New Paradigms for Raising both Quality and University Recognition in the Disrupted World of Higher Education

By Br. Armin Luistro FSC

Image for post
Image for post

Publisher’s Note: This work was first presented as a keynote lecture for the 2019 AUN-QA International Conference held last March 4 and 5 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City, Philippines.

Hosted and co-organized by De La Salle University, the event was themed “TO BE OR NOT TO BE: Outcomes-Based Education and AUN-QA Quality Culture in Practice.” The conference sessions covered how to transition from input-based teaching to outcomes-based learning, how to effectively use Learning Management Systems, how to foster deep and active links with stakeholders, and how to generate a principles-based quality culture.

Abstract — The advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution ushered the fast-paced evolution in communications and connectivity systems that is rapidly changing industries, societies, and even higher education. These disruptions — some predictable and others unforeseen — have been happening in the past decade. In Southeast Asia, the issues of massification, privatization, and internationalization have brought about a creative tension where conflicting interests instead give rise to innovative solutions — challenging universities to adapt to the emerging landscape.

Even institutions that have their own Outcomes-Based Education framework are still unable to keep pace with developments in the labor market landscape. Updating the curriculum and training teachers in the latest technology require significant investments in time and resources. In contrast, Generation Z students would not need much adjustments because they are digital natives. At the same time, the entry of these Gen Zers to industry cause disruption in the workplace and eventually society at large. This is the compounded challenge then that ASEAN universities face: preparing Gen Zers and succeeding generations to be citizens of a world powered by AI and related technologies and characterized by the fluid nature of future job skills.

AUN QA, since its inception, has caused disruption in our understanding of quality assurance and university recognition. For more than two decades the ASEAN University Network (AUN) has actively pursued regional cooperation by “harmonizing the educational standards and seeking continuous improvement of academic quality.” However, unlike QA principles practiced in other regions of the globe, ASEAN has pushed for inclusive development that aims to close the gap between universities in developed countries and those in struggling economies.

The challenges we face as education leaders open up for us the opportunity to unleash disruptions in both university reforms and quality assurance. Hopefully, this time around, universities could refocus their efforts towards not just catching up with the pace of technological advancements, but more importantly towards providing meaningful education for today’s youth so they can become agents of social change and contribute to humanity’s progress.

Image for post
Image for post
Br. Armin Luistro FSC delivering his keynote lecture for the 2019 AUN-QA International Conference.

Distinguished guests, fellow educators, ladies and gentlemen: Mabuhay! Good morning and welcome to the Philippines! Thank you for inviting me to speak here today in our continuing conversation on disruption in the world of higher education.

Among the many challenges we currently face are the disruptions caused by the 4th Industrial Revolution. Where previous industrial revolutions saw the power of steam, the use of electricity, and then the dynamism of electronics and information technology; this fourth one ushered the fast-paced evolution in communications and connectivity systems that is rapidly changing industries, societies and even higher education (Alicke & Karlsson, 2016).

These disruptions — some predictable and others unforeseen — which have been happening in the past decade, resulted in communities and the world becoming more connected — mobility is easier and cheaper, information is more readily accessible, and the power of communications has grown exponentially that almost everything is within reach through our mobile devices. In fact, these disruptions have become so much a part of our daily lives such that our mobile phones and/or smart watches are used constantly for references, navigation, sleep monitoring, online banking, and even ride-hailing services. Today, the first thing we ask upon entering a hotel or restaurant or private home is not, “how do you do?” but what is their Wi-Fi password.

These technological advancements shaped the global economy. International trade has been aided by better information on foreign markets. Improved telecommunications systems saw the increase in business process outsourcing in developing countries. Big data analytics contributed to productivity and supply chain efficiency (UNESC,O, 2014) Mobile apps like Lazada and Shopee make it convenient for us to get our personal necessities without physically going to malls or grocery stores.

This economic and market evolution gave rise to the increased need for higher level skills and competencies within the realm of higher education and thus universities sought to respond to this ever-growing demand. Asia, including Southeast Asia, is going through a phase of massification, whereby higher education is made more accessible to the general population and not just to an elite class. In addition, the last two decades have seen greater privatization of higher education to meet the growing demands of the population even as internationalization has become an important target for many institutions.

