Engaging Students for Quality in Higher Education
April 2007

Engaging Students for Quality in Higher Education

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Dr. Jagannath Patil

Deputy Adviser
National Assessment and Accreditation Council, India
jp)nath@rediffmail.com

“I tell my students to get two plants, one alive and one plastic. As time goes on, the students tell me that the plastic plant is pretty but that ‘It doesn’t call to me, it doesn’t say “Water me.” or “See if I’ve changed since last night – see if I have a new leaf.” The students become involved with the living plant. It keeps pulling to them, and they care about it. They nurture it, but they don’t want to force it. I think we have lost our sense of involvement and that we’re cheating ourselves. What would life be like if there were only plastic flowers?”

This quote by a distinguished professor aptly narrates the rationale behind involving the students in the higher education processess.

The students are, unarguably, the most important stakeholders of Higher Education systems and also that of quality assurance mechanisms therein. The interest and participation of students at all levels in both internal and external quality assurance has to play a central role.

Involvinge and empowering the students in quality- The  International Experience

Even as the central role of student in Higher Education System is agreed in principle by the policy makers and decision makers, the experience of actual involvement of students vary to a large extent from one country to another. A commendable work in this regard has been done by European National Students Union (ESIB) – The national Unions of Students of Europe. The ESIB has taken up the cause of advancing student involvement in QA in a systematic manner and has completed a detailed project on this issue.

Besides the exemplary work done by the ESIB, the initiatives in Scotland and South Africa are quite noteworthy. Sparqs (Student Participation In Quality Scotland), a unique body in Scotland, assists and supports students, students’ associations and institutions to improve the effectiveness of student engagement in quality processes, also provides advice to the funding councils on good practice in the engagement of students in institutions’ quality processes.

Taking cue from Sparqs, Higher Education Quality Committee of South Africa has recently initiated a Student Quality Literacy Project.

Efforts at NAAC

The assessment and accreditation instrument of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in Bangalore, India is sensitive to take note of student aspirations and goals in a fast-changing world. The NAAC is an autonomous body established by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India to assess and accredit institutions of higher education in the country. It is an outcome of the recommendations of the National Policy in Education (1986) that laid special emphasis on the quality of higher education in India. NAAC believes that the system of higher education, which is ready to appreciate students’ aspirations and shape its curricular performance accordingly, is primarily relevant.

The NAAC has emphasised the importance of making institutional assessment of quality depend substantially on student interests. Forming an essential part of the assessment, the criteria of assessment for curricular planning and development insist on providing adequate course options, strategies for meeting differential needs of mixed-ability groups and on student feedback, student progression and the support systems which enable it. “Student Support and Progression” is one of the seven criteria identified by the NAAC. Interaction with students is a vital element of site visits that validates institutional self-study report. Student participation is encouraged in all internal arrangements for quality assurance including the Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC).

A large number of institutions in this country have their own success stories concerning students partnership in quality assurance.   While these are sporadic and need closer structuring and co-ordination, newer initiatives are necessary to make students active in responsible functional roles so that they can set their agenda within the policy of governance of the institution.

To facilitate initiatives in this direction, the NAAC launched the campaign by declaring the year 2006 as Year of Student Participation.

A large number of institutions in this country have their own success stories to share concerning students partnership in quality assurance. Some have actively involved them in academic planning through representation of academic decision-making bodies. Others have made them effective partners with the institution in extension work. Many personality development programmes are student planned, funded and monitored. A few have involved them in the highest administrative bodies. While these are sporadic and need closer structuring and co-ordination, newer initiatives are necessary to make students active partners in responsible functional roles so that they can set their agenda within the policy of governance of the institution. To facilitate initiatives in this direction, the NAAC launched the campaign by declaring the year 2006 as Year of Student Participation.

NAAC’s appeal to institutional stakeholders

The NAAC appealed to all stakeholders to take up various activities such as.
• Development of student feedback on teaching learning and other related activities
• Development of a mechanism for follow-up action on student feedback
• Pro-active role of IQAC in promoting student participation
• Greater role in Institutional affairs by the Alumni
• Adoption of student charter by all institutions
• Introducing formal mechanisms to redress grievances
• Encouraging student councils for active participation in all academic decision making.

Asia Pacific Quality Network  (APQN) Project

Taking note of the worldwide initiatives, NAAC thought of initiating such project for student participation in quality assurance at the international level as well. A project proposal on Student Participation in Quality Improvement was submitted to APQN. APQN has been developed with the purpose of serving the needs of quality assurance agencies in higher education in Asia, a region that contains over half the world’s population. The APQN is already helping to build alliances between agencies, and assisting countries that do not have a quality assurance agency of their own.

