An in-depth understanding of quality assurance & its components: The Need for a Holistic Approach

The Global Quality Assurance Association (GQAA) Webinar held its first activity for the year on Tuesday 16th January 2024. The attendance was good, with people from different countries, institutions and regions of the continent. The countries that were represented included Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Cameroon, Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda, among others. More than 100 people attended the online event with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm. The Webinar entitled, “An in-depth understanding of quality assurance & its components: The Need for a Holistic Approach,” was very timely because it was meant to encourage attendees to practice total quality management through robust quality assurance management systems from the beginning of the year moving forward. This could result in the total transformation of their institutions/organizations/companies.

The GQAA Director aimed at making sure that the participants grasp an understanding that quality assurance is the umbrella term under which falls all the other things like i) accreditation ii) monitoring and evaluation which can be done through different ways iii) standards iv) risk management v) compliance vi) disaster management vii) institutional assessment and evaluation viii) rankings ix) building the quality culture x) training and capacity building xi) appraisals xii) inspections. She explained the inter-relationships and the importance of each of them.

Dr Makuku started by asking the question on the key quality and quality assurance issues that the participants grappled with in their institutions/companies/organizations. A lot of responses came in and these fall under different categories which included but were not limited to insufficient or absence of induction and orientation of staff for effective delivery at all levels, lack of funding in the Quality Assurance Directorates and funds conducting quality research, inadequate and inexperienced manpower/staff coupled with managers’ failure to appreciate the need for more personnel in the QA units/directorates/departments. Other aspects also included the inability to put relevant policies in place such as teaching/ learning policy, poor working conditions and poor sanitation in some cases with waste management challenges.

There were a number of submissions related to teaching and learning with a focus on curriculum development and review, setting of examinations and marking, unprecedented high levels of plagiarism through Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially on research projects, Masters dissertations and PhD theses, differences in grading of marks, procedure for moderation of results, absence of cooperation among Faculty members in moderating students’ work and failure by new lecturers to effectively engage students in instructional design. Other related challenges were to do with the need for useful library services, non-utilization of library services by students which then compromises the quality of the research studies they undertake. Other participants also suggested solutions to some of the challenges raised like an extension of library services for students in remote rural areas.

All these challenges are exacerbated by, in some cases, poorly structured and positioned quality assurance units which in some cases are hidden within other organogram structures and hence cannot effectively operate independently. There is also evidence of assumptions that Quality Assurance is part of a section in an institution instead of considering Quality Assurance as a full-fledged entity serving the whole institution. This is because of the way it is implemented. There is ignorance on the importance of quality assurance in preference of quick results. This is sometimes made worse by the top management’s reluctancy in enforcing regulations and their unwillingness to spend money on quality matters. In some cases, the leadership lacks commitment to apply the provisions of the conditions of service to the letter and that is equally worrisome and disturbing because institutional Quality Assurance needs top management buy-in and support for it to fully succeed.

One major challenge is the institutions’ major focus on academic work only as opposed to a holistic approach to QA. In some cases, the management may not want to hear the QA personnel raising issues on, for example, infrastructure which are already a major challenge in most institutions. Some participants lamented poor learning infrastructure because of the challenges related to maintaining quality standards which is all attributed to budget limitations.

Dr Makuku emphasized the need for quality assurance personnel to become members of quality assurance organizations and associations as well as undertake online and physical presence training sessions so that they become knowledgeable, confident and earn respect from the communities they serve. She encouraged institutional workshops too because they afford an opportunity for the training of larger numbers of personnel including the leadership at an affordable price. This results in i) a shared understanding ii) a shared vision and iii) a critical mass needed for traction to implement the action plan that will be agreed upon. This will have a far reaching positive impact on the institution at large and individuals in particular.

The GQAA Director stressed the need for continuous education and awareness on quality assurance matters because there is a lack of adequate knowledge for the enhancement of Quality and Quality Assurance management systems. This is also worsened by the absence of simple tools and technology that can make quality assurance (QA) processes more efficient. There is also inadequate knowledge for the enhancement of Quality and Quality Assurance management systems with no funding and limited human capital, as spelt out constantly by different participants.

Since it came out many times from different countries that Quality Assurance Directorates also need adequate budget allocations, the Director for the GQAA, Dr Violet Makuku, constantly encouraged participants to get the necessary training and embark on grant writing which is an excellent and sure source of funding for departments and the institutions at large. She also urged the participants to be visible and do some work which does not require money but has a huge impact in order to show their superiors that QA has benefits. This, in the end, will convince and persuade the leadership to allocate a budget for the QA Unit/Department/Directorate.

She discouraged participants from sitting idle whilst lamenting that they do not have a budget to use for the different work and activities that they should carry out. She gave an example of an institution where she went and the students didn’t know where the QA office was, an indication that they should do more and make a lot of noise while working with everyone, including students, so that their relevance can be noticed and accorded the respect that it deserves. Dr Makuku also encouraged the QA personnel to be everywhere in the institution, practice total quality management and work with everyone, including students in a collegial manner. She encouraged them to also desist from behaviours that lead to the organization/company/institution’s community to label them as police officers but rather to embrace teamwork, empathy, sympathy, professionalism and integrity while avoiding double standards. 

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