These factors have contributed to the increase in gross enrollment rates in higher education in a span of three decades since 1980. Enrollments in private schools now share a significant portion of total higher education enrollments across Asia (UNESCO, 2014). Branches of renowned private universities have been opened across the region and cross-border partnerships have been strengthened. Internationalization has created new opportunities in higher education with the increased mobility of students and teachers across the region and the world.

These developments, though, bring with it a whole new set of issues and concerns. Massification has brought down to a less-than-ideal level the teacher-student ratio in many Asian countries. Criticisms continue to be raised against the high cost of school fees in private schools. In some cases, slots reserved for foreign students to improve quality standards and cultural mix could significantly reduce the access of local students. As schools cope with the attendant challenges arising from massification, privatization and internationalization, some leading institutions are able to transform conflicting interests into a creative tension which give rise to innovative solutions. For instance, some schools have organized big class sizes where students are able to listen to eminent lecturers followed by break-out tutorials in smaller cell groups supervised by junior faculty.

Universities still need to adapt to an emerging landscape that is increasingly being defined by advancements in technology. How do universities respond to the growing number of employers hiring more individuals without a college degree? How do universities take full advantage of technology to make education less costly? How much should we invest in teacher-training on the latest technology, such as the kind of tech-training done for junior and senior high teachers in Australia? (Reid, 2016) What is the impact of MOOCs on the way universities are run today? How rigidly do we define copyright laws in the educational setting? Is it time to start a copyleft movement?

There are a whole new set of soul-searching questions on our own QA metrics and standards: Are our teacher-student ratios, research or internationalization targets helping top-ranked institutions to adhere to global standards while at the same time further widening the gap between them and the other struggling local universities? How should institutions deal with QA metrics that are not aligned with the university’s founding mission? Thus far, what is the over-all impact of QA standards and the highly competitive university rankings on SDG4’s goal to ensure equal access to tertiary education, including university by 2030? Or perhaps, do we have a measure to determine how effectively universities speak truth to power in a world that thrives in fake news?

Image for post
Image for post
Attendees of the 2019 AUN-QA International Conference are educators, administrators, and QA practitioners from ASEAN, Japan, China, Latin America, and Europe.

Several institutions that have an Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) framework are still unable to keep pace with developments in the labor market landscape. Today’s fast-paced evolutions in technology and industry make it difficult for curriculum writers to define the outcomes that are relevant for those jobs of the future. Is it possible to future-proof learners? Who would have thought that you can earn a living as a Grab or Uber driver, a YouTube sensation, a Vlogger, a data analyst, or a social media manager? Even a paid troll?

Teachers, much like the curriculum, will have to adapt not only to the latest technology but also to the learners who are mobile natives. Part of the problem lies in the lack of resources. Updating the curriculum and training teachers in the latest technology require significant investments in time and resources. And even if institutions choose to invest in new technology, insufficient training or some other cultural barrier or learning disability could prevent teachers from using a new learning application. When they finally do, there is no guarantee that the new technology can be effectively applied as a tool for learners in and outside the classrooms.

We must recognize that the students currently enrolled in our programs are Generation Z learners who are themselves mobile natives (Desjardins, 2019). This generation, born between 1997 and 2010, are the most exposed to technology and have not known a time in their lives without the internet. An article by ZeroCater featured in the World Economic Forum notes that Gen Zers in the US have integrated digital tools in their lives. Around 50% are connected online for 10 hours a day, 70% watch more than two hours of YouTube a day, 40% said they are addicted to their phones, and 85% said they watched videos online to learn a new skill (Quillen, 2018).

Interestingly, though, Gen Zers do not have a mindset that is rigidly confined to technology and data. Surveys revealed how much they value their community and the environment. One thing to watch though is the growing concern for mental health issues among Gen Zers. The American Psychological Association has this to say of American Gen Zers: “Headline issues, from immigration to sexual assault, are causing [them] significant stress…. [They] are also more stressed than adults overall about other issues in the news, such as the separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families and sexual harassment and assault reports (Sophie, 2019).”

Gen Zers do not just want to work for money, but also work for socially and environmentally responsible organizations (Juego, 2018). They want an empowering work culture and potential for career growth (Quillen, 2018). They prefer face-to-face communication in the workplace. They believe in the power of technology and automation to create a more equitable work environment by preventing bias and discrimination. And they also want jobs that will allow them to use technology to help others or the environment.

