NUS in 2022 Council for Higher Education Conference

A high-powered delegation from the Nigerian University System (NUS), led by the Acting Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Mr. Chris J. Maiyaki, participated actively in the just concluded 2024 Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)/ Chea International Quality Group (CIQG) Annual Conference, held in Washington DC.  

The 2024 CHEA/CIQG Annual Conference with the theme: “Quality Assurance Matters,” was held between 29th January and 1st February, 2024, in Washington DC.

The main objective of the conference was to promote robust engagement around quality assurance by bringing together national and international accreditors, higher education leaders and academics, to lend different perspectives and propose solutions to the myriad of higher education complexities needed to maintain and continuously improve quality.

According to an NUC official report, the 2024 Conference reached a global audience with meaningful discussions focused on important issues of quality assurance and timely topics that make a difference in higher education around the world.  This year’s conference featured diverse and unique voices that were unified in their messaging: “quality assurance matters; student learning outcomes matter; and now, more than ever, accreditors and institutions must focus all efforts to strengthening higher education and to deliver on their promise to students”.

The Conference was designed to be an integrated package, made up of plenary and concurrent sessions covering topics such as: Designing for Quality Assurance in Competency-Based Education; Data Collection and Ensuring Compliance with Accreditation Standards and Model for Developing Accreditation that was affordable and sustainable. Others included: Using Integrated Academic Master Planning to create and maintain quality programmes; Leading, Learning and Logistics-Implementation of effective accreditation processes; Politics as Disruptors to Accreditation; Quality Assurance through Futures Thinking-showcasing and AI Curriculum Guide; Implementing Centralised Quality Controls in a Decentralised Environment, amongst others.

In his welcome address at the plenary, the President, Cynthia Jackson Hammond, declared the 2024 CHEA/CIQG Annual Conference open and expressed delight at the impressive turnout at the event, noting that the gathering was as a result of participants’ commitment to global quality assurance. She underscored the importance of strong collaborations at all levels for quality delivery of higher education and particularly, expressed appreciation to sponsors of the Conference, members of the CIQG/CHEA Advisory Group, CHEA Staff and Fellows for their unwavering support, while expecting excellent, meaningful, quality discourse at the Conference.

The President’s Plenary featured Dr. Tomikia LeGrande, President, Prairie View A&M University, Texas, and Chancellor Emeritus at Houston Community College, Cesar Maldonado. During the plenary, panelists shared perspectives on the global higher education landscape and factors influencing leadership decisions, providing  insights on campus activities and emphasizing the crucial role of ensuring quality education delivery. The panelists submitted that institutional culture was paramount for success and highlighted the importance of continuous improvement, while stressing that students’ success should go beyond academic achievement and aim to equip them to contribute to society and uphold a commitment to lifelong improvement.

The panelists also highlighted post Covid-19 challenges faced by their institutions which included a decline in the quality of prospective students; decrease in student confidence and willingness to seek help. They acknowledged that lock-down measures led students to rely on social media for interaction and support, which traditional higher education systems were not adequately placed to address. Recognizing the changing student demographics, they emphasized the need for higher education to evolve in providing necessary support. Panellists further emphasized the significance of institutional governance, advocating for a transparent system that engaged everyone. They stressed the importance of creating an inclusive environment where individuals felt a sense of belonging and their voices were valued and heard. This approach, they felt, would enable effective implementation of new ideas and processes in higher education.

Furthermore, panellists described the transition to on-line teaching during COVID, noting that there was initial reluctance due to the unfamiliarity of the format, noting however that, after lock-down, some academics were hesitant to return to traditional classrooms as on-line teaching became normalized. They acknowledged that aspects of on-line learning would likely persist, citing advantages such as the ability to hire quality staff from overseas on a part-time basis without geographical constraints.

They expressed concern on challenges such as infrastructural needs and staff training for effective on-line delivery, emphasizing the importance of rigorous assessments to ensure quality in on-line learning against the  traditional methods of teaching. Regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI), both panellists pointed out that AI had already formed an integral part of higher education learning management systems as well as accounting systems. They emphasised the need to integrate AI into curricula and educate students on its ethical usage. It was noted that educating students on ethical usage of AI would produce smarter students who know where to go to solve their problems, thus freeing them up to be more creative and innovative.

