By Evelyn Gan, Irene Chang Hui Chung and Jefferson Sim Poh Thong
In Malaysia, self-accreditation is the highest form of institutional autonomy that can be awarded by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), entitling a higher education provider (HEP) to accredit its programmes except for programmes that require accreditation and recognition of the relevant professional bodies. This prestigious status is subject to a rigorous maintenance audit every 5 years.
Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus (Swinburne Sarawak) was awarded this status since 2010 and underwent a 3-day maintenance audit in 2015 and mid-2022. The background work involved leading up to the audit was indeed a momentous task; with hindsight, we have compiled three essential key principles in facilitating a smooth audit experience for all stakeholders based on our recent experience.
For this comprehensive audit, groundwork preparations were crucial to ensure all stakeholders involved were well-informed and at ease, resulting in a smooth audit and setting the university up for success.
In addition, to ensure that all efforts are institutionalised, careful planning was required almost one year ahead of the audit to coordinate the paperwork and logistics involving staff, students, alumni and other external stakeholders. During the audit, several stakeholders were required to be present on campus for interviews to enable the audit panel to obtain insights into the university’s modus operandi.
Post-COVID, preparations were more tedious as both online and on-site logistics had to be coordinated. It was like a theatre show; with backstage and frontstage operating concurrently, all stakeholders needed to be clear about their roles to be well coordinated.
In order to achieve any form of cooperation, clear and concise communication is always key. The Policy, Planning and Quality Unit (PPQ) consists of 5 staff members who functioned as the liaison team in coordinating the audit. PPQ served as the contact point for all stakeholders, as well as between the university and MQA. PPQ maintained high standards of professionalism by ensuring all related documents were submitted to MQA on time, regularly communicating with all stakeholders and responding to all their queries in a polite and timely manner.
The preparation and actual audit days inevitably came with tiring and stressful feelings. Throughout the whole journey, maintaining positivity within PPQ team was made possible through strong teamwork, unity and appreciation for one another. Stakeholders involved were encouraged to view the audit positively as an avenue for contributing to the continuous quality improvement of the university, a vital vehicle in creating a better future for society through education. Without a doubt, from time to time, there were reluctant and uncooperative stakeholders, however, with consistent positive affirmation it provided reassurance. It is noticed that when stakeholders understood the importance of their contributions, they were more willing to cooperate.
One need not be fearful of institutional audit or any kind of audit even, but one do need to be well prepared for it. The tips shared here – the 3Ps: Preparation, Professionalism and Positivity should help in facilitating a smooth and successful audit. No doubt that no matter how much preparation was done, there will always be some hiccups. Knowing that you have done your best, and staying positive can ensure all goes well. Otherwise, take whatever shortcomings there are with a pinch of salt and seek for improvement in the next audit.
Evelyn Gan is a Manager and Privacy Officer, Irene Chang Hui Chung is an Executive and Jefferson Sim Poh Thong is an Assistant Manager with the Policy, Planning Quality Unit at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. They can be reached via email at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.