Accreditation in Vietnam has received much attention from leaders in Vietnam Higher. Education. Initial efforts to start a quality movement began in 1996; however, the first nationwide discussion of accreditation in Vietnam higher education did not occur until 2000 at the National Workshop on Quality Assurance in Dalat (Oliver et al., 2006). Since 2000, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) has issued many policies to support the development of accreditation in Vietnam. In 2004, MOET issued temporary regulations of accreditation for universities as a tool to implement quality control operations in the country (Nguyen et al., 2009). In 2007, Vietnam’s MOET established quality improvement standards for its developing accreditation model, which included 10 standards of accreditation with 64 criteria for all higher educational institutions (Le, 2013). In 2017, MOET issued the new standards with 24 standards and 111 criteria based on the Asian University Network- Quality Assurance (AUN-QA). This effort demonstrated the MOET’s efforts to improve the accreditation toward the regional accreditation and support the quality continuous improvement.
In line with quality improvement, accreditation in U.S. included a standard of institutional effectiveness and a subsection in this standard is about quality enhancement plan (QEP). To meet this specific standard, an institution must show a long-term plan to support and enhance one aspect of student learning based on a careful examination of the institution’s capacity and situation. A successful QEP also needs to include a clear evaluation process. It is important that the QEP show its impact on the entire institution (SACSCOC, 2012). QEP is a remarkable element of the revised accreditation process and an innovative indicator for improving overall institutional quality and effectiveness. The QEP requires institutions to create a plan that focuses significantly on enhancing some aspects of student learning. The QEP topic must have campus wide effects and directly address the educational experience of its students (Cruise, 2007). This paper examined the Vietnamese educational experts’ perspectives on the implementation of this innovation into Vietnamese institutional accreditation.
Institutional effectiveness provides information on how well an institution achieves its missions and strategic goals (Suskie, 2009). According to Conner (2011), quality assurance and continual improvement are the two key components of institutional effectiveness. The purpose of institutional effectiveness is to enhance accountability and the accreditation process is the primary method to assure institutional effectiveness (Eaton, 2007). Monitoring of institutional effectiveness needs to include a continuous evaluation of processes, procedures and governance. More importantly, the institution must share evaluative data drawn from institutional assessment with its faculty, students and community to develop and improve programs that support institutional goals (Banta, Pike & Hansen, 2009). Bailey and Alfonso (2005) have defined six steps for developing a culture of evidence to measure institutional effectiveness:
- Assessing the needed resources for effective institutional research.
- Recognizing the difficulty and time required for program effectiveness assessment.
- Including student input to the development of quantitative and qualitative research processes.
- Creating opportunities for research engagement and discussion of student learning outcomes evidence.
- Disseminating systematically research findings.
- Collaborating within and among institutions’ and states’ institutional researchers.
In response to federal mandates, accreditation commissions have included measurements of institutional effectiveness into accreditation standards for many years. SACSCOC was one of the first to include the term institutional effectiveness in 1989 (Conner, 2011). It is the only regional accrediting agency that pioneered enhancement of educational quality and the improvement of the effectiveness of institutions into its own mission statement. Institutional effectiveness also is integrated into four SACSCOC standards. Other regional accrediting agencies have addressed institutional effectiveness indirectly such as assessment of student learning in MSCHE’s seven standards, and as a sub-component in NEASC and HLC’s standards. As for NWCCU, institutional effectiveness is addressed in several standards. WASC addresses institutional effectiveness in measuring student learning, and allocating resources to support student learning (Conner, 2011). Overall, the institutional effectiveness standard in the seven regional accrediting agencies requires institutions to show evidence that the institution and program performance are achieving student learning outcomes and using systematic and ongoing evaluation to refine key processes for student learning improvement.
To develop best practices for ongoing improvement in demonstrating institutional effectiveness, Griego (2005) suggested four criteria for use by accrediting teams: the demonstration of evidence regarding the extent of alignment between institutional goals and purposes and student success; evidence that the governing board, administration, faculty, and student affairs incorporated agreed-upon principles, approaches, goals, and indicators of success; evidence of measures to evaluate student success and their effectiveness; evidence that student learning analysis and the assessment of student satisfaction are used to improve the design and organization of curriculum and pedagogy and to generate new approaches to teaching and learning; and evidence that the institution addresses the issue of student retention.
Seymour (2004) suggested improving organizational structure by creating an office to address issues relating to institutional effectiveness. The structure of this office should be collaborative and interactive with informed accountability processes (Banta, et al., 2009; Fontana et al., 2006), and dialogue with various stakeholders (Harbor, Davies, & Gonzales-Walker, 2010). Other considerations are to facilitate collaborative planning in the early assessment process (Katsinas, Kinkead, & Kennamer, 2009); to get faculty engaged in program assessment as professional development (Haviland, Shin, & Turley, 2010), thereby increasing confidence in their assessment knowledge; to use the assessment data for quality enhancement purposes rather than compliance with federal mandates through accreditation; and to have administrative support that promotes a campus culture for student success (Skolits & Graybeal, 2007).
