AMAN: The Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission needs to strengthen its independence and functional governance
Ramallah – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) held a session to discuss a report on governance of the Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission (AQAC) and explore challenges to its functions.
In his opening statement, Issam Haj Hussein, AMAN Executive Director, highlighted the importance of promoting integrity and fight against corruption at non-ministerial government bodies. Haj Hussein made clear that the report assessed the AQAC commitment to the values of integrity, principles of transparency, and systems of accountability in the Commission’s operations.
Jihad Harb, Senior Researcher at AMAN, indicated that AMAN report was tailored to strengthen the overall immunity of AQAC to ensure effective and impartial programme accreditation and quality assurance without interferences of favouritism and nepotism.
AQAC independence must be strengthened
Researcher Areen Badwan presented on main findings of the report. Established in 2002, the AQAC operated without a formal regulation or corporate management board until 2020. The AQAC continues to be on the administrative and organisational structure of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. The AQAC does not enjoy administrative or financial independence, generally affecting the Commission’s performance. In spite of the tangible efforts made by the AQAC since 2020 to improve and upgrade quality standards at educational institutions, accreditation and quality assurance processes have been incompatible with academic and scientific developments. So far, the AQAC has not fully provided educational institutions with needed programme agendas, which keep abreast of academic development. Slow AQAC procedures fail to keep up with the development of programmes, including online platforms. Educational institutions continue to carry the burden of developing their own programmes to fit with academic and scientific development as well as with the labour market needs.
Additionally, the AQAC lacks clearly defined and publicly available criteria for the selection of board members. The Minister’s influence is apparent in this context. A regulation is not in place, delineating the regulation of the working relationship between the board, contractors, and evaluators.
Inadequate staffing is a challenge that must be overcome
A severe shortage of personnel and experts slows down the AQAC functions, leading to complaints from contractors and academic institutions that the AQAC is tardy in fulfilling respective functions. The Commission is supposed to be contracting an extensive list of evaluators. However, neither clear and published selection criteria nor a code of conduct governing the work of these evaluators is in place, sometimes affecting the evaluation process.
Transparency is a step in the right direction
In his intervention, Dr. Mu’ammar Ishteiwi, AQAC Chairman, welcomed the AMAN role in compiling the report. Stating that an AQAC regulation was approved in 2020, Ishteiwi reviewed the developments in the transparency of publication and disclosure processes on the AQAC website. All forms and criteria for programme accreditation are posted online. The AQAC also seeks to improve its working relationship with, and be open to, educational institutions. Ishteiwi explained that short AQAC staff, including experts and specialists, was caused by recurrent financial crises and COVID-19 pandemic, impeding the recruitment of additional staff members. Ishteiwi promised that all the challenges highlighted in the report be reviewed and overcome within a maximum period of six months. The AQAC will improve internal governance and respond favourably to recommendations.
An-Najah University stresses the need to enhance the AQAC Quality Department
As stated in the report, Dr. Maher Natshah reiterated the operational challenges faced by AQAC, particularly short staff. The AQAC plays a pivotal role in assessing the quality of educational programmes. Natshah further emphasised the importance of enhancing the AQAC Quality Department with a view to keeping pace with academic development. On the other hand, criteria need to be equitably applied to the accreditation of programmes submitted by universities.
Shuaibi: AQAC empowerment is a compelling need
In his comment, Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, Anti-Corruption Consultant to the AMAN Board of Directors, highlighted the need to apply governance rules, taking account of the Palestinian specific context. Universities had developed before the Palestinian Authority was established. Shuaibi recommended that the government pay attention to the AQAC and provide necessary resources for its operation. This responsibility lies in the hands of the Minister of Higher Education. Shuaibi stressed the need to scale up the AQAC to lead university programmes. In addition to finalising its internal governance system, the AQAC should put in place transparent procedures, ensure impartial treatment of universities, and provide public access to information on its current capacities and future plans.
At the end of the session, participants generally agreed to a number of recommendations contained in the report. Mainly, the AQAC regulation should be upgraded to a law, which strengthens the Commission’s independence, impartiality, and effective functions. While promoting the AQAC administrative and operational capacities, the law will ensure that a separate budget line item is earmarked to the Commission. Clear and specific criteria will be set for the selection of AQAC board members. The number of staff will be increased to allow expeditious delivery of tasks, particularly in view of rapid developments in education and growing applications submitted by universities. To this avail, the AQAC staff will be aided by local experts, evaluators, and quality assessment specialists. The AQAC board and staff will put into effect the Regulation on Prevention of Conflicts of Interest, enacted by the Palestinian government. Institutional procedures will be developed to regulate the disclosure of conflicts of interest. In addition to publishing meeting minutes, the AQAC board will make publicly available the selection criteria for board members. Job requirements to hold the position of the AQAC chairperson will be posted on the AQAC website. Details on the procedure of submitting an application for licensing and accreditation will also be published and filled in online. Applications will not be received within a specific timeframe.