“Imagine a child choosing a new toy. What would drive their choice? Vivid colors, shine, peculiar shapes rather than versatility, resistance to damage and durability. The wrap, which does not necessarily coincide with the contents but is easy to depict. And now imagine a student, or rather a parent, who eventually pays for the education, choosing a university. The rank, the number of stars gained, the number of foreign professors employed, the graduation rates. Accountability so to say. But is this “paper accountability” accountable nowadays, or is it just a wrap which does not necessarily coincide with the contents?” – Prof. X of East Kazakhstan State University.
(Kazansky L.M., unfinished research “Academic resistance to internal quality assurance schemes”, interviewee, 2014)
The comment, stated by Prof. X at one of очередной plenary department meeting can identify a certain mistrust to national accountability schemes, being not a singular case, and not even the one, occasionally met in Kazakhstan. It is a stigmatic view, explicitly expressed by the majority of senior academics and implicitly imposed to the junior newcomers to the field. (Tamilin, 2011, p.14). With the introduction of new accountability tool as internal quality assurance scheme at the universities (the reform took place in 2010), the key actors being examined are questioning the
reliability of the “accountability” mixing it up with questioning the effectiveness of internal quality assurance schemes introduced the same year and serving for providing this “accountability” reports. Why has this discredit towards accountability arose among academics and is “paper accountability” a reality reflection or a formal framework to attract more stakeholders?
It has only been twenty-four years since the official name “The Republic of Kazakhstan” was introduced to the rest of the World. Gaining independence from The Soviet Union as well as undergoing a radical shift from socialistic towards capitalistic model of governance impacted all aspects of political and social life of a new-born country. Doubtless, the system of higher education has indeed experienced significant changes in shape and dimensions, being transformed by market-economy. The current state of higher education in Kazakhstan is a consequence of the transformation process, which gradually eradicated the system driven by idealized social relationship and regulated economy. Trying to learn from the best practices, the policy makers bred the idea to modernize the higher educational sector through introducing new models of governance as well as to offer an internationally recognized quality of education. For this purpose, apart from national quality attestation framework, the government introduced a new internal scheme of assuring quality on institutional level, which, regarding to academic performance, comprised the academic mutual evaluations once a month, weekly self-reports, the statistics on
graduate and admissions rate, course assessments by students etc. However, the Ministry of Education and Science of The Republic of Kazakhstan revised the national curriculum for all subjects to meet the international expectations limiting the academic freedom further. The data, received directly from the universities, is used officially to provide accountability of this entities. Certainly, the external examinations as attestations are undertaken every 5 years, however it has proved to be more formal and in reality rely on internal quality assurance reports rather than on real assessment tools. (Tamilin, 2011, p.17). The fact, that official figures appearing on the ministry website appear directly from the universities themselves might question the reliability of the data as universities, trying to attract more stakeholders, can potentially diverge and present inaccurate results to satisfy the social expectations, which has been the case with several universities (Temir Zhol, article 13). For instance, in 2012 The State University of Karaganda was accused of presenting inaccurate data after a more detailed international accreditation procedure taking place at the university (Temir Zhol. Article 13). The scandal did not breed much tension in the society, as it was dealt internally and was not exposed to the open public, however it was welldocumented and revealed later. This case exemplified the luck of governmental control over internal quality assurance mechanisms implemented at the institutional level and there would not be any wonders why academics could resist to recognize the importance of this measures considering them somewhat irrelevant.
The academic resistance to recognize internal quality monitoring mechanisms as ones possibly leading to quality enhancement but rather fictional result for better accountability might have originated a way ago the case described above. With the introduction of additional quality monitor control the academics were obliged to fill in a considerable amount of additional paper work, which, as the research claims (Davidov M.P., 2014, p.55) is perceived by the academics, who are mostly engaged with lecturing at teaching educational institutions rather than research activities,
as unnecessary exercise not fruitful in results. According to Trowler, 1998, academics should be “makers” and “shapers” of the policies regarding quality assurance. However, this bottom-up approach is barely implemented in Kazakhstan, as the policies are proposed by the government and further developed by the rectorate, not involving academics in the revision (Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Education”, 2010, revised). The workload, which is defined by the National Standards of Education, does not include extra hours, spent on peer-evaluation, selfreflective
reports, self-assessments and students’ feedback analysis. This additional documentation, which is meant to be used for personal development, is compulsory for submission to the administration, making it potentially dangerous for the reputation of a specific professor. Apparently, the fear to ruin the reputation can lead to less self-criticism expressed in the documentation which might lessen the value of such exercise. The quality then will be viewed not as added value or transformation of the student but complying with the requirements set from above.
