Au­dit of sub-de­grees may help cor­rect mis­con­cep­tions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The Qual­ity As­sur­ance Coun­cil of the Univer­sity Grants Com­mit­tee (UGC) will con­duct a Qual­ity As­sur­ance (QA) au­dit on sub-de­gree pro­grams of­fered by UGC-funded uni­ver­si­ties. In the pre­vi­ous rounds of QA au­dits, the UGC fo­cused only on un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grams. This is the first time the UGC is au­dit­ing the QA of sub-de­grees. The first QA au­dit on sub-de­grees will run later this year. It is ex­pected that all au­dit work will be com­pleted by 2019.

Many peo­ple per­ceive sub-de­grees as in­fe­rior in qual­ity. Many peo­ple also be­lieve a univer­sity de­gree is the ba­sic en­trance ticket to the work­place nowa­days. From this per­spec­tive, a sub-de­gree means the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion re­ceived is be­low that of a univer­sity de­gree. Also, the term “sub-de­gree” is of­ten mis­un­der­stood by peo­ple to mean “sub-stan­dard”. When there are sto­ries about sub-de­gree grad­u­ates hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties ar­tic­u­lat­ing to a full univer­sity de­gree, peo­ple will nat­u­rally start to ques­tion if sub-de­grees are use­ful. To­gether with many re­ports that sub-de­gree grad­u­ates need to shoul­der heavy fi­nan­cial bur­dens be­cause of high tu­ition fees charged by sub-de­gree cour­ses, there is no won­der that so­ci­ety has neg­a­tive views on sub-de­gree pro­grams.

There­fore, it will be a wel­come de­vel­op­ment to have the UGC per­form QA au­dits on sub-de­gree pro­grams of­fered by UGC-funded uni­ver­si­ties. Since pre­vi­ous QA au­dits led to great im­prove­ments in UGC-funded uni­ver­si­ties’ QA mech­a­nisms, the qual­ity of teach­ing and learn­ing have im­proved over the years. The QA au­dits have es­tab­lished the rep­u­ta­tion of uphold­ing qual­ity of teach­ing pro­grams and they can pro­vide use­ful rec­om­men­da­tions to fur­ther im­prove qual­ity. When the QA au­dits are ex­tended to sub-de­grees, it can help in­crease the cred­i­bil­ity and per­ceived qual­ity of the sub-de­gree pro­grams.

To out­siders, QA au­dit of teach­ing pro­grams is only a tool to check if grad­u­ates have re­ceived ed­u­ca­tion of ac­cept­able qual­ity. But this is just one ob­jec­tive of the au­dit. Dur­ing the QA au­dit, the au­dit team will ex­am­ine the mis­sion and vi­sion of the univer­sity and see if the sub-de­gree-of­fer­ing units con­trib­ute to it. Also, the au­dit team will eval­u­ate if the univer­sity has the tools nec­es­sary to as­cer­tain the learn­ing qual­ity and aca­demic stan­dards, and if the univer­sity has a cred­i­ble and strong mech­a­nism to up­hold qual­ity. Ex­pec­ta­tions of var­i­ous stake­hold­ers will also be con­sid­ered. The au­dit team will in­ter­view se­nior man­age­ment mem­bers of the univer­sity, teach­ers, stu­dents and em­ploy­ers to col­lect views from dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers. From this per­spec­tive, The au­thor is dean at the School of Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion, Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity.

The QA (Qual­ity As­sur­ance) au­dits have es­tab­lished the rep­u­ta­tion of uphold­ing qual­ity of teach­ing pro­grams and they can pro­vide use­ful rec­om­men­da­tions to fur­ther im­prove qual­ity.

the QA au­dit is not just to check the ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity but a holis­tic re­view of the teach­ing pro­grams. Fi­nally, the au­dit re­ports will be dis­sem­i­nated through the web­site of the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Coun­cil so the pub­lic can know how the uni­ver­si­ties are do­ing in the pro­vi­sion of teach­ing pro­grams.

The above de­scrip­tion points out the im­por­tance and tech­ni­cal de­tails of a qual­ity au­dit. How­ever, one fun­da­men­tal issue is still left un­touched: the po­si­tion­ing of sub-de­grees. As men­tioned ear­lier, hav­ing a qual­ity au­dit helps cor­rect the myth of “low qual­ity” of sub­de­grees. Nev­er­the­less, peo­ple still have ques­tions over the po­si­tion­ing of sub-de­grees. In the cur­rent job mar­ket, there are jobs re­quir­ing a great deal of tech­ni­cal skill and sub-de­gree grad­u­ates can meet th­ese re­quire­ments. The prob­lem is that many peo­ple do not have a clear po­si­tion for sub-de­grees. When young peo­ple go on pur­su­ing their univer­sity de­grees af­ter ob­tain­ing a sub-de­gree qual­i­fi­ca­tion, they sim­ply ig­nore the sub-de­gree as an in­de­pen­dent qual­i­fi­ca­tion. To so­ci­ety as a whole, this is costly: a mis­match between ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions and job-mar­ket re­quire­ments which leads to griev­ances among young peo­ple.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Bu­reau is aware of this and there will be a study on the po­si­tion­ing of sub­de­gree pro­grams. I per­son­ally wel­come this ini­tia­tive and hope this study can help se­cure a proper po­si­tion for the sub-de­gree qual­i­fi­ca­tion in Hong Kong’s la­bor mar­ket.

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