Southwest University’s QEP Experience
This section shared the experience from a research university in United States to work on QEP process. The experience from this section was analyzed from interviewing with ten U.S. participants including faculty and administrators. In order to work on QEP, institutions often make a five-year plan on how to find out an institution-wide challenge. This challenge is based on evidence of institutional context and assessment results. QEP requires future evidence. For example, if the QEP is about program assessment, the QEP plan is based on the findings about student behavior or academic achievement in a certain area to improve on specific learning outcomes in the next 5 years. When the onsite team comes on campus, they provide feedback to develop and refine the proposed QEP. QEP requires a lot of cooperation in the development process and a numerous of participants’ involvement in the QEP preparation. QEP process tried to ensure that all the colleges had representatives in drafting the QEP. It was a bottom up process so it needed a lot of stakeholders’ involvement.
As soon as the university had enough faculty members who volunteered, they were put into two committees to work on the QEP. The topic selection committee was in charge of narrowing the topic and the implementation committee was responsible for drafting the QEP proposal. The topic selection process had to be documented to explain how the committee had surveyed the chairs, staff, faculty, students and external audiences such as stakeholders and employers. The survey would ask broadly the dominant issue of student learning that Southwest University was having. Once the committee decided on the topic, the data collection was done to provide credence to this topic. In addition to data from the survey, QEP members were also assigned to conduct a search of other university’s QEPs having a similar topic and then providing some suggestions for Southwest University’s QEP at the weekly planning meetings.
In addition to assessment surveys from chairs, faculty, staff and students, Southwest University also had to look at assessing findings of student learning to identify particular areas in which students were not performing well. Triangulation of the indirect assessment method (survey) and direct assessment (student learning) enabled the committee to make a more accurate decision for the QEP topic. When the committee had a topic, they began to work on writing the proposal. The major parts in the proposal were topic identification and development, literature review, QEP goals, QEP outcomes, implementation plan, assessment plan, quality enhancement plan budget and QEP five-year comprehensive timeline. One important aspect of the QEP is that it has been recognized to be a financial burden on institutions. The QEP normally requires a separate budget line at the university and it can range from $30,000 annually to $500,000. The university often referred to the experience of other university to make a final decision on budget.
The topic selection committee was divided into sub-committees to find resources and references for the implementation committee. Each sub-committee was in charge of finding reference materials for a specific part of the proposal. The implementation committee used the resources and references from the sub-committees to put more detailed information into the proposal. When the proposal was done, it was sent to the entire committee to get feedback and make revisions. In addition, the topic selection committee also worked on strategies to inform students about the QEP such as bus wrap, asking students to complete a survey to get a free T-shirt, and delivering flyers and brochures across the campus. The last component in the QEP was to send to SACSCOC a 10-page report after five years. This report provides brief information on how the institution is succeeding in achieving QEP goals, what the institution has learned from the QEP and what changes the institution has made for improvement.
The advantage of QEP is to help institutions address their current issue regarding student learning and pay close attention identify one area that is the most important to the institution to embed to the QEP topic. The QEP would provide institution opportunity to improve for the next five years. Although the QEP is evaluated for a short term, it is required to have in place for the longer time. To sustain the idea of previous QEP about ethics in student learning, Southwest University established a center of Ethics, a director to be in charge of the center’s activities and continuous funding for its operation.
Qualitative research using open ended interview is the major method to collect data for this research. Ten participants were the educational experts in accreditation in Vietnam were interviewed. Before the interviews, the participants received a summary about the two QEP the Southwest University conducted including the experience and U.S. perspective about the QEP implementation for the past ten years. The summary page provided rich information to Vietnamese participants and save the explanation time in the interview. The average interview time is one hour. However, there was one two-hour interview due to the participant’s high interest in the topic, therefore, the interview discussed further ideas about QEP implication in Vietnam. The objective of this research was to learn the possibility to implement the idea of QEP into the current Vietnamese higher education accreditation.
When presenting briefly the philosophy of QEP, all participants stated that the requirement of quality improvement was embedded in all institutional accreditation standards. Three educators claimed that all Vietnamese institutional accreditation standards included the requirement of quality improvement and require institutions to continuously improve quality. One Educator argued that it is not necessary to implement the QEP since it was required in the standards. Another educator asserted that because institutions do not have an active role to carry out in the QEP, it should not be included in the current set of quality assurance standards in Vietnam. He explained that the QEP would not be feasible because Vietnam does not grasp the concept of quality assurance.
