Starting in the early 1980’s, quality has become a key theme in education. The reasons are not hard to find. Higher education is witnessing rapid changes like shift from elite system to ‘massification’, more diverse learner groups joining higher education, importance of education and training in the new knowledge society, emergence of private providers, growing internationalization of education, shrinking public investment and a general perception that educational institutions are far from successful in serving the needs of the society in which they function. The recent emphasis on Quality Assurance (QA) can be attributed, on the one hand, to Government interest in demonstration of “responsible and relevant activities undertaken with the tax payer’s money” and, on the other, to the growing doubts concerning the possibility of maintaining quality in the changing circumstances. QA is not being seen as an option anymore.
As a process, QA in Distance Education (DE) is not new, as Tait (1993) suggests, peer review of course materials, monitoring of assignments and learner feedback are QA features associated with DE since its inception. DE processes involved inspection of ‘products’ and ‘services’ internally, and by the larger community of stakeholders.
Sallis (1993) reinforces the view shared by DE practitioners that QA is implicit in DE by tracing origins of QA to industrialization which led to a change in the nature of work. According to Sallis ,
‘prior to industrialization, craftsmen set their own standards on which their livelihoods and reputations depended…….,after mass production came, the manufacturing process broke down work into repetitive tasks, taking away from the worker the possibility of self-checking quality.(p5)
The fragmented nature of work in DE as an industrialized form of learning, removes the scope of individual involvement, lending itself to external processes to ensure the quality of learning.
In contemporary times, all institutions of higher learning are expected to set up QA procedures for performance and make themselves more relevant to the society and the economy. The task involves an acknowledgement of the contested nature of QA and issues such as accountability, control, autonomy and self-assessment, the ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ nature, and conflicting understandings of the term ‘quality’ itself. Failure to recognize this can diminish institutional purpose.
This book is an account of QA practices in 16 selected DE institutions in 12 Asian countries. The 16 case studies serve to introduce the reader to a wide range of current issues and practices. The last Chapter, written by the authors, integrates the lessons drawn from these accounts in a perspective, for future policy initiatives in QA in DE.
The articles provide essential inputs to practitioners and academics in DE anticipating, designing, implementing and appraising QA at the cusp of many transitions that are taking place in the region. One...