Beyond research results, student well-being should be part of quality indicators for universities


Credit: Unsplash/Albert Wu

Increasingly, students expect more from higher education institutions beyond skills and knowledge, school leaving certificates and the promise of employment. They also want care and advice. Students even want to actively collaborate in their university’s quality assurance processes and add health and well-being as key indicators of university quality.

However, universities often end up ignoring the needs of students. Although they may have once been the primary customers of higher education, universities are now prioritizing market-driven quality indicators defined by industries and governments.

The need for a new quality agenda

Universities around the world have invested in quality assurance processes to achieve national and international accreditation. It is increasingly becoming a mandatory process for all study programs and is repeated every four to five years.

One of the most important steps is consultation with students, past and present. Appointed external reviewers interview a sample of students and ask for their opinion of university programs and services.

Students who have had a good experience will speak frankly. Others will be more hesitant and wonder if it makes sense to share their displeasure.

However, with limited experience of life at other universities, many students are not well equipped to make comparative judgments about quality.

Current university quality assurance systems also risk being undermined by the need to perform well in global rankings.

Some might argue that rankings as a measure of quality favor the prestige of an institution’s research over the student experience. These rankings typically weight universities’ student numbers or volume of research output above sustained investment in teaching and student development.

These “ticked” approaches to quality assurance are simplistic. They do not provide a full understanding of student and staff experiences or levels of (dis)satisfaction.

The individual, institutional and global impacts of COVID-19 have also shaken and challenged core educational values.

This adds to the urgency for students to acquire attributes such as mental, cultural, and spiritual well-being during their studies. There is now a need to rethink the quality of higher education to take account of social inclusion, diversity, health and lifelong learning.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and UNESCO Futures of Education (2021) propose a new social contract where inclusive quality education is a natural right for all.

A recently published report by the European Commission also advocates a lifelong learning approach to environmental sustainability. He talks about “practical, engaging and action-oriented learning methods” to promote knowledge, critical thinking, practical skills, empathy and caring for nature.

Therefore, it is necessary to seriously ask the questions of quality assurance systems that go to the fundamental values: why, when, how, what and, above all, for whom?

Sustainability is the way to go

We need a new academic quality assurance program focused on more inclusive processes and wellbeing.

Long-term revenue-generating innovations undoubtedly remain important. But not if it doesn’t take wellness values ​​seriously.

Quality monitoring and evaluation must be done at all levels: from the national level (macro), from the institutional level (meso), to the micro (programme/course) and nano (people) level of the human being in as a complex entity. It is important to recognize a holistic approach to quality as an ecosystem with many interdependent actors.

A reference quality assurance system in higher education must reconcile these interests. He must actively involve the pupils in this important task.

In a previous article, one of our authors identified several key points that such a quality assurance process should include:

  1. ensure that universities balance the perspectives and needs of various stakeholders, including students and staff
  2. build flexibility so that campuses can adapt to rapid changes in technology and social norms, emphasizing service to students and users rather than specific technological measures
  3. fostering a culture and mechanism of continuous improvement within higher education institutions, while serving as a seal of approval for foreigners and prospective students.

The goal remains to ensure the quality of education, to strengthen it as a public good and to make it accessible to all with lifelong opportunities.

This aligns with UNESCO’s call for education to move away from an overreliance on teacher-led instruction and individual achievement. Instead, we should emphasize cooperation and collaboration.

Often organized into individual subjects, curricula should emphasize ecological, intercultural and interdisciplinary learning.

The higher education ecosystem is not just about accreditation and rankings. It is also about “glocalization“—see the global but act locally, ensure sustainability and promote the power of students to make a difference in their communities.

There is a need to acknowledge the growing voices of students when commenting on the quality of education in which they participate. Universities need to consider their concerns beyond course feedback and program design. Universities should seek to integrate lifelong learning and wellbeing into academic studies and prepare for global citizenship.

Beyond grade point averages and future salaries, students want college and degree experiences that are more mindful of well-being.

Higher-ranked colleges don’t necessarily provide a better educational experience

Provided by The Conversation

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