QUALITY ASSURANCE AND ITS ROLE IN ENHANCING THE EMPLOYABILITY OF GRADUATE
Quality assurance (QA) is a part of the debate on employability and the quality of higher education. It plays a major role in monitoring quality in higher education where the employability of graduates could be one of the key performance areas. Materu (2007) defines QA as “a planned systematic review of an institution or programmes to determine whether or not acceptable standards of education, scholarship and infrastructure are being met, maintained and enhanced” (Materu, , p. 3). There are two forms of quality assurance systems, internal and external. The former involves internal quality management processes that HEIs undertake to ensure that quality is embedded in all their processes, including teaching and learning. The latter involves a process whereby an external team reviews the internal processes and infrastructure of an institution to determine whether it meets acceptable standards. The external QA process could be in the form of institutional audits or programme accreditation. In some countries, like the United Kingdom (UK), such reviews include students in their external QA team of reviewers (HEFCE, 2011). The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in the UK also encourages HEIs to include students in preparing action plans that address recommendations from institutional reviews. These actions are meant to involve students in issues that directly affect them so that their voice is heard to ensure that their needs are also met.
According to Westerheijden (2005) and Gynnild (2007), QA is a concept that has been around for decades – particularly in the developed world. The United Kingdom, for example, as well as France and the Netherlands were some of the pioneering countries in the establishment of quality assurance agencies at the end of the 20th century (Westerheijden). In Africa QA is a fairly recent phenomenon in the context of higher education, with existing QA agencies only just over 10 years old (Materu, 2007). It is reported that the massification of tertiary institutions and the importance attached to higher education in driving the economies of countries were the main reasons for establishing QA agencies. It is argued that with the emergence of a new range of competencies, many institutions in sub-Saharan countries struggled to meet those demands through curriculum reform and by adapting teaching and learning methods. The World Bank (2008) report also claims that the massification of tertiary institutions in the past two decades has resulted in a surge in student numbers which is not commensurate with the expansion of resources, both physical and financial. As a result, the quality of education and the relevance of programmes has suffered. It is further reported that the general lack of attention to quality assurance and labour market feedback has resulted in disconnect between the supply and demand of higher education skills and what employers need. As a result, many governments – including the Botswana government – decided it was crucial to establish QA agencies to address the missing link. Instead, many QA agencies were established for the purpose of regulating the unregulated expansion of the sector rather than the enhancement of quality which was initially the main concern of many countries (Materu).
Similarly, Harvey and Newton (2004) concede that the rationale of QA is often stated as improvement when, in fact, it focuses on compliance and accountability. Their argument is that although improvement should be the focus, accountability is also needed because of budgetary constraints, the cost of massification and the need to account for public funding. Hence, the growing pressure from governments to make sure that HEIs are more responsive to value for money concerns and to more relevance of programmes to meet countries’ needs. As such, quality assurance systems are meant to encourage an improvement within HEIs for the enhancement of quality of graduates and fitness for purpose. According to Harvey and Newton, many QA agencies have not achieved their goals because of a lack of clarity and purpose. It is further argued that where there is clarity and purpose the system can work in the same way as the Swedish quality assurance audits which built the aspect of improvement by identifying improvement projects and evaluating their effectiveness into their system. This system is contrasted with that of the UK where, according Harvey and Newton, when the Higher Education Quality Council (HEQC) was established, improvement was not the main aim but rather compliance and accountability. Thus, if the system is meant to assist institutions to improve their quality, then the purpose and focus must be made clear at the outset while at the same time respecting the autonomy of institutions and the importance of academic freedom. In their paper Harvey and Newton (2004) debate what aspect of HE is meant to be improved – if any – and how the improvement is measured. They argue that improvement could be for academic or research quality, but how that improvement is measured is debatable. On reflection, Harvey and Newton and Horsburgh (1999) note that, in the main, the external QA system injects improvement at the organisational level of institutions and that it is more difficult for external quality assurance systems to effect improvement in teaching and learning aspects of the institution. It is, therefore, the aim of this study to focus on what role HE and QA mechanisms within HE play in encouraging improvement within institutions that enhances the employability of graduates which is at the level of teaching and learning. Even though Harvey and Newton claim that, at best, the improvement function of quality assurance mechanisms encourage institutions to reflect on their practices, that – in itself – is a good thing because it will, ultimately, infiltrate the teaching and learning environment. The argument is that there needs to be a focus and that if the focus it is to enhance student learning experience, then the QA methods employed should achieve precisely that.
The recommendation of Harvey and Newton (2004) is to start with the purpose, the focus and the data that would be required for the exercise and then come up with an approach and methodology that would be needed to inject improvement (see Figure 2.5, below). They maintain that quality monitoring has been characterised by predetermining the methods and ignoring the epistemological aspect of the methodology – thereby defeating the purpose of the quality assurance exercise.