This concern that `quality’ is not seen by academics in terms of `improvement’, but as something that is externally imposed, also extends to external monitoring (Newton, 2000, p. 15).
As Underwood (1998, p. 52) suggests:
“If improvement is happening [in the sector], it is more as a result of the stick than the carrot. One would love to believe that intense debate and reflection on teaching
and learning and the student experience of higher education is taking place across the system: but the phrase `siege mentality’ may be nearer the truth.”
This theme is also taken up by de Vries (1997, p. 96), who expresses concerns about how preparing for external assessment masks reality from the gaze of external assessors (Newton, 2000, p. 15):
“Consequently, surface issues are brought to the fore and the covert remain intact. The result is that cosmetic enhancement is often effected and the losers are the
students and the education process itself.”
The academics in Kazakhstan view the quality assurance mechanisms as the ones deteriorating the educational process itself as distracting the professionals from their main activity as well as discouraging the academics in broad sense. Not surprisingly, the majority of academics identify themselves as opposers to internal quality assurance mechanisms implementation. The assumption, that misleading in some way internal quality reports form the national accountability display is in the heart of academia. So-called “over-my-dead-body” approach (Watty, 2006) seems to be omnipresent and dealing with explicitly it can bring another challenge and another wave of resistance.
“Accountability ? Everybody talks about our rank and the employment rates, but has anybody questioned, how we collected this data, has anybody put any doubts on my peer-reviews? Maybe I am just sitting in my office and trying to get rid of this extra work, filling in the forms as fast as possible and do not even care how my counterpart performed today on the lesson? No, I do not believe it, as neither of my colleagues does.” – Professor Y at Al-Pharabi Kazakh National University
There have been 1087 interviews conducted with the professors of state and national universities to investigate into their attitude to quality assurance policies, their reflection in accountability reports and real quality improvements (Tamilin, 2011). The research was interrupted with no obvious reason. Nevertheless, the interviews clearly identified the quiet rebellion, the inherent objection of the academic staff to the policies and reforms they had to be imposed to. However, the unfinished research, as well as the research of Newton, 2000, reveals that `quality policy’ becomes changed in the implementation process, that `quality’ may become preoccupied with accountability rather than improvement and enhancement, and that, given the influence of context, there is no `blueprint’ or ideal model for a quality system, then how the academic community responds to these new monitoring arrangements will continue to demand the close attention of researchers (Newton, 2000, p. 26).
Could it be a sign, that Kazakhstan is still too young to adapt rather than adopt the policies and best practices and the reluctance coming from the bottom should be overcome before imposing the regulations and setting standards? It certainly could. It could also signify the importance of reconsidering the direct approach used to impose the internal quality assurance mechanisms. It could even identify the current problem with the luck of real accountability as expressed by the key actors of educational process – academic staff. Regaining the trust in accountability and quality assurance positive impact is a national challenge, which will fortunately be recognized.
Jethro Newton (2000) Feeding the Beast or Improving Quality?: Academics' perceptions of quality assurance and quality monitoring, Quality in Higher Education, 6:2, 153-163, Kazansky L.M., unfinished research “Academic resistance to internal quality assurance schemes”, interviewee, 2014 DOI: 10.1080/713692740;
Kim Watty (2006) Want to Know About Quality in Higher Education? Ask an Academic, Quality in Higher Education, 12:3, 291-301, DOI: 10.1080/1353832060105110;
Standard rules for conducting current control of learning achievements, interim and final attestation of HEI students.
Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Education” (June, 7, 1999);
Tamilin (2011) Internal quality assurance mechanisms impacts on academic activities, Higher Education daily, 5:3, 1-55;
Mikhail Davidov (2014) Academics vs Administration, Higher Education daily, 5:1, 34-
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