Audit of sub-degrees may help correct misconceptions
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.