“Accreditation is the final stage to evaluate the institutional administrative system of quality. I think the idea of QEP is to consolidate the administrative system of quality based on the accreditation process. Accreditation enables institutions to find out the weaknesses in the system and institutions enhance the resources to operate the quality system better. Vietnam does not have an administration system based on standards; therefore, most institutions comply with accreditation process rather than improve their administration system.”
Four educator emphasized that the institutions not only provide plans to address their weaknesses but also improve their strengths. One Educator stated “In theory, the idea of QEP is completely feasible in Vietnam context because it is similar to what Vietnamese institutions are doing.” After sharing the concept of QEP with one Educator, she claimed that the U.S. was more practical than Vietnam. She argued it would be impossible and ineffective to require institutions to have many quality plans at the same time. Instead of doing five quality plans, it should be better to work on a specific plan and have a reliable committee to assess the plan. In Vietnam, institutions just wrote the plans but they did not make it happen.
Two educator also brought up one concern about the implementation of QEPs. They claimed that institutions always have good plans but no one can ensure the plans would be implemented. One Educator emphasized that U.S. accreditation paid attention to the follow-up stage, in which institutions showed the relationship between the plan and the implementation in the reaffirmation process. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, accreditation was still relatively new, and not many people pay attention to it. Educator F stated:
“Some institutions also had plans for improvement. After five years, the reaffirmation process did not consider if the institutions implemented it. Therefore, they did it for a few years and stopped. In theory, Vietnamese institutions did the same process. However, there was no evaluation process to see if the institutions complied with the requirements. It is a major challenge in Vietnam accreditation now”
To implement the QEP successfully in Vietnam, educators suggested that it may take a few more years when the public and private centers of accreditation were fully in operation. These centers will have more autonomy to require the institutions to comply with the accreditation. In addition, it was necessary to wait until all Vietnamese institutions finished their first external accreditation process then included the QEP into the standard so that institutions had time to well prepare for the next cycle. Most importantly, educators reminded whenever Vietnamese higher education learned anything new, it was necessary to consider the local policy, national requirement, and guidelines to implement or the innovation would not be the most effective to the system.
Two educators found the concept of QEP to be very interesting because its major purpose was to improve quality, which was similar to the core philosophy of institutional effectiveness. They were puzzled as to how a consensus was reached on an issue that an institution needs to work on for five years. They suggested presenting the idea of QEP as a guideline for institutions to build in their plans. They emphasized that institutions need to understand that the key point of the plan was to improve the institution’s quality. Another Educator also stated that what institutions in Vietnam were doing was similar to the QEP. This educator indicated that budget allocation is the most important thing to implement QEP successfully in Vietnam. In order to implement the idea of QEP in Vietnam institutional accreditation, one educator suggested
“When we have a plan, it should be reviewed by the institution quality assurance committee, including the deans of all colleges, the administrators and leaders’ committee. If the two committees agree with this plan, it will be presented to the president or provost for their approval, especially the budget support.”
Two educators stated differently with the previous educators. One did not think budget allocation would be a problem if the QEP initiative was included in accreditation policy “Institutions need to have strong determination to conduct the QEP for quality improvement. It is similar to quality assurance. If you do not push to work on it, it will never happen.” Another suggested Vietnam needed to learn the format and specific requirements of the QEP, such as the selection of a research topic that has an impact on the whole institution and evidence that institutions provided the resources to conduct the project. He confirmed that choosing the correct issue may impact other activities at the institution. This educator also addressed the concern about the 5-year budget allocation for the QEP. He recommended “it would be feasible to encourage World Bank to have a specific funding for the QEP with specific requirements. Institutions will submit a proposal to ask for funding. The committee will select a good QEP proposal to provide funding.”
Discussion and Conclusion
All participants agreed that the QEP was similar to the quality plans in Vietnamese institutional accreditation. Five participants found the QEP feasible in Vietnam’s context. These participants thought that budget allocation, the follow-up evaluation of project implementation, and specific guidelines should be included in the Vietnamese quality plans. The other three participants believed the QEP would be difficult to implement because of the cost, the current culture of quality assurance in the administrative system, and the lack of autonomy that most institutions had. Two participants emphasized the necessity to verify that institutions actually implemented the plans they presented in the accreditation reports. It can be inferred from the interviews that the follow-up stage after the onsite visit in Vietnam was not taken into account. Yet, a research study by Larkan-Skinner (2015) found that many U.S. institutions benefit much in the follow-up stage of accreditation.
Although there would be several challenges associated with the full implementation of the QEP in Vietnam institutional accreditation, three elements that Vietnamese higher education accreditation can consider are inclusion of the requirements for the quality plans in Vietnam, the process of topic selection, the assessment outcomes plan and the 5-year timeline for carrying out the plan. Most importantly, to ensure the effectiveness of the QEP, Vietnamese accreditation should conduct a follow-up evaluation with each institution to determine if they can comply with the QEP requirements.
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