interact with various stakeholders of the institution, hold discussions, request various documents and make judgments about an institution or programme based on the self evaluation (study) report provided prior to the visit, …."
Meanwhile, similar sentiments were echoed by CARICOM Representative and Specialist with the Movement of Skills/Labour at the CSME Unit, Steve Mac Andrew as he lauded the work of BAC.?? He said: "The internet has opened a whole new world to us, including numerous opportunities for higher learning, but also [it has brought] threats. These threats are the diploma mills and degree mills. Imagine taking a loan to study or letting your spouse, son or daughter study at some University, only to learn before or after completion that the diploma is worthless.
"It has happened to Indian students at Tri-Valley University some months ago.
"It has happened to CARICOM Nationals.
Before enrolling, persons should contact the BAC, so it can be determined whether or not an institution and programme are accredited. Having read an ad of the institution or of the programme in reputable magazines is no guarantee that it is accredited, so the best course of action is to contact the BAC." Mr. Andrew stated.
The three-day workshop, along with imparting skills necessary for teams to prepare for external evaluation and peer review, aims to provide a deeper understanding of the key issues related to accreditation and cross-border education.
The growing incidence of academic fraud and ways in which individuals and countries can protect themselves will also be examined.