Written by Angela Yung Chi Hou.
Massification is expanding access to Asian higher education but is also increasing public concern about the quality of institutions and students, which addresses national concerns and agenda to quality assurance (QA) and management. In response, Asian governments have developed national quality assurance systems of higher education, including national and professional accreditors. The role of the accrediting bodies is to accredit local tertiary education institutions and academic programs. They review certain groups of universities or types of programs using a mandatory or a voluntary approach.
QA Development in Taiwan Higher Education
Taiwan quality assurance system was not formed until the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan (HEEACT) was established in 2005, with funds from the government and 153 colleges and universities. However, several self-funded local accreditors were also founded to carry out evaluations over vocational education and selected professional programs, such as Taiwan Assessment and Evaluation Association (TWAEA), Taiwan Medical Accreditation Council (TMAC), the Institute of Engineering Education Taiwan (IEET) and Chinese Management Association (CMA). Up to the present, there are five quality assurance agencies and accrediting bodies recognized by the Taiwan government.
To overview briefly, Taiwan higher education QA system has been undergoing three major phases, including the developmental and accountability phase (2005 to 2012), self- accreditation and academic autonomy phase (from 2012 to 2017), and Internal quality assurance and quality culture phase (2017 to present). At the initial QA system developmental stage, the HEEACT as the national accreditor, is mandated to ensure the activities of local universities in adherence to established quality standards and accountability with a compulsory approach, according to the University Act. By 2011, more than 81 institutions and 3000 programmes were under HEEACT’s review and their detailed final reports were published on the official website.
As a result of notable university requests, regarding governance and management deregulation by the government, the Ministry of Education (MOE) decided to launch the ‘self-accreditation’ policy in 2012 in order to increase university autonomy and build internal quality assurance mechanism on campus. In the stage of self-accreditation, 34 selected institutions were awarded as self- accrediting institutions and expected to develop university strengths. In the early 2017, the MOE announced a new quality assurance policy, indicating that programme accreditation would be changed from a compulsory orientation to a voluntary approach. Moreover, the self-accrediting policy is likewise applied to all Taiwan higher education providers. This means that all institutions are allowed to undertake self-accreditation programme reviews if capable of doing so. This current stage represents that Taiwan QA system is moving into the era of regulation and quality culture.
Issues and Challenges in Taiwan QA system
Over the past decade, the Taiwan QA exercise has brought positive and negative impacts on higher education. Several concerns are arousing serious discussions in society included the increased workloads, the reviewers’ quality and qualifications, and the limited use of the evaluations by employers and students. There was also a strong demand that the Taiwan QA needed to embrace the society’s needs and build public trust. International QA networks and organization, like the INQAAHE advised that QA agencies and accrediting bodies need to “make their reviews and evaluations transparent and available to society and provide information regarding the performance of higher education institutions”, which could improve communication between QA agencies and society and raise public confidence.
In fact, these challenges are a part of the impact that globalization is having on Taiwanese higher education. But the Taiwanese government believes that the preeminence of higher education increases both national economic strengths and international influence. Undoubtedly, the more that Taiwan’s government concerns itself with maintaining the universities’ competitive edge as well as lifting academic autonomy by adopting voluntary program accreditation and launching a comprehensive self-accreditation policy, the more challenges quality assurance agencies will face. Thus, these problems which include professional training of reviewers, international capacity building of quality assurance and accrediting agencies, and self-accrediting institutions’ commitment to quality self-improvement will continue to challenge Taiwan’s quality assurance system and higher education.
Future Prospects and New Roles of Accreditors
The 2017 MOE QA policy has slightly changed the QA ecosystem in Taiwan. QA agencies and accrediting bodies no longer have the mandate to undertake program accreditation, which has pressured them to think of multi-functions as an external quality assurance agency. Take HEEACT for example, in response to the MOE policy, HEEACT develops four major roles and responsibilities, including being a quality gatekeeper, serving as governmental think tank, acting as an educational trainer for universities as well as playing an international mediator between Taiwan’s universities and the global. Therefore, understanding the QA impacts in higher education and overseeing higher education trends is necessary if quality assurance agencies are to enhance social influence and public confidence. Taiwan’s experience will likely inspire other Asian nations to rethink their QA policies as well as make them more cautious about the mission and role of the quality assurance agencies and accrediting bodies in the near future.
Since its construction a decade ago, professionalism, independence and internationalization have been three big challenges for Taiwan’s QA agencies. Under the current wave of Global Industry 4.0, the Taiwan QA system must inevitably respond to societal changes, political interference, and manufacturing transformation. I have observed that the focus of Taiwan’s QA will go from acting not only as a national accreditor but also transform into a global player; from institutional reviews to program/specific field accreditation, as well as exclusive standards fit for traditional providers to inclusive measures for the emergence of new HE providers. Although unexpected challenges will continue to be encountered by Taiwan QA agencies in the future, I am assured that it is a great moment and opportunity for these agencies to evolve in order to meet the local, national and international expectations.
Professor Angela Hou is a Professor at National Cheng Chi University’s Department of Education. She is also the Executive Director of the Higher Education Evaluation & Accreditation Council (HEEACT) of Taiwan. Image credit: CC by HEEACT of Taiwan. HEEACT receiving the Asia Pacific Quality Network award in Nagpur, India for staff capacity building.