From 10 -11 March, Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences (WUAS) hosted its first Transnational Peer-Learning Seminar for its ongoing Erasmus+ IQAinAR project. The IQAinAR (acronym for Internal Quality Assurance in Azerbaijan and Russia) Project was officially launched on 16 February and involves representatives from five partner countries.
The 2-day seminar, entitled “Enhancement of internal quality assurance of education in teaching, learning and assessment in HEIs of Azerbaijan and Russia” was attended by researchers, quality assurance experts and management representatives from all 10 project partner institutes from Russia, Azerbaijan, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. The special guest was Diane Freiberger, Managing Director of Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBBA) - a European accreditation agency that works internationally and is an associate partner of project IQAinAR.
The main objectives of the seminar were to clarify the different national contexts and the specific characteristics of existing or non-existing IQA systems, to share and discuss best practices of EU HEIs, and to conduct discussions on the first version of IQA Indicators. There were insightful and enthusiastic contributions from the participants during the discussion session and the fundamental understandings of the project were revisited. Wittenborg’s CEO, Maggie Feng, expatiated that one of the fundamental understandings in this project is that, a lecturer should be a combination of an educator, a practitioner and a researcher.
Three vital takeaways arose from the seminar: how IQA can enhance students’ satisfaction and career success, how to strengthen an IQA system and what is meant by “quality” in higher education.
Student-centred approach: improving students’ satisfaction and career success through IQA system
Dr Rauf Abdul, Head of School of Business at Wittenborg, who is also an active researcher, stated that students’ satisfaction and career success can be enhanced through the IQA system because it has the element to look beyond and focus on what is needed in terms of required knowledge, skills and abilities five to ten years down the line. With a good IQA system, HEIs will be better able to prepare these graduates to face the rapid changes in the economy and the environment in terms of career and entrepreneurship.
Andrey Belotserkovskiy, Director of the Centre for strategic and innovation development at Tver State University, commented that while it is important to strengthen an IQA system, it is necessary that “quality” of higher education is understood from different stakeholders’ point of view - the faculty, employers, state, managers and students. He said the approach is multidimensional, as “quality” signifies different meanings for these stakeholders and the challenge lies in “unequal competence of stakeholders, extremely fast-changing technology basis of all the profession, most stakeholders looking at the present, while students look to the future”. Mr Belotserkovskiy recommended, therefore, that a student-centred approach, life-long learning, research and innovation, and unbiased and accurate surveying are necessary factors to consider when strengthening and measuring an IQA system of higher education.
Role of international accreditation standards in IQA
Thorsten Schomann, Academic Quality Management Officer at IUBH Internationale Hochschule, said that effective accreditation standards can facilitate the development of an IQA system if experts take into account the labour market when devising an IQA system. Commenting on behalf of FIBAA, Freiberger said that FIBAA follows in its procedures for programme accreditation the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), including the ECTS Users' Guide, national regulations for higher education as applicable in respective countries, as well as involving a national expert from the country to form part of the panel.
The Peer-Learning Seminar will be followed by the National Workshops to be conducted in partner countries Azerbaijan and Russia in April, where the results from the seminar will be disseminated and further discussed among national stakeholders. The highlight of the two-day event saw the unveiling of the IQAinAR project’s official logo. The logo is represented by an open book, which symbolises a higher education institution, the mortarboard hat (commonly known as the graduation cap), which symbolises the focus of the project on internal quality through a student-centred approach and three stars to symbolise quality in the higher education institution.