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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Quality Assurance in Education, Volume 20, Issue 4
The effects of the global financial crisis continue to be felt, particularly in Europe and the USA. In Greece, there have been two elections, the second being required because the first election failed to result in a viable, stable government. The underlying concern was that the austerity measures being required of the government were perceived as creating such a drastic impact on both public services and vulnerable people that the stark choice of austerity or the fracture of the Eurozone became the political agenda. The outcome of the second election was that the Greek people voted for parties that were committed to remaining in the Eurozone, and consequently, austerity. This clearly has implications for all levels of education. The challenge is to continue to deliver to an appropriate standard in an environment of austerity and its consequences. With Spain, Italy, Ireland and Cyprus reporting difficulties, and the UK implementing austerity measures that have impacted on the education sector, the challenges of maintaining standards in the face of reduced resources is widespread in Europe.
In the USA, Federal funding for education has been generally rising with a significant boost to expenditure in 2009 as part of the more general stimulus package introduced to offset the effects of the global financial crisis on the American economy. However, since much of the funding for the education sector is provided by State and local governments, which must raise their funds through local property and other local taxes, the sector is likely to be experiencing funding pressures. In Australia, the Federal government continues to fund education as part of their “Building the Education Revolution”, with both infrastructure funding and upgrades. In higher education, there are uncapped numbers of places for undergraduates funded by the government. However, the situation in Australia is somewhat patchy, with the Victorian State government announcing significant decreases in funding for the Technical and Further Education sector. This is part of the government agenda to bring the state budget into balance.
Thus, in the international context, many jurisdictions are reducing the funding provided for education by central and local governments. The challenge is to maintain standards and to deliver a well educated population that will contribute to future prosperity through high value knowledge based work and innovation in products and processes. Quality Assurance in Education is committed to the dissemination of good practice and innovation in education to enable high standards to be maintained. This issue provides a variety of contributions to the sharing of good practice.
In this issue, the first paper by Sami Tabsh, Hany El Kadi and Akmal Abdelfatah, addresses an increasingly important issue, namely the code of ethics for academic staff. This is exceptionally important in assuring the public and, indeed, all stakeholders, of the quality and standards of the academic awards and distinctions conferred upon graduates of academic institutions. Confidence in the integrity of the people and processes that work together to provide the credentialed individuals, that we call graduates, is an essential feature of quality assurance in education. This confidence is fulfilled when people of integrity work together with robust systems with appropriate checks and balances to eliminate any corrupting influence on outcomes. The other aspect of this matter is that stakeholders should be confident that the resources provided for education are appropriately applied to the purpose for which they were provided. This means that people, plant and equipment should be devoted to their intended purpose and not misappropriated or misapplied.
Most institutions demonstrate their commitment to these standards through policy statements and communicate their substance and intent through inclusion in staff handbooks and other similar instruments. This paper used an institution’s ethical code, as presented in the institution’s staff handbook, as a basis for investigation the extent of staff knowledge of the code of ethics as well as the influence that the code had on the behaviour and practice of staff. The finding, that about one third of staff seemed unaware of the institution’s code of ethics, while many seemed unwilling to take appropriate and adequate action when confronted with breaches of the code of ethics, may be evidence of somewhat more widespread malaise that requires further investigation.
The second paper by Gabriel Donleavy presents results of research on a related issue. Many stakeholders of academic institutions are now pressing the case that institutions should be able to articulate clearly exactly what graduates of their programs should be expected to be able to do. These are often referred to as “graduate capabilities” or “graduate attributes”. The development of these statements has been encouraged by stakeholders in Australia, in particular. As a result, many units, courses and programs now have statements relating to what the student should be able to do on successful completion of their study. Furthermore, in most cases, faculties and institutions in Australia also publish what their graduates can be expected to do through a public statement on their websites of “graduate attributes”. The author presents an analysis of these public statements and uses the rank order of the individual statements to compare the content and importance attached to individual attributes. However, the author is keen to point out that the data are subject to a number of limitations that limited the extension of the analysis to more sophisticated realms.
The author noted that one of the traditional measures associated with university graduates, namely “mastery in depth of one discipline” does not seem to be as prominent in the attributes of the graduates of contemporary Australian universities as it might once have been.
The third paper in this issue by Ritu Narang, addresses the measurement of service quality in a number of institutions engaged in management education in a state in India. Bearing in mind that India is a rapidly developing economy where the future prosperity and wellbeing of the nation depends on the quality and reliability of the education system, this work extends the understanding of service quality measurement in the education context. The use of SERVQUAL and related instruments has been demonstrated and accepted in western cultures and contexts. This paper addresses the validity and reliability of a modified SERQUAL instrument in the cultural context of India. In particular, the author identifies attributes that require management attention in the institutions under study.
The fourth paper by Dr Conte seeks to address a very important matter that arises in all professions with regard to education. The need for members of professions to remain current with developments in their field of practice has been recognised by professional membership bodies for some considerable time. In some cases, membership bodies have mandated the amount of time that members must devote to personal professional development in order to retain their license to practice.
This paper reports on the provision of personal professional development opportunities offered to members of the pharmacy profession through the medium of online delivery. In particular, the cohort studied had no prior experience of online personal professional development. The author identifies the perceptions and experience of a group of seasoned professionals who have undertaken online professional development activities for the first time and analyses these in the context of developing professional development activities for pharmacists and other health care professionals.
Roma Debnath and Ravi Shankar, in the fifth paper in this issue, illustrate how interpretive structural modelling was used in the context of technical education in India. The provision of technical education is identified as a complex undertaking and interpretive structural modelling is used to identify variables in the delivery of technical education and to classify them as either enablers of the delivery of high standards of technical education and barriers to the delivery of high standards of technical education.
The authors applied the interpretive structural equation modelling methods to develop a set of policy lessons for central government as well as for the senior management of technical institutes in India relating to the effective delivery of technical education. The authors also posit that the methodology and methods used may provide an opportunity for deployment in contexts other than that of technical education.
The final paper in this issue is by Romadhani Ardi, Akhmad Hidayatno and Teuku Zagloel. The authors collected survey data from engineering students attending an institution in Indonesia and used confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modelling to identify the relationships between dimensions of quality as perceived by these students. The aim of the research was to provide insights into the student experience and to enable the senior management of the institution to identify what the students found to be important. This information can be used to feed in to the quality and service improvement plans and activities of the institution.
In this issue, we have a paper that examines the issue of ethics and ethical behaviour in an academic institution, a paper that examines what universities in Australia say about what their graduates should be able to do as a result of their participation in higher education, a paper that addresses the needs of professions in the form of continuing professional education delivered online to first time users of online professional development. These papers are supported by three papers addressing the issue of improving the student experience in different educational contexts. The Editorial Team presents these contributions to the readership to enhance their understanding and appreciation of methods that are being deployed internationally to improve the quality of education provision.
John DalrympleEditor, QAE, For the Editorial Team