by Dr Adrian Fraser
June 9, International Accreditation Day is a day which should be of importance to students, learners, parents, and institutions of learning. But what is accreditation and what is its significance? It is about setting and maintaining standards in education and ensuring quality and acceptance of certificates and degrees?
The issue of accreditation is more important today than it has ever been. In the past, our secondary schools did the Cambridge and London certificates. Those seeking tertiary education in the region went largely to the University of the West Indies that had accreditation from British institutions. Today, the revolution in technology has prompted the emergence of on-line and distance education programmes. The region has also witnessed an influx of off-shore education institutions. We face a situation with students encouraged by glamourous advertisements going off to foreign education schools, coming back with certificates and applying for positions within the government service and private sector.
The problem is how to assess their qualifications where the institutions might not have been accredited. Diploma mills have become numerous, that is, institutions granting degrees that are inferior and with inadequate assessment
of students. There are those selling degrees, some persons falling victims to this.
Other regional education institutions have emerged over the years and we now have the establishment of community colleges and technical and vocational institutions in probably all CARICOM countries. What has made the issue urgent is the move toward freedom of movement in our quest for the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.
The question is, would certification from national technical, vocational, and other institutions be equivalent to those elsewhere. The urgency of the problem came to the attention of CARICOM in 2003 in medicine, when the General Medical Council of Great Britain, to comply with EU rules, stopped accrediting medical schools internationally. In 2003/4 CARICOM then set up the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professionals (CAAM/HP). This is recognized by the US Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation and allows graduates of schools accredited by them access to the US.
In responding to those developments and to facilitate free movement of people in the region, national accreditation bodies were set up in member states with European Union support that involved strengthening human resource capacity, training in techniques and in related areas. SVG has its National Board, with a unit in the Ministry of Education serving as the secretariat. As with others in the region, it registers and accredits academic services, verifies credentials, and provides advice to students.
Accreditation is a very complex matter. It is possible, for instance, for an institution to be accredited, but with programmes that are not. Continuous evaluation is necessary, based on standards agreed on. Because we exist in a global marketplace the recognition by foreign accreditation bodies will have to be critical, with national bodies feeding into whichever regional ones exist.
Problems exist, however. One of the complaints of the CAAM-HP, at least in 2014, was that in some states, economic gain was given preference over programme quality and interest of students. This is something to be guarded against, as profit-making off-shore schools infiltrate the region, prepared to do what is necessary to meet their goals.
Students are warned to seek advice before they enrol in programmes offered by on-line, distance and off-shore institutions. A lot of work must be done in our market-driven environment to ensure maintenance of standards, acceptability, and the credibility of the National Bodies in “creating a Quality Assurance ethos,” as they have been charged to do.