7 July 2021

Quality assurance: Best practices for a sustainable future

By Heng Kiat Sing & Jefferson Sim Poh Thong

Twenty years ago, many would not even imagine that obtaining an overseas quality education locally is possible. With globalisation, the world has become borderless and knowledge sharing has become seamless. Over these past decades, education has evolved and portrayed as one of the most agile industries. In the beginning of the pandemic, educators were forced to be constantly innovative, shifting from open and distance learning that caters to working adults to online learning while assuring the quality entirely. Without a doubt, the role and scope of quality assurance has expanded beyond its framework.

Swinburne Sarawak is a self–accrediting university in Malaysia, a status granted by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) to higher education providers (HEPs) with a robust internal quality assurance system. This status gained by Swinburne Sarawak signifies that its courses are accredited based on the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) and meet relevant programme standards, as well as policies of MQA and the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE). Therefore, Swinburne Sarawak is a university that complies with local regulators, which is mandatory to build up the confidence level of the public. 

At the quality forefront, Swinburne Melbourne, as the mother campus, is also a self-accrediting university recognised by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) Australia. Therefore, as an Australian branch campus operating in Malaysia and offering undifferentiated degrees, Swinburne Sarawak also complies with the TEQSA standards and Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). Riding on the branding of the mother campus and complying with the Australian regulators is part of the core business of Swinburne Sarawak in ensuring that its quality assurance meets the required international standards globally.

As part of its commitment towards continuous quality improvement, HEPs should always look outward as benchmarking exercise with other quality assurance references for a sustainable future. Realistically, this reflects the lifelong learning domain of HEPs to continue to learn and improve rather than being complacent. Generally, quality assurance or regulatory frameworks are divided into various levels such as national [MQF, MQA’s Code of Practice for Programme Accreditation (COPPA) and TEQSA]; regional [ASEAN University Network-Quality Assurance (AUNQA), and ASEAN Quality Assurance Network]; and global [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and Washington Accord].

Regionally, MQA is an active member of the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network. The primary goal of this network is to collaborate and gear towards an ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework for recognition of academic qualifications and cross-border mobility. On top of that, this network also aims to achieve the success of other international network counterparts such as the Asia Pacific Quality Network (APQN), European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE).

Globally, Swinburne is proud that its business school is accredited by AACSB. In addition, its engineering undergraduate courses are professionally accredited by Engineers Australia and Engineering Accreditation Council of the Board of Engineers Malaysia, both of which are signatories of Washington Accord. 

Regardless of which quality assurance references, either national, regional, and/or global, HEPs should always remain agile and fast to adapt. Thus, the underlying principle is to understand the emerging levels of quality assurance that focus on strategic (Vision, Mission and Goals, Governance and Leadership, Policies, Management, Financial, Physical, and Resources); systemic (Internal and External Quality Assurance, and Quality Enhancement); and functional (Teaching and Learning, Student Support Services, Student Recruitment, Research Management, Community, and Engagement Service) areas.

Furthermore, upon reviewing, understanding, and complying with various quality assurance frameworks, it can be summarised that the outlined quality assurance references address almost the same criteria, which are emphasizing on input, process, output and outcomes. Each criterion focuses on its own areas of evaluation namely input (Vision, Mission and Strategic Goals, Course Design, Academic Staff, Resources, and Student Selection); process (Course Delivery, Teaching and Learning, Assessment, Student Support Services, and Course Management); output (Graduates, Research Publications, Income, and Community Service); and outcomes (Alumni, Reputation and Recognition, Community Support, and National and International Networking). In a nutshell, these four criteria reflect the condensed guiding principles for any HEPs in meeting the needs of internal and external stakeholders.

Based on this overarching observation of what is deemed as the best practices of quality assurance, it is hoped that HEPs could respond promptly and look forward to incorporate the various quality assurance references, and its prescribed areas of concerns and criteria for a sustainable future in order to strengthen its quality assurance practice.  

Heng Kiat Sing is an Associate Dean and Jefferson Sim Poh Thong is an Assistant Manager at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. They can be reached via email at kheng@swinburne.edu.my / ptsim@swinburne.edu.my.