The APQN board approved the proposal on student participation in quality improvement and now NAAC is working on this international project group on “Student Participation In Quality Assurance”. NAAC representatives also attended Student Participation in Quality Assurance workshops organised by HEQC, South Africa. The present series of activities by NAAC is informed by the experiences gained from such international initiatives.

The project aims at fulfilling the following key objectives:

1. To collect, analyse and disseminate theory, good practices and experiences of student participation in quality assurance in Asia Pacific Region.

2. To promote exchange of good practices in student participation in quality assurance between different countries

The BITS Connect Project funded by the Alumni of BITS Pilani, provided Internet connectivity to to classrooms, all the rooms of the hostels, chambers and residences of faculty members, has the new online 24 x 7 feedback system, completely designed by the institute. Even regional universities like Shivaji University in Maharashtra are now using e-Assessment methodologies.

 

Website on student participation
In addition to the continuation of above said steps the proposed activities of the group include- focus group discussions with student bodies and HEIs; Workshops and small group meeting and a post conference publication on Student Participation in Quality Enhancement. The most important and ambitious plan under the project is to launch a dedicated website for promoting Student Participation in quality Assurance. Promoting use of ICT and web based mechanisms for effective student engagement tops the agenda of the international project group. Learning from global practices There are very important lessions to be learnt from global practices. Though there will be uniqueness due to the cultural context, there are commonalities that can be extended to other countries.  The practices at USA, UK and other European countries are well known to many but a very few people may be aware of some vital initiatives that were reported in the study by this author undertaken for APQN.  Future is e-Connect A noteworthy feature about student feedback and participation practices is increased reliance on computerised processes. In USA, Europe, Russia and Australia several advances have been made to integrate student campus learning experiences and feedback mechanisms for quality improvements. It is quite interesting to note that global education brands of India like IITs, IIMs and Law schools, besides some noted accredited institutions have been following a set of good practices of involving students with extensive use of digital technology. A case in point is the BITS Connect Project funded by its Alumni of BITS Pilani, which provided internet connectivity to classrooms, all the rooms of the hostels, chambers and residences of faculty members, and the new online 24 x 7 feedback system, completely desig-ned by the institute. Even regional universities like that of Shivaji University in Maharashtra are now using e-Assessment methodologies.
It cannot be a mere co-incidence that institutes known for excellence do have very strong student involvement in campus life. It is high time for the academic fraternity of India to wake up to the realities of the new world where the students and teachers are partners learning together to make a difference in the world. The world is shrinking and getting flatter with advances of digital technology. The only way to remain relevant to present and to the future is to keep engaged with students  and there is no better way to do that than being e-Connected.
Website on student participation In addition to the continuation of above said steps the proposed activities of the group include- focus group discussions with student bodies and HEIs; Workshops and small group meeting and a post conference publication on Student Participation in Quality Enhancement. The most important and ambitious plan under the project is to launch a dedicated website for promoting Student Participation in quality Assurance. Promoting use of ICT and web based mechanisms for effective student engagement tops the agenda of the international project group. Learning from global practices There are very important lessions to be learnt from global practices. Though there will be uniqueness due to the cultural context, there are commonalities that can be extended to other countries. The practices at USA, UK and other European countries are well known to many but a very few people may be aware of some vital initiatives that were reported in the study by this author undertaken for APQN. Future is e-Connect A noteworthy feature about student feedback and participation practices is increased reliance on computerised processes. In USA, Europe, Russia and Australia several advances have been made to integrate student campus learning experiences and feedback mechanisms for quality improvements. It is quite interesting to note that global education brands of India like IITs, IIMs and Law schools, besides some noted accredited institutions have been following a set of good practices of involving students with extensive use of digital technology. A case in point is the BITS Connect Project funded by its Alumni of BITS Pilani, which provided internet connectivity to classrooms, all the rooms of the hostels, chambers and residences of faculty members, and the new online 24 x 7 feedback system, completely desig-ned by the institute. Even regional universities like that of Shivaji University in Maharashtra are now using e-Assessment methodologies. It cannot be a mere co-incidence that institutes known for excellence do have very strong student involvement in campus life. It is high time for the academic fraternity of India to wake up to the realities of the new world where the students and teachers are partners learning together to make a difference in the world. The world is shrinking and getting flatter with advances of digital technology. The only way to remain relevant to present and to the future is to keep engaged with students and there is no better way to do that than being e-Connected.

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