– All over the world, students who attend tertiary education do so with the belief that the investment of their time, money and effort will provide them with returns on that investment that will change their lives and the lives of their families for years to come. As qualified graduates, those students emerge from their tertiary programmes with recognised skills and knowledge making them employable in their chosen fields, moving them forward along a career pathway and in many cases, bringing recognition to the institutions that trained them as they experience success and achievements related to their expertise.
While it is relatively straight forward to see that the graduates of a given program from a specific institution will be recognised and employed in the community and even the country that houses the institution, taking those qualifications to other jurisdictions, either for employment or further education, becomes much more complicated. While the institution that has awarded the qualification stands fully behinds its content and quality, the employers, regulators and institutions in other places don’t have that same depth of knowledge and therefore trust, to give the same level of recognition. This is where accreditation, particularly regional and international accreditation, come into play.
The accreditation of a qualification is a formal confirmation that the qualification is recognised and meets quality assurance and industry standards and requirements. Employers look for accredited qualifications as they know they are quality assured and are deemed “fit for purpose”. The industry’s trust in the qualification will translate to increased employability for the graduates.
National accreditation by a recognized authority provides students with assurance that their qualification will be accepted and paves the way to employment in the country in which it was awarded.
In the Pacific, however, a region where remittances from those who have moved to live and work abroad is a significant portion of national revenue, labour and student mobility is critical. Students need to know that their tertiary programmes open doors to employment and further education opportunities beyond their national borders. For graduates, students, and faculty to become more mobile in the region and internationally, regional and international accreditation of qualifications; and development of regional qualifications are necessary.
A qualification accredited internationally is generally widely recognised. Learners can therefore move across borders, in search of qualifications that are recognised internationally, and completion of which will qualify them for employment opportunities in different countries and regions.
By encouraging and supporting institutions of higher education to seek international recognition of programs, there is a strengthening of both the institution in terms of its appeal to prospective students and faculty, and the programs themselves by way of ongoing efforts to meet and maintain internationally agreed standards in program content, delivery and assessment.
A regional qualification is one that is developed and endorsed with input from stakeholders in the region, is accredited regionally, is available for delivery by providers in the region and is owned by the region. The learners enrolled in a regional qualification also have the option of moving from one provider to another to complete a qualification, and similarly, the faculty involved in the delivery of a regional qualification could move from one institution to another almost seamlessly as the learning outcomes and requirements of the qualification remain constant across all institutions delivering the programme.
International accreditation and regional qualifications have a great deal to offer for higher education in the Pacific. However, one of the greatest challenges to increasing the mobility of graduates, students and faculty are fears, at institutional and national levels, of losing individual identity and autonomy. The Tokyo Convention can become the catalyst for increased labour and student mobility.
The Convention is significant in providing the platform for countries to appreciate and respect the differences that exist in their education and qualifications systems and to work towards embracing a common recognition system. Strong and robust institutional as well as national quality assurance systems are instrumental in ensuring national recognition mechanisms are recognised and valued and they consequently can become the pillar upon which a regional recognition process is built. To facilitate and support the establishment of a regional recognition process, it is imperative that national mechanisms exist to enable institutions to recognise each other’s programs and qualifications.
Ratification of the Tokyo Convention by countries in the Pacific Region will strengthen and fortify the efforts already being undertaken to establish a regional recognition process mutually agreed to by the countries; it can become the next step in the process where national and regional mechanisms already exist.
Through the continued collaboration of governments, higher education institutions, and regional and international organizations it is our hope that Pacific Island students and graduates will reap the benefits of international recognition of their education and at the same time, the world at large will benefit from the contributions of Pacific Islanders in their workplaces and higher education institutions.
Dr Michelle Belisle is the Director of the Educational Quality and Assessment Programme (EQAP) at the Pacific Community (SPC).