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New Accreditation System

Serhiy Kvit, August 16, 17:16 ZN №1255, August 17-23

What should Ukrainian universities expect?

Photo by Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Needless to say such an employee does not exist, so I warn educators right away regarding all issues to be necessarily solved via official procedures, in particular through official communication with National Agency experts at the time of accreditation site visit. Accreditation of Ukrainian higher education programmes starts according to a new system in September.

As a first step, Ukrainian universities will inform the National Agency of their intention to undergo this procedure. Now accreditation process will be maximally debureaucratized. It will be organized online, without hard copies. Obviously, creation of respective software, the “digital core”, needs time and funding, and for this we 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, qualitative changes can be achieved only when proper requirements to educational activity go along with consistent financing dependent on national economy and society expectations. However, transparently set tasks, rhetoric itself create the frameworks for adequate understanding of situation and movement in the right direction.

The National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance has a mission to be a “change agent” in higher education. We try to collaborate with HEI’s in the spirit of trust and understanding. Our goal is to develop Ukrainian universities’ reputation capital. Only such an approach will enable them to compete and collaborate (two sides of the same coin) in the contemporary world of high technologies and incredible opportunities.

Numerous progressive conceptions of higher education development, namely ones involving contemporary information technologies, can be implemented not as alternatives but rather on the basis of universities with their recognized social role, values, mission, and spirit. It’s been a long time since the university ceased being a simple facility with rooms. National and global contexts need review with the aim of including HEIs into diverse clusters and ecosystems as active “players”.

The National Agency will take over part of the responsibilities of the current Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. It will be responsible for educational programs, thesis defence specialized councils, institutional accreditation, and accreditation of independent accreditation agencies, ruling on infractions of academic integrity, consulting on interior HEI quality assurance, establishing a university ranking system according to measurable criteria, and publicizing an annual report on the state higher education in Ukraine. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine will continue to be responsible for licensing.

The National Agency will submit proposals with diverse initiatives through MoES to the Cabinet of Ministers and/or Parliament of Ukraine. Ultimately, the National Agency’s goal is to effect financial autonomy implementation for Ukrainian HEIs, 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 HEI types should be broaden so as to establish a category of so called teaching universities subdivided into vocation-oriented (more trusted by employers) and students’ personal growth oriented (similar to American liberal arts colleges); the current practice that obliges all Ukrainian HEIs to demonstrate research outcomes in most cases only results in research imitation. But this is a topic for another conversation.

International recognition via membership in the European Association of Accreditation Agencies ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) and registration at EQAR (The European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education) are of great importance for NAQA. Our approach to accreditation correlates with the requirements established in European practice. According to the Law “On Higher Education” and in response to a NAQA 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 EQAR.

This means that the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance of Ukraine proposes a shift of 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 ten criteria for educational program quality assurance. Nine of them relate to Bachelor and Master programs, and one includes requirements for PhD (Philosophy Doctor educational research programs).

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

The National Agency will not require 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. A reason for non-accreditation will be disregard for quality assurance criteria, not the identification of weak points. Therefore, for HEIs it is important not to hide their weak points, but to demonstrate their readiness to overcome such weaknesses.

If a higher educational institution has not approved a policy or regulations, or has not implemented certain procedures, this is not terrible in itself. Collaboration with the National Agency, willingness to change, and as a result, efforts applied that are aimed at improvement are of importance. In such cases, the National Agency will be the best assistant and advisor for the HEI.

Currently we have an open expert competition. For full-scale activity, we need approximately 3000 experts to organize accreditation site visits (on the territory of HEI) and 340 members for specialized expert councils. These councils will be formed following the National Agency’s decision on August 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, experts 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. For example, in accordance with the Law “On Higher Education” the National Agency must register and accredit independent agencies that can perform alternative accreditation. However, we have discovered that Western European National Agencies do not accredit such independent agencies. According to national legislation their agencies must either be EQAR members or National Agency branch units. We have started working on a pilot project together with one of Ukraine’s leading universities, that will likely result in proposals to change relevant aspects of our Law “On Higher Education” to make independent agencies possible in Ukraine.

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 organized meetings for National Agency members and educators in diverse formats, for instance, in Kyiv, Mykolayiv, Kharkiv, Rivne, Khmelnytskyi. In September we plan several events in Dnipro, later in the other cities. The National Agency encourages Ukrainian HEIs that have experienced French, German, Austrian accreditations to share information about their experiences. Collaboration with Ukrainian analytic centres is crucially helpful, in particular with the Institute for Education Development and International Fund for Educational Policy Research along with the “IT Ukraine” Association.

We have already establshed institutional contacts with accreditation agencies in Great Britain, France, and Italy, with the Bavarian Ministry for Education and Art. We fruitfully collaborate with significant international projects and organizations such as SAIUP financed by the American Councils (promoting academic integrity in Ukraine), “New Justice” (USAID), OSCE projects Coordinator in Ukraine. We have their organizational, expert, material and technical support. As one of our core partners, the British Council in Ukraine, in particular, supports Ukrainian experts’ education, connects us with British governmental and academic institutions.

The National Agency receives many complaints regarding academic integrity violations, in particular detected 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 MoES 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. The “Procedure for Cancelling…” has undergone public discussion and now is under review by state authorities.

So, what should Ukrainian universities expect in the nearest future? After the National Agency’s regular meeting on August 29, all HEIs will receive a confirmed package of regulations, recommendations, and explanations regarding all accreditation procedures.

In addition to the already mentioned “Statute on Accreditation of Educational Programs for Higher Education Students”, new regulations will include “Methodological Recommendations on Criteria for Educational Program Quality Assurance” (for National Agency experts), “Self Analysis Report Form”, “Methodological Recommendations on Criteria for Educational Program Quality Assurance during Self Analysis Report Preparation” (for higher education institutions), “Recommendations of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance regarding the Internal System for HEI Quality Assurance”, “Glossary”.

All these materials will be available on the National Agency website. This will allow HEIs 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.