Preserving higher education quality standards during the pandemic

Prof. Angela Yung Chi Hou, National Chengchi University, Taiwan

The first of the conference’s keynote presentations – titled Challenges, Impacts and Crisis Management on Higher Education and Quality Assurance under and after COVID-19 Crisis: Can Taiwan Case Be Implicated? - was given by Angela Yung-chi Hou, Professor of Higher Education at National Chengchi University, Taiwan. Professor Hou has worked in the field of quality assurance for over 15 years and is Vice President of International Network of Quality Assurance in Higher Education (INQAAHE).

She began by reviewing the effects of the pandemic on all engaged in higher education around the world. The impact of the coronavirus encompasses restrictions on the international mobility of students and faculty; the difficulties many students have in accessing online courses; the undermining of the support services provided to students; and, in the rush to move teaching online, the unavoidable challenges to standards and effectiveness. It has become significantly more difficult, for example, to evaluate courses that involve lab work or internships, and to assess participating students’ learning outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, a survey, conducted jointly by National Chengchi University and Lingnan, found that 74 percent of students want to get back face-to-face instruction once the threat of COVID-19 has receded, rather than continue online.

Quality assurance (QA) agencies have had to postpone or cancel their site visits to universities, extend the validity of accreditation, and lift requirements place on online education, she pointed out. An INQAAHE survey, covering 41 participants from 28 countries, found that 74 percent of these agencies were operating remotely, and 53 percent of them were experiencing financial problems.

Taiwan, which has a total population of 23 million, has experienced less than 600 coronavirus cases, to date. It has 1.3 million students, including 64,000 from overseas, enrolled at 153 universities and colleges. Its campuses have remained open and continued to operate relatively normally. But can anything be learned from Taiwan’s experience, by bodies in other parts of the world?

Professor Hou notes that Taiwan’s government acted quickly to control the pandemic, and to provide financial support and compensation to those fighting and affected by the health crisis. Its higher education institutes implemented a policy of “suspending classes without suspending learning”, and worked hard to maintain the standard of online learning. While QA initiatives enabled 130 programmes in eight universities in Taiwan to be be safely reviewed by the end of June.

Professor Hou believes, though, that it may not be possible to replicate this model in other parts of the world. “However, a consolidated govemance model via a triangular coordination among government, higher education institutions and quality assurance agencies under crisis management, would likely lead to a positive consequence,” she said.