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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2005

Quality Assurance Plan Delayed

An attempt to draw up a global set of guidelines governing quality assurance in cross-border higher education hit a snag last month when the final drafting meeting ended with sharp divisions among the key players.

OECD and UNESCO - the two agencies which launched the initiative last year - say the QA project is a response to the growing number of private and online educational institutions of questionable quality now operating globally.

However, faculty associations and others criticized earlier drafts of the guidelines for ignoring academic staff and for promoting the privatization of higher education.

"The first draft had a lot to say about the need for countries to recognize and accredit for-profit providers," said David Robinson, associate executive director of CAUT. "But there was absolutely no mention of employees' rights and nothing about the critical importance of academic freedom in ensuring quality teaching and research."

He said strong language on academic freedom and employment rights found its way into the second draft of the guidelines, but it was significantly weakened at the insistence of the United States in the dying moments of last month's drafting meeting. That unleashed a storm of protest from several delegations who argued the final amendment language was not acceptable.

"At no point in the plenary sessions or in the workshops did any proposal to change the section on academic staff come forward," said Monique Foulihoux, higher education coordinator with Education International. "This was all done behind the scenes in a very undemocratic manner."

Robinson said the lack of consensus that emerged at the end of the meeting means it is unlikely the deadline set for the adoption of the guidelines by the end of this year will be met.