Obviously, they would not need much adjustment to keep pace with the latest in technology. As educators, we should tap their technological savviness and encourage them to engage in social and civic issues to facilitate learning. We may adjust our curriculum so teachers can truly become facilitators of learning and provide Gen Zers the opportunity to engage in a moderated discussion. When the teachers’ role has shifted to challenging long-held beliefs and asking questions to facilitate independent learning then you do not need teachers who are experts in the latest technology; instead, their expertise in the subject matter could focus on providing a framework in which Gen Zers could be encouraged to utilize the latest technology as a tool in learning even if the teachers themselves are unfamiliar with those tools.

As we begin to recognize that Gen Zers are already disrupting and will continue to disrupt industries and societies, we have to prepare for the disruptions in higher education that they are bound to trigger. Would QA veterans be willing to set aside academic qualifications and begin trusting industry practitioners to be guides on the sides inside the classroom? Are we able to measure how learners are provided with real-world depth in the workings of industries and the problems of society or insights into the developments affecting our shared future?

This is the compounded challenge that ASEAN universities face: preparing Gen Zers and succeeding generations to be citizens of a world powered by AI and related technologies, filled with data and information, and characterized by the fluid nature of future job skills.

If Gen Zers were to teach us one thing, it is bringing the human component back in the way we do business in higher education. Earlier we touched on the importance of ensuring the quality of our schools to benefit our students. However, if I may be so bold in saying that, indeed, many institutions have become overly reliant on university rankings based on metrics that may not truly redound to the benefit of learners except perhaps in improving the public’s perception of the institution. Many universities have given in to the pressure — internal and external to the institution — created by such university rankings and have fallen into the trap of cut-throat competition and other unethical means of gaining additional points instead of collaborating with their closest rivals towards improving the quality of higher education for all.

From the perspective of this side of the globe, there is reason to raise issues against the more renowned ranking agencies that use metrics based on quality standards that are critical to universities located in the western hemisphere and which were developed based on their shared history, concepts and traditions. For the longest time, Asian universities and those located in the developing world had no choice but to follow the standards and compete with Western Universities, which have long been established and now enjoys greater access to resources (Kinser, 2014).

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need to measure the quality of higher education against global standards. We can certainly learn a thing or two from their experience and perspective and work earnestly to improve ours. We surely need to consider the increased mobility of students worldwide as a key motivation in ensuring that the quality of higher education in our institutions are at par with the rest of the world. However, we still need a quality assurance system that is intrinsically ASEAN and which attempts to incorporate the shared dreams and long-held values of our peoples despite the cultural and historical diversity that is part of the ASEAN reality. We need a type of quality assurance that values the contribution made by our educational pursuits to improve the lives of the worlds poorest and uplift the human spirit. We need to ensure that the quality aspired for by our institutions are not rigidly and compulsively focused on cold facts and impersonal statistics but are grounded on the shared stories of real people with names and faces. Are there ASEAN intangibles that our metrics have ignored or forgotten? Is it time to review the AUN-QA’s end-goal vis-à-vis the common aspirations of the last, the lost and the least in our region and not just in reference to what is officially articulated by our respective governments and our ASEAN documents?

As we face these issues, there is reason for us to celebrate. Since its inception, AUN-QA has caused disruption in quality assurance and university recognition. For more than two decades the ASEAN University Network (AUN) (n.d.) has actively pursued regional cooperation by “harmonizing the educational standards and seeking continuous improvement of academic quality (Naoki, 2008).” AUN-QA is not fixated on rankings, but on developing quality assurance systems as the region continues to harmonize and integrate its higher education institutions and systems. Unlike QA principles practiced in other regions of the globe, ASEAN has pushed for inclusive development that aims to close the gap between universities in developing and developed countries and those in struggling economies. In so doing, we ensure that even the poorest student in the region has access to a university of quality.

AUN is cognizant of the diversity and uneven development in the region with the more developed ASEAN members extending support to the rest by sharing their experience and knowledge of quality assurance in higher education, thereby contributing to the overall improvement of quality education for all. This in itself is a disruption in the realm of quality assurance as it focuses less on competition and more on collaboration in raising the level of higher education in the region.

