Amidst his campaign tour in preparation for the imminent Presidential elections, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is putting forth a range of campaign promises. As articulated on the manifesto website, www.ibuaslsam.com, a core campaign pledge pertains to President Solih’s goal of facilitating a life of content and fulfillment for the Maldivian populace. A significant sub-pledge of this commitment is targeted at the enhancement of higher education and training standards within the nation. Practically, this initiative aims to publish institutional audit reports of higher education and training institutions, along with the implementation of a ranking system for these establishments.
Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA)
According to the information found on the MQA website, there are 102 local institutes that have received approval from MQA (for this computation, MNU was considered as a single entity, rather than being broken down by MQA-approved faculties).
In order to operationalize MQA's mandate of assuring the quality of post-secondary qualifications awarded in Maldives, the Authority has developed and implemented the Guidelines For Institutional Audit (Guideline No: 2022/G-30). This Guideline is enacted in accordance with the provisions stipulated in Sections 8 (c) and 18 of Act No. 7/2021 (Maldives Higher Education and Training Act) as well as Section 5 of Regulation No: R-79/2022 (Institutional Audit Regulation). Its purpose is to establish and define the obligatory standards that must be adhered to when conducting institutional audits for all higher education institutions functioning within the Maldives.
Some key areas in the regulation are;
- All institutions must be audited on a triennial basis
- MQA is to publish the report on its website as stipulated under Section 14 of the Institutional Audit Regulation (to publish the report within 10 days of the audit report getting verified by the MQA Board)
- In order to allow for better comparability of the outcomes of an institutional audit, the performance of a HIE is rated with regard to each individual criterion and as a whole. The rating is based on a system of 1 to 5 stars.
Does this make the campaign pledge redundant?
Well, not entirely. The new regulation was enacted only in 2022, and MQA has now initiated the auditing process. Consequently, it is only following the completion of this initial round of audits that Authority is legally obliged to release the reports and implement the star rating system for the institutions.
Audits of higher education and training institutions serve several purposes. Primarily, audits act as a mechanism to help to verify legal compliance. The process of conducting audits ensures that institutions uphold expected stringent academic standards set forth by laws and regulations, with the aim of delivering education of high quality. This instills a culture of quality assurance and continuous improvement.
With every audit, the self-evaluation and inspection allow for valuable data to be collected. This data is then transformed into useful feedback for institutions to assess their own strengths and weakness. Such critical self-awareness is important when formulating targeted recovery plans and in strategic planning as well. Moreover, this data that is curated by the regulatory body and the institutions also serves a broader purpose. They subsequently can be used for national-level research, evidence-based policy formulation, and reforms, resulting in taking more informed decisions.
Beyond academic considerations, audits also ensure that students are provided with a safe, supportive, and nurturing learning environment, thus enabling to protect overall student welfare.
Additionally, audits drive accountability, making institutions answerable to their major stakeholders: students, governments, and the larger community. The publication of reports contributes to enhancing transparency and helps the stakeholders in making more informed decisions as well.
MQA Audits – Concerns
Conducting audits is no walk in the park – it is a complex, time-consuming, and challenging task. At present, there are a little over 100 institutions, encompassing a diverse range of academic programs across multiple fields and levels. In contrast, MQA operates with the constraints of having limited resources, thus, raising questions on its capacity to effectively carry out the audits as stipulated by the laws and regulations. The audit process will no doubt demand experienced and knowledgeable inspectors, ample time, and substantial financial and other resource commitments.
Furthermore, with the publication of reports and ranking system, the inspections have a heightened significance now. Therefore, in such a closely-knit community, maintaining neutrality and preventing any conflicts of interest is of paramount importance. To ensure objectivity, auditors and the MQA Board must remain impartial and refrain from having any affiliations that could compromise their independence.
Balancing transparency and protecting confidential information during audits is complex, requiring careful consideration of the interests of all parties involved, including institutions and other stakeholders. This can be a demanding task, as it requires striking a delicate balance between the need for openness and accountability, and the need to safeguard sensitive data.
Lastly, in light of the dynamic developments in the field of education, pedagogy, and ICT, ensuring the audit is relevant, and up to date is also of essence. MQA must be proactive and demonstrate the capacity to quickly adapt to evolving circumstances.
An International Example
OFSTED is the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services, and Skills in the UK. One of their main mandates is to inspect services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. The inspection provides important information to parents, learners, and employers about the quality of education, training, and care. OFSTED believes that these groups should be able to make informed choices based on the information published in inspection reports. A 4-point grading scale is used during inspections by the inspectors, which are:
· grade 1 – Outstanding
· grade 2 – Good
· grade 3 – Requires improvement
· grade 4 – Inadequate
The inspectors will also make graded judgments on the following areas using the 4-point scale:
· quality of education
· behavior and attitudes
· personal development
· leadership and management
Often, when discussing concerns of higher education and training institutes, university/college expenses, elevated tuitions, or equitable access for marginalized students are raised as the primary concerns. Yes, addressing these matters might not yield significant results if educational institutions fail to provide a high-quality education.