The second plenary session featured the President, Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Barbara Gellman-Danley;  Executive Director, Association for Biblical Higher Education, Lisa Beatty; President, Southern Association of Colleges, and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Belle Wheelan; and President and CEO, Accreditation Council for Business Schools, and Programs (ACBSP), Jeffrey Alderman.

During this session, panellists discussed the impact of the unprecedented interference of government into higher education affairs in the United States. The panellists conceded that some degree of political involvement was expected given that trillions of federal financial aid dollars were being poured into higher education. They also recognized the widespread feeling amongst policy makers that a significant number of students were not graduating and those that did were not getting jobs where they made sustainable wages. The panellists noted that policy makers and legislators were looking to accreditors and laying blame for acknowledging that a particular college or university was a quality institution when the student learning outcomes might tell a different story.

Another significant point made by the panels was that, for large portions of the public, the purpose of higher education was almost entirely focused on economic outcomes with most parents sending their children to universities to meet their desired financial outcomes, not personal growth.

Panellists further noted that it was important to understand that policy makers, and the public to a large degree, disagreed fundamentally about the purpose of higher education. This difference in perception between policy makers and the public fuelled the  ongoing debates about the purpose and future direction of higher education. Despite the challenges faced by accreditation bodies, the panellists emphasized the importance of accreditation in ensuring quality education, particularly for students, stressing the need for accrediting agencies to remain flexible and open to change to uphold educational standards and fulfil the promise of higher education.

The concluding message to the higher education community in attendance included; don’t let the political noise deter you from providing the services and instruction to ensure that students become successful; tell the good stories, a lot of what the media reports centred around the stories that do not talk about the success of what is happening at institutions; ensure what you are doing is aligned with the mission of your institution, among others.

On another political front, a major highlight of the conference featured a plenary session with Senior Vice President for Government Relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, David Baime; Senior Vice President, Division of Government Relations and National Engagement, American Council on Education;Jon Fansmith,  and  Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, CHEA, Jan Friis.  During this discussion, the panelists provided an overview of state legislation and lawsuits that were currently impacting accreditation, including mandating that institutions regularly change accreditors, a significant challenge that originated in Florida and was now spreading to other states.

One of the most fascinating points made by panellists was that accreditation was a surrogate for higher education in the eyes of policy makers, and that there was a real frustration with what policy makers see as a lack of accomplishment in achieving the goals they have for higher education. It was noted that, despite the nuances that existed within the accreditation community, policy makers were indifferent to the differences in accreditors, and as a matter of course, disagree with direction of higher education, noting that as a result, policy makers were seeking to take sweeping action through legislation.

Another session featured President, European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, Doug Blackstock; Former Chief, UNESCO Higher Education Section, Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic; and President, Institute of International Education, Allen Goodman. During the session, participants were introduced to the UNESCO Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education.

Adopted in November 2019, the Global Convention complements the five existing UNESCO regional conventions on the recognition of higher education qualifications and was designed to strengthen international cooperation in higher education and foster trust and confidence in the quality and reliability of qualifications.

It established universal principles for the recognition of qualifications, fosters mobility between higher education institutions worldwide and ensures the rights of individuals to have their foreign qualifications assessed in a fair, transparent and non- discriminatory manner.

The Convention had since been ratified by 27 countries. During the session, participants were informed about the benefits of the UNESCO Qualifications Passport, which was derived as a result of the Global Convention and has helped refugees and other crisis-affected displaced populations to access higher education in their host countries and beyond.

On Accreditation’s Role in Driving Institutional Change, outside of the political debates that continued to engulf higher education in the United States, the CHEA Conference focused on providing strategies, techniques, and resources to institutions so that they  might make more effective use of the accreditation process to impart meaningful institutional change. One session of the note included, “Leading, Learning and Logistics: Implementation of an Effective Accreditation Process” presented by Dr. Nanette Smith from Rhodes State College. The presentation provided participants with insights and innovative strategies to ensure accountability, collaboration, and stakeholder engagement throughout the self-evaluation process; to support and ensure effective accreditation efforts; and to maximize opportunities to educate stakeholders on the critical importance of accreditation.

Participants were provided with practical and useful information designed to help institutions establish a structure and framework; develop a consistent process with timelines; engage in constant communications and periodic reviews; and in identifying emerging leaders throughout an accreditation process.