Let me close by referring to a recent case that has been a cause of much personal distress and discomfort for me. Forgive me for showing this distasteful photo of a 23-year old who died in a room filled with medical professionals. The subject was allegedly involved in drug trafficking and had a shoot-out with police operatives. The video has made the rounds on Facebook and shows him in an emergency room of a government hospital in the Visayas. In front of at least three nurses in the emergency room, he bled to his death while one of the nurses took a video of the scene. There was no attempt to relieve his pain. No sense of urgency to apply any medical treatment to save his life. One of the nurses even commented: “Nanlaban ka pa kasi” which translates to “you shouldn’t have resisted [the police] (Inquirer, 2019).” That is the same justification mouthed by supporters of the government’s War on Drugs. The supposed “lifesavers” earned their degrees only recently from a Nursing College in the country. I assume the institution has a permit from our Commission on Higher Education and it passed all the quality assurance ratings of a local accrediting body. And yet, these nurses could forget so quickly their basic sense of humanity.

As AUN-QA strives for continuous improvement of its criteria, metrics and processes, it is crucial that quality assurers do not simply push aside these human questions. Universities are under threat and are beset with many challenges even as we speak. Hopefully, this time around, universities could refocus their efforts towards not just catching up with the pace of technological advancements or adjusting to the emerging disruption, but more importantly initiate conversations and deeper discussions towards providing meaningful education for Gen Zers so they can become agents of social change and contribute to the betterment and progress of humanity. Remember, this is the generation that “tend to over-analyze and are very competitive. They have their bucket lists at age 20. They have many ideals and when they realize their ideals don’t fit reality, they get disappointed. They give of themselves wholeheartedly, but are hard on themselves, as well (Dizon, 2019).” Come to think of it, QA experts seem to have an uncanny resemblance to Gen Zers except maybe with their bucket list at 20.

The challenges we face as education leaders open up for us the opportunity to unleash disruptions in both university reforms and quality assurance. Among the challenges we face are, to name a few: (a) the quality of our respective universities, (b) the integration and harmonization of our higher education standards, © the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution, (d) the Gen Zers in our classrooms and very soon in our workforce, (e) the task of humanizing quality assurance, and (f) the ASEANization of our QA metrics. Our attempt to address all these challenges should lead us to another creative tension that should trigger a new disruption in higher education — this time with ASEAN universities reinventing QA in higher education propelled by the greatness of the ASEAN spirit and, perhaps, redefining the nature of universities in this age of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Bibliography

Alicke, K., Glatzel, C., & Karlsson, P. (2016, February). Big data and the supply chain: The big-supply-chain analytics landscape (Part 1). Retrieved from McKinsey & Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions /operations/our-insights/big-data-and-the-supply-chain-the-big-supply-chain-analytics-landscape-part-1

AUN-QA. (n.d.). Brief Introduction and History. Retrieved from AUN-QA: http://www.aun-qa.org/briefintroduction

Desjardins, J. (2019, February 19). Generation Z: What to expect from the newest addition to the workforce. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda /2019/02/meet-generation-z-the-newest-member-to-the-workforce

Dizon, Nikko. (2019, January 1). Why Gen Z is most vulnerable to mental illness. Retrieved from: https://lifestyle .inquirer.net/319662/why-gen-z-is-most-vulnerable-to-mental-illness/

Inquirer. (2019, February 9). Inhuman. Retrieved from Inquirer: https://opinion.inquirer.net/119652 /inhuman

Juego, A. (2018, December 9). Attracting the Filipino Gen Z. Retrieved from Inquirer: Available at: https://business. inquirer.net/261952/attracting-the-filipino-gen-z

Kinser, K. (2014). Questioning Quality Assurance. New Directions for Higher Education, 55–67.

Naoki, U. (2008, November 8). Regional Quality Assurance Activity in Higher Education in Southeas Asia: Its Characteristics and Driving Forces. Quality in Higher Education, 277–290.

Quillen, A. (2018, June 4). The Workforce’s Newest Members: Generation Z. Retrieved from ZeroCater: https://zero cater.com/blog/2018/06/04/workforce-newest-members-generation-z/

Reid, J. (2016, June 6). Teacher training program an Australian first. Retrieved from The Educator: https://www.theeducatoronline.com/au/news/teacher-training-program-an-australian-first/217190

Sophie Bethune, Sophie. (January 2019, Vol 50, №1). Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns from APA report: https://www.apa.org /monitor/2019/01/gen-z

A leading institution of higher education in the Philippines

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store