Discussion of the Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework in this study suggests that students should be prepared at university to facilitate their transition into the world of work. Hence, the framework suggests that knowledge, skills, competencies which are discipline related, understanding and attributes required for the world of work must be learned while at university. This assumption led to the research sub-question that determines the level of knowledge, skills and competencies that ES graduates and students have which, in turn, led to the inclusion of the objective concerning employability audits to facilitate the preparation of graduating students for their smooth transition into the world of work. Employability audits will help HEIs make sure that their activities and processes, which lead to the enhancement of employability of graduates, are clear. Academics also need to re-assure themselves that they are on the right track and audits can help do just that. Such audits are developmental in nature. There is no intention of scoring or grading institutions in categories. These audits are meant to simply assist academics and administrators to consider the content and design of the curriculum to ensure that their goals of enhancing the employability of graduates are met (Hughes, 2004). This is a continuous process of improvement and Hughes argues that students need to be assisted because they do not understand how important it is to manage their interests and activities so that they contribute to their employability. He further argues that they are not aware that taking part in team sports and any other extra curricula activities will attract the interest of prospective employers. Thus, helping them to understand the importance of extra curricula activities will go a long way in assisting students look for opportunities that will enhance their employability.
Through employability audits HEIs would have to engage with employers through various employability development opportunities to provide work-based skills. Some of the skills – which include 21st century skills, such as communication and problem-solving skills – could be included in the pedagogy of curriculum delivery. The teaching methods and other pedagogical processes used in this case would be critical in enhancing the employability of graduates. Encouraging project work and presentations to instil self-confidence and communication skills would offer some of the key competencies and skills needed in the world of work. According to Hughes (2004), such activities could be achieved by
developing strategic plans that would clarify how employability could be achieved for different disciplines.
identifying how far HEIs have progressed and what still needs to be done.
recognising what is already being done to enhance employability and strengthening those activities.
Therefore, employability audits would involve assessing input and processes that enhance the employability of students. An audit of this kind would require Work Experience and Employability Plans (WEEPs) (HEFCW, 2011) and finding out how these are executed in HEIs. Institutions would encourage and assist students to undertake work experience either through attachments or through internships and they could also provide career service support to students and graduates. All these activities would involve HEIs working with industry and organisations to provide workplace experience for students while they were at university that would enable them to become more employable. This partnership could also involve industry and academia in going as far as curriculum development. Employability audits would be done internally by the institutions themselves and be verified, externally, by the QA agencies working together to enhance the employability of students and graduates. Records of work done would be kept to assess the impact of these activities which would entail carrying out tracer studies to follow-up on graduates and to record how they are coping in their jobs. There is, of course, a concern that such audits might be linked with employment rates and this might put undue pressure on institutions in terms of accountability, rather than improvement and even use employment rates to acquire more funding (Harvey, 2000; Rooney et. al., 2006). Therefore, a distinction needs to be made between graduate employment rates and employability. The latter entails the preparation of students for the world of work and the ability to adjust and adapt to changing workplace requirements and a willingness to continuously learn and improve (Rooney, et al.). Therefore, employability does not mean employment.
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
1.2 Context of the study
1.3 Problem Statement and Rationale for the Study
1.4 Research Question and Objectives
1.6 Definition of Terms
1.7 Structure of the Thesis
CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF LITERATURE
2.2 Defining Graduate Employability
2.3 Review of Literature on Views Concerning the Role of HE in Graduate Employability
2.4 Quality Assurance and Its Role in Enhancing the Employability of Graduates
2.5 Conceptual Framework and Specific Research Questions
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Research Methods
3.4 Methodological Norms (Validity and Reliability Issues and Trustworthiness)
3.5 Research Ethics
CHAPTER 4: KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES ES GRADUATES AND STUDENTS HAVE AND NEED FOR THE WORLD OF WORK
4.2 Profile of Participants
4.3 Views on Employability of ES Students and Graduates
4.4 Reporting Knowledge, Skills and Competencies of ES Students and Graduates
CHAPTER 5: POSSIBLE ROLES OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND INDUSTRY IN PREPARING ES STUDENTS AND GRADUATES FOR WORK
5.2 Roles of Students and Graduates in Ensuring their Employability
5.3 Views on the Role of Academics and Administrators in Ensuring the Employability of ES Students and Graduates
5.4. Role of Employers in Preparing Students and Graduates for Work
CHAPTER 6: EMPLOYABILITY AUDITS AND GRADUATE EMPLOYABILITY
6.2 QA Mechanisms Employed by the Department of Environmental Science
6.3. A General Overview of Employability Audits at UB
6.4. Roles in Employability Audits
CHAPTER 7: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.2 Summary of the Research
7.3 Summary of Research Findings
7.4 Reflections and Discussions
7.51 Policy and Practice