If institutions do not go through accreditation, does this mean that they are of low quality? In the case of the University of the Philippines, which did not undergo any accreditation from any accrediting agency, it is one of the best performing HEIs in various degree programs. Does this discount the fact that an institution does not have to undergo accreditation to attain higher quality?
– A Review of the Accreditation System for Philippine Higher Education Institutions, Mitzie Irene P. Conchada and Marites M. Tiongco, Philippine Institute for Development Studies Discussion Paper Series No. 2015-30
Exactly, thanks to the authors of this PIDS Discussion Paper for having put the question out there. I’ve been recently wondering what added value accreditation serves HEIs in light of what we read and hear in the news year after year from parents especially about the dismal state of higher education in the country. Nakakairita na sa tenga.
Take the accreditation body PAASCU (Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities), the oldest in the country, founded by eleven Catholic HEIs that are also members of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP). Looking closer, one sees that members are none other than the country’s elite educational institutions whose origins hail from the Spanish colonial period. On its website are found only this statement about its accreditation work:
The Association does not impose arbitrary standards… Much emphasis is placed on the formulation of the school’s purposes and objectives. Only when its goals are clear can the school discover the extent to which such purposes and objectives are being achieved.
What does that even mean?
PACUCOA is another accreditation body that covers other private colleges and universities. Also, on its website one reads
accreditation is both a process and a result
You scroll for the explanation but it’s as vague. Morever, its manual of accreditation states there are
nine (9) sections/areas of concern: philosophy and objectives; faculty; instruction; library; laboratories; physical plant and facilities; student services; social orientation and community involvement; and organization and administration.(and) using the criteria and standards specified in the appropriate Survey Instrument, the Survey Executive Committee and area/sections sub-committees analyze, evaluate and rate the main areas of concern
You search and search but the “survey instrument” is nowhere in site.
In contrast, go to singaporeeducation.info for the same details about our neighbor Singapore and, voila, comprehensive and clear information on accreditation in the country instantly pops out. You’ll learn that the
Council for Private Education (CPE) a quality assurance agency is authorized with legislative power to control the private education sector. It sets out the basic standards that private education institutions (PEIs) must comply with in order to function. CPE is responsible for improvising the quality standards of education in the local private education industry. CPE also offers a voluntary certification scheme known as EduTrust Certification Scheme
On the EduTrust Certification site, details are provided including the certification criteria and guidance (EduTrust Guidance Document)! Download and open the document and see it written in clear, precise, and simple English that any literate person – parents – would understand on his/her own!
Another accreditation scheme in Singapore is the
Singapore Quality Class (SQC) for Private Education Organizations, SQC-PEO which recognizes Private Education Organizations (PEOs) that excel in performance, and thereby assists these PEOs to attain international standards of quality education. The scheme is based on the Singapore Quality Award Business Excellence Framework
In South Korea, similar information are also available to the public. In fact, a site hosted by the Korean Council for University Education makes available the assessment process (results are publicized!) and criteria in user-friendly format! There’s even a dedicated website on program-specific accreditation, an example here, engineering.
Why is information on higher education accreditation very stringent in the Philippines considering higher education is a public concern? What exactly are contained in evaluation frameworks being used – do they reflect relevant local, national, and international outcomes for 21st century HEIs and graduates? Do they measure what ought to be measured? Who has a hand in defining the criteria? Who are being served by accreditation – the business interest? Is this perhaps the reason that despite decades of accreditation, quality in Philippine higher education remains elusive?
I recently observed how an accrediting team works. To the tune of free flowing coffee and food, in what is called “the accreditation room”, air-conditioned in other words, team members pore over files of “evidence” that university personnel have for months on end painstakingly put together. When members need information not on file, they require the immediate presence of the personnel in charge of the program never mind that he or she could be in the middle of a lecture or equally important work. Nonetheless the personnel drops everything and races to “the accreditation room” where, the personnel is asked, “where is the documentation of xxx meeting? do you have the photos of xxx meeting?” This is harassment! But interest or inquiry as to the more salient aspects of the program? Nada. So what if a university has the photos and documentations on file but nothing in terms of lessons that it applied as a result of learning?
Also, I came to know from community folks about accreditors continuing project visits even when no one was around which begs the question, how were positive or negative reports made in the absence of information? Where is “evidence-based” in that? Another practice heard through the grapevine rife in the Metro pertains to undergraduate research. Accordingly, a continuing advice of accreditors is for faculty to team up with student-researchers with the former becoming “automatic” co-authors, all in order to secure scores for “increased research products.” Is this all they’re capable of mentoring univetsities? Such a disappointment! I’m now more inclined to regard accreditation as just a business out for profit. Meanwhile in the frenzy to please accreditors universities acquire chronic amnesia as to what’s essential in their work.
On PACUCOA’s website are the basic principles of accreditation. Of these, I’d like to emphasize one, viz.
accceditation admits periodic review, criticism and readjustment of its criteria, policies and procedures to changes in education
Indeed. Accrediting bodies must open themselves for evaluation with the aim of updating their systems in order to respond better to realities of their clientele. In the US,
the federal government oversees accreditors via the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which reviews them at least every five years based on accrediting standards, site visits, and public comments from colleges or programs recognized by the accrediting agency to receive federal financial aid. This committee, whose members are appointed by Congress and the secretary of education, makes its recommendation about recognition to the secretary (who has the final say). The NACIQI gained national attention in 2016 when it recommended that the secretary of education terminate recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), one of the largest accreditors of forprofit colleges, because of quality concerns (US Department of Education 2016).
– Higher Education Accreditation and the Federal Government, Robert Kelchen, September 2017, Urban Institute
Only with the assurance of oversight – policing the police – will accreditation fulfill it’s mission of contributing to quality higher education.