The concept of quality and the process of assuring that quality is maintained are very important in the educational setting. However, quality is non-referential concept. This means that it depends on the point of reference that we take when we define what we mean by quality in educational processes. Concepts associated with quality are often confused especially when the term quality assurance is used. Quality assurance is first and foremost, a process. Any process by definition of first principles have input(s) and then produces the output(s). The outcome of the process is therefore important to determine if quality (the objective) has been achieved or not. Therefore quality cannot be directly related to a standardized process and universally applied at the different levels of the educational system. In one scenario, quality can be linked to the number of students successfully passing a final exam and graduating from the University. In another context, quality can be linked to indicators such as external audit reports and the grades being achieved by students.
While quality measurement through quantifiable variables can be straightforward, quality in the process is much more difficult to measure. For instance, quality of the instruction or teaching is very difficult to measure through quantifiable techniques. As a consequence, we find that feedback forms will be used for students to judge their perceived quality of the instruction, very often by agreeing or disagreeing with one or at most a few statements. However, experience, field practices and research have shown that most of the time the filling of such questionnaires are mainly done in a rather subjective way by the students. A consequent number of them just fill in to get it ‘done’ or because it has been ‘imposed’ on them. When a student is not allowed to register for the coming semester because he has not completed the feedback forms for the courses he took in the previous semester, then the whole process of quality assurance through feedback is flawed.
In a recent workshop at the University of Mauritius with renowned international education specialists, the emphasis of the Financial Secretary was on quality education. Yet the term quality being mentioned repeatedly without having a clue from the policy makers what they mean by quality in a contextualized situation. For a Financial Secretary, for instance, quality might well be to produce more graduates with less money, while for an educational manager, quality can be reasonably defined as having fewer but more competent graduates with more investment in resources. Quality and access to education are clearly two complementary elements of the educational landscape but in many situations they can become contradictory. Some people argue that opening access to under-qualified learners will automatically have an impact on the quality.
The same argument is used when it comes to increasing intake. Again, without the existence of a unified framework to define quality in a contextualized multi-tier setting, quality will always remain a flawed concept and false debate around the educational landscape. Issues of quality in educational processes normally arise in terms of the content, the pedagogical approach used, the delivery of the course as per established rules, the facilities available, the skill of the facilitator and students’ satisfaction and performance. Another factor which is also very important with regards to quality education is the quality of students’ learning itself which gives completely different indications from students’ performances. Quality of students’ learning is often obvious in the competencies they develop rather than the tacit knowledge they acquire and reproduce in examinations.