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Independent higher education quality assurance and accreditation council awaits Cabinet nod

Independent body envisioned to check quality in both private and public sector universities

By Himal Kotelawela

By Himal Kotelawala

Cabinet approval is being sought for an independent quality assurance and accreditation council to evaluate all state, non-state and foreign degree-awarding higher education institutes in the country and also rate the various undergraduate programmes they offer. This will be an independent body separate from the existing Quality Assurance Council of the University Grants Commission (UGC) which only evaluates state universities and their respective undergraduate programmes.

Speaking to the media today, UGC Chairman Prof. Mohan De Silva said all three types of higher education institute currently operating in Sri Lanka, namely state universities, non-state institutes and private campuses that locally award offshore degrees, will have to go through the proposed council for accreditation as well as regular evaluation.

“It took us two to three years to draft it together with the Attorney General’s Department and the Legal Draftsman, and the proposal is now pending Cabinet approval,” said Prof. De Silva, noting the need for a globally accreditable system similar to those in place in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

The proposed council — or commission; the official title has yet to be decided — if approved by Cabinet, will be in addition to the UGC’s existing Quality Assurance Council whose purview, as per the University Act of 1978, is limited to state universities.

Consultant of the Quality Assurance Council of the UGC Prof. Deepthi Bandara told journalists that the council has been evaluating undergraduate programmes offered by state universities since 2017.

“In 2017, all humanities and social sciences programmes were studied for example. The UGC could then communicate to the various faculties how their programs were evaluated. Some performed very well; others didn’t. This year, we’re studying law and education programmes. We can inform faculty heads, with evidence, how their programmes are evaluated and whether they’re graded A, B, C or D,” said Prof. Bandara.

“It’s all on the UGC website, so students can look up their chosen programme and see how it ranks. This will give students some bargaining power,” she added.

According to Prof. De Silva, the proposed council/commission will serve as a legal framework for quality assurance in the form of institutional and programme reviews. Currently, the UGC’s own council reviews a state-owned institute every five years, while a programme is reviewed every four years. This is a complicated process involving some 100 trained quality assurance evaluators comparing the various state universities’ self-evaluation reports with their own, against a scorecard featuring 154 attributes or intentionally accepted standards.

“To be considered excellent, an institute has to score more than 80% out of the 154 attributes,” he said.

The state universities, he said, are thus being assessed well, but given the increase in non-state participation in higher education, an independent body is needed to guarantee quality assurance for all higher education institutes operating in the country.