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The last two decades have witnessed a strong push for more university autonomy around the globe, paired with a request for higher education institutions to be accountable not only to those directly involved– the academic community, students and their families – but also the wider public. As such, the topic of quality assurance has played a prominent role. In Europe quality assurance was discussed particularly in the context of the Bologna Process; nevertheless, there has also been an ‘internal quality assurance buzz’ in various countries in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with a multitude of events held on the topic as well as projects supporting the developments of quality assurance units and approaches within universities. Concerning ‘external quality assurance’, however, i.e. quality assurance exercised by bodies outside the universities for example, Ministries, independent or semi-independent providers or national accreditation bodies, to name but a few, there is a huge heterogeneity within MENA.
How can higher education systems in MENA develop external quality assurance bodies and mechanisms that contribute to the national enhancement of quality while taking into account institutional specificities? To what extent can quality assurance further and support governance reforms, and vice versa? And how can institutions learn from each other and share best practices on what works, and what does not?
To answer these questions and support the ongoing dialogue between universities, ministries and quality assurance agencies the MENA Regional Program on Higher Education, jointly led by the World Bank and the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), has organized the 5th international conference focusing on the paradigm shifts in tertiary education: improved governance and quality for competitiveness and employability between May 30 and June 1, 2016, in Algiers, Algeria.
The conference was designed to provide an opportunity for participating universities and other tertiary education institutions from the MENA region and beyond to learn from each other’s experiences and to discuss along with government officials, quality assurance agencies and other local, regional and international organizations a broad range of issues related to improving governance in tertiary education through information sharing and addressing issues of quality assurance and the employability of graduates.
This year’s conference focused on the nexus between quality assurance and governance, in order to enable universities and higher education sectors to move ‘from vision to action’, and further the reform process. The conference and corresponding workshops set out to serve as a platform for discussion for universities, quality assurance agencies, and policymakers. Participants interacted with each other as well as with regional, European and international experts and World Bank staff, in order to discuss questions and challenges they face with regard to governance and internal and external quality assurance in the region.
The opening day has welcomed higher education practitioners from both within the MENA region and beyond; speakers shared their insights on governance and quality assurance in an internationalized context and derive lessons for higher education reform in MENA countries and at institutions. The second day of the event narrowed in on selective topics discussed at the conference, with a series of parallel workshops for the 113-university network which is currently developing institutional action plans as well as quality assurance agencies. Universities were also invited to share their action plans during these workshops.
Overview of former Higher Education Conferences
This year’s conference is the fifth in a series of regional conferences organized by the Regional Higher Education Program.
During the 2011 workshop held in Cairo the University Governance Screening Card (UGSC) Benchmarking Tool was introduced and set the ground for the first round of the UGSC implementation in 4 MENA countries.
The 2012 conference in Rabat – organized in collaboration with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and the British Council – explored the lessons learned from using the UGSC and highlighted case studies of institutional reforms; it has also witnessed the launch of the Regional Higher Education Network which comprises 113 participating universities from 7 MENA countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Tunisia).
The Tunis conference organized in 2014, focused on the nexus between quality assurance and governance, in an attempt to enable universities and higher education sectors more broadly move ‘from vision to action’. It also provided an opportunity for members of the regional university network to engage in the discussion of the action plans they had developed building upon the results of the UGSC.
In 2015, the 4th conference was held in Beirut on “Empowering MENA Higher Education Institutions through Information Sharing and Improved Governance.” More than 150 participants gathered including university presidents, quality assurance agencies, policy makers, ministers of higher education, and regional and international experts. A broad range of issues related to improving governance in tertiary education through information sharing and addressing issues of quality assurance and the employability of graduates were discussed. The 2nd Version of the University Governance Screening Card was announced.
Highlights of the MENA Regional Program on Higher Education
Generated Innovative Approaches: Development and application of a University Governance Screening Card with the network of 113 universities in seven countries. This tool enables Middle East and North Africa (MENA) universities to compare themselves to international standards, define their own set of goals, and establish benchmarks to assess progress in achieving them.
Increased Client Capacity: Development of action plans, January to May 2014. Working in close consultation with the World Bank team, 55 universities developed action plans to improve university governance.
Deepened Knowledge through a regional event, held in Tunis in June 2014, with 170 participants from nine MENA/African countries, as well as international and European experts. Media coverage scored 33 hits across five countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) and in three languages (15 Arabic, 13 French, 5 English). Additional coverage on three radio stations and one national TV channels
Informed Policy Choice (Decision Making): Ministers, quality assurance agencies and institutions, have agreed to work together to reward best practices in quality assurance initiatives in the region.
This article is part of a blog series featuring the views of tertiary education experts from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regarding tertiary education in their respective countries as well as the use of the University Governance Screening Card, an innovative tool that enables universities in the region to compare themselves with international standards, define their own unique set of goals and establish benchmarks to assess the progress in achieving them. The University Governance Screening Card (UGSC) was developed under the World Bank/CMI program on tertiary education and applied by 100 universities in the MENA region.