The session “There and Back Again: An Unplanned Journey from Sanction Back to Compliance” were anchored by  the President, Christine Royce Trustee, Colonel Stuart Helgeson; and Provost of Valley Forge Military College, Robert F. Smith, which  provided a first-hand experience of how their institutions addressed and resolved an unexpected accreditation sanction, and how it used the experience to improve institutional effectiveness. The session highlighted how receiving a sanction from an accreditor prompted this institution to reflect and renew its approach to accreditation. It emphasized that, while no institution aims to be sanctioned, addressing the issue could drive significant improvements in operations, student services, and programme delivery. This shift in perspective revealed the true essence of continuous improvement inherent in the accreditation process.

On the Quality Assurance, through Futures Thinking: Showcasing an AI Curriculum, under the umbrella of continuous improvement, both, Julia Nyberg and Maricel Lawrence of Purdue Global University, provided a unique session that disclosed how Purdue Global administrators and faculty were already internally discussing generative AI in sessions in mid-2022, just before the launch of tools such as Chat GPT to the public. They showcased Purdue Global’s attempt to be open-minded and forward-thinking about the positive role that Artificial Intelligence could play in higher education. The University’s AI Task Force subsequently issued guidance for students and faculty on acceptable and unacceptable uses of generative AI for completing coursework. Purdue Global’s schools have since been adapting to include teaching and the proper use of AI in course work, as well as developing entire courses around AI. They reiterated that by embracing the possibilities of generative AI and familiarizing ourselves with emerging tools, while being mindful of their implementation, higher education could leverage this astounding new technology to enhance teaching and learning experiences.

In his presentation, the Director of International & Professional Services, Quality Assurance Agency, United Kingdom, Eduardo Ramos, delivered a stimulating session on critical approaches to quality assurance and Presented an overview of ENQA’s European Standards and Guidelines for quality assurance (ESG), Eduardo encouraged the audience to consider quality assurance in their own contexts.

Discussions centred on how quality was defined differently in different parts of the world, with current international accreditation practices risking promoting conformity to Western standards. Participants agreed that while there had to be a level of comparability between programmes in accreditation, local contexts must be taken into consideration when applying standards on higher education programmes based on the disparities in technological advancement and wealth distribution between countries. The session was concluded by discussing areas of good practice, such as QAA’s internalisation approach in forming strategic partnerships with quality assurance agencies worldwide.

Collaborations between nations leading to projects such as ACE Impact which worked to build capacity of higher education institutions in Nigeria, Ghana, and Ivory Coast with the support of World Bank and Agence française de dévelopement (AFD) was also touted as an area of good practice.

On Mobility and Accessibility, delivered by Melaniie Gottilieb, Executive Director, AACRAO and Hironao OKahana, Assistant Vice President & Executive Director, ACE and Margit Scatzman, President ECE. This session delved into the dynamic and rapidly evolving landscape of learner mobility in the United States, emphasizing the importance of understanding qualification frameworks and their role in promoting equitable learning opportunities. Participants explored ways to engage with the US Qualification Framework and discussed the interconnectedness of educational and career pathways.

The National Qualification Framework (NQF) was highlighted as a valuable tool for educators, learners, families, and employers, providing clarity on how transfers between institutions function. Unlike a rigid structure, the framework was adaptable to the diverse needs of different countries. It was emphasized that establishing a framework for standards and transfers in higher education became essential.

Another session focussed on CAHME: A Model for Developing Global Accreditation that was affordable and Sustainable. The speakers for the session were President & CEO of Healthcare Management Education, Philadelphia, Anthony Stanowski; and  Professor of Health Administration & Human Resources, Panuska College of Professional Studies, University of Svrantob, Daniel West.

The session focused on understanding CAHME, the phases of its Global Accreditation Strategy, and its relationship with the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. Established in 1968, CAHME aims to enhance the quality of healthcare management education worldwide.

CAHME set measurable criteria for excellence in healthcare management education, supports programs in meeting or surpassing these criteria, and accredits graduate programs accordingly. Recognized by CHEA, participants were informed that CAHME has accredited 145 programmes across 94 colleges and universities.

According to the report, CAHME primarily engaged in programmatic accreditation, ensuring standards that benefited various stakeholders.

These standards aimed to provide quality graduates for employers, meaningful career opportunities for students, and continuous improvement for academic programs. Accreditation offers benefits such as facilitating program comparison, establishing benchmarks, and promoting degree mobility.

Despite its benefits, participants learnt that CAHME faced challenges such as the need for partnerships and financial resources, especially for research, which can be capital-intensive.