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The days when Universities established their own criteria of what constituted quality are now over. Fitness for purpose as a definition of quality is premised on purposes being determined on the basis of stakeholders’ needs. It follows from this that evaluation of quality, that is the extent to which resources are effectively utilized to achieve agreed purposes, must take account of the views of stakeholders. An independent quality control body offers the most practical and objective means through which this may be achieved, hence the need for a national accreditation mechanism.
Universities the world over are beginning to recognize and accept this new reality. They have also become sensitive to the fact that, if they are perceived as not providing value for money, that is delivering a quality product, they run the risk of either having quality control systems imposed on them, or of being marginalized in favour of other institutions which are prepared to abide by the rules of the game. Accreditation bodies are like referees. They are, in the final analysis, a safeguard that the rules governing quality are not arbitrarily determined, and that the assessment of whether or not quality has been achieved is not subjectively or impartially decided.
The University of Guyana started in 1963 with a small group of students. The original conception of standards and the quality assurance mechanisms that UG had in place reflected very closely its historical origins. Like many other Universities in the British system, standards were implicitly defined in terms of equivalence to similar programmes offered at other Universities within the same general system. Standards were therefore primarily concerned with ensuring that graduates from UG’s programmes had similar skills and knowledge to graduates from similar programmes elsewhere. In other words, they were primarily concerned with the outputs of the institution.
Today it is generally recognized that the University of Guyana is a service provider and as such it is obliged to maintain acceptable standards that ensures the quality of its graduates. The University of Guyana, when it enrolls a student undertakes to provide that student with a set of learning experiences which transforms him or her into a better educated person with increased skills and knowledge. This is a principled obligation which ought not ever to be treated lightly. Failure to honour this obligation is failure to meet the now legitimate expectation of its stakeholders and beneficiaries and will quite reasonably incur the ire of all and sundry.
There are, among several others, three very important reasons why the University of Guyana needs to develop and sustain acceptable standards in its programme delivery. In the first place, maintaining standards ensures that the inputs to the learning processes of the University are of such a quality that the processes can indeed successfully transform the students into the desired graduates. To do so effectively the University needs to ensure that the students enrolling into its programmes are of a level that enables them to benefit from the programmes that are offered. The University must therefore have standards by which to judge applicants who wish to become enrolled in its programmes.
Secondly, standards are needed to ensure that, once enrolled, our students meet expectations. Thus, an employer of a recent graduate in Banking and Finance might legitimately have certain expectations of the skills that such a person ought to possess. By maintaining acceptable standards the University seeks to ensure that our graduates do indeed meet the expectations of the potential employer.
The third reason for maintaining standards is to ensure that the processes the University is engaged in are appropriate to the aims of the institution and are in accord with popular needs and expectations. As far as its under-graduate programmes are concerned, the University’s main role seems to be the provision of meaningful learning experiences for its students. In the circumstance, a set of standards for UG would, therefore, have to address the quality of the delivery of its programmes.
We are frequently told that the University of Guyana aims to provide a place of education, learning and research of a standard required of a university of the highest standing. If this is really so then the University of Guyana is challenged, like never before, to put in place the appropriate mechanisms to ensure the standards enshrined in its charter are maintained.