University Grants Commission Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva
Pic by Nimalasiri Edirisinghe
By Nishel Fernando
The University Grants Commission (UGC) urges Sri Lanka’s professional bodies not to be threatened by the Quality Assurance (QA) and Accreditation Bill, while insisting that the bill would enhance the credibility of a degree or diploma programme locally and globally, avoiding any interfaces with the integrity and power vested on professional bodies.
“At policy level, a national QA and Accreditation Bill has been gazetted to cover and to accredit all academic distinctions to be awarded within the shores of Sri Lanka. Such a label from a national QA and Accreditation by an independent third party will provide a seal of approval for all academic programmes of any state, non-state or foreign institute offered in Sri Lanka, acceptable and respected by all, locally, regionally and globally,” UGC Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva said.
He was delivering the keynote speech at the International Higher Education Conference jointly organised by CMA Sri Lanka, CPM Sri Lanka and Association of Management Development Institutions in South Asia (AMDISA), in Colombo, last Thursday.
The QA and Accreditation Bill, which was gazetted on June 14, proposes to set up a new commission named ‘the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Commission for Higher Education’. The commission will grant provisional or full accreditation to higher educational institutions and to programmes and review such accreditation from time to time.
The local institutions that claim to be affiliated to foreign institutions will also have to maintain the standards of those foreign institutions in Sri Lanka. The commissions will also have powers to revoke the registration of an institution, for failure to maintain proper standards, including the syllabuses and teaching.
For an example, once the bill is enacted, the professional bodies will be forced to reveal specific reasons when they refuse to accredit degree programmes. Hence, Prof. de Silva expects that it would enhance the transparency and accountability of such bodies, leaving no room for
However, Prof. de Silva acknowledged that the professional bodies are attempting to block this bill, fearing they would lose their powers to the proposed commission.
“Issues arise when it comes to professional degree programmes. The specific issue, to put it precisely is that, the professional organisations that are empowered by acts or ordinances feel threatened that another authority is transgressing their power and authority,” he said.
While assuring that the integrity and power of professional bodies won’t be compromised through the bill, he emphasised that the need for such an independent third party entity has been recognised by global bodies for accreditation in higher education.
“A National Quality Assurance and Accreditation System that oversees all accreditation processes in higher education will not interfere with the integrity, power and respect of such professional organisations but instead, would enhance the credibility of the professional degree or diploma locally and globally.
This is the view of the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQUAAHE), one of the largest global networks of quality assurance in higher education and APQN Asia Pacific Quality Network,” he elaborated.
Overall, the UGC expects that the bill will enhance the quality and transparency of the process of the accreditation while promoting fair competition in the sector, similar to the other countries in the region.
“The basis behind the concept is to provide the legal framework to solidify the expectation that all professional accreditation agencies shall display the transparency and principles of good governance and refrain themselves from ownership and protectionism issues,” he noted.
Prof. de Silva opined that the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Commission would act as a watchdog in higher education, as similar to the role of National Audit Act of 2018 in public finance.
However, he stressed on the importance of appointing independent and expert members to the commission.
“It’s imperative such a national quality assurance and accreditation commission when established is independent and represented by experts with unblemished professional records from different disciplines in void of political and any other influences,” he said.
According to the bill, the 13-member commission consists of the National Education Commission chairman, UGC chairman, Higher Education secretary and Finance Ministry secretary.
Further, nine expert members will be appointed by the country’s president from a panel of 15 persons nominated by the Higher Education minister.
Certain professional bodies expressed grave concerns of potential political interference through the nine expert members to be nominated by the subject minister.
“The political interference of such positions must be removed, which in fact, had got it to this bill at the time of submission. This must be removed at Parliament and committee level. The UGC has made strongest representations to this effect to the high level policymakers. Once such issues are removed, we hope that this will be a historic bill for progress,” Prof. de Silva responded while sharing these concerns.
He told Mirror Business that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to remove any clauses that would potentially bring political influences to the commission when the bill is taken up at parliamentary and committee levels.
The bill, which was on the making for over two years, was prepared with extensive consultations with the stakeholders in higher education.