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Seminar on Quality Assurance for Higher Education

Speech of Dr Alice Lam, GBS, JP
Chairman of Quality Assurance Council
at the Seminar on Quality Assurance for Higher Education
on 19 May 2007

Prof Wong, Members of the Society of Hong Kong Scholars, Fellow guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to this seminar on "Quality Assurance for Higher Education". The fact that we have such distinguished local and overseas speakers from the Mainland and the UK, and a distinguished Panel and audience, is testimony to the importance you place on quality assurance within higher education in Hong Kong.

I have chaired the University Grants Committee for more than eight years, and the development of the higher education sector is very dear to my heart. Now, I am the inaugural Chairman of the QAC and I know the year ahead of me will be a challenging and important one, because maintaining and enhancing quality is such a vital issue.

For our friends from places outside Hong Kong, the Quality Assurance Council was established on 1 April 2007, as a semi-autonomous, non-statutory body under the aegis of the University Grants Committee. The Council will assure the quality of degree level and above programmes offered by the eight UGC-funded institutions, and promote quality assurance and enhancement. It will conduct institutional audits, and facilitate the spread of good practice in learning and teaching throughout our sector.

One reason for introducing the QAC and quality audits is to safeguard the future of Hong Kong. The young people who attend our higher education institutions are entrusting us with three (soon to be four) years of a prime period of their lives, in the expectation of receiving a quality educational experience. In so doing, our students and their families will often expend considerable financial resources. The Administration provides even greater resources of public funding to our institutions. Public accountability is therefore a common and primary rationale for audit regimes across the globe.

But quality for money is just one, but not the primary reason for setting up the QAC. It is more about continuous improvement - something all of us in higher education should endeavour to achieve in all we do. The QAC will therefore not only work towards assuring that our degrees continue to stand comparison with those of high quality overseas institutions, it will also take the opportunity to work in partnership with our institutions further to facilitate development within their roles and missions, and to help enhance their offerings.

My Members and I are conscious that our institutions have put in considerable efforts up front, as evidenced by earlier reviews conducted by the UGC. All our institutions have self-accrediting status, and therefore QAC will primarily provide external third party assurance and endorsement on institutions' quality assurance. We will take an "light-touch" approach, and we at the QAC look to institutions and fellow colleagues to deliver quality programmes.

A lot of emphasis will be given to institutions' role and mission when the QAC conduct its audits. A "Fitness-for-purpose" approach will be adopted - institutions will be invited to set out clearly their visions and objectives, intended student learning outcomes, and the indicators that are used for measuring their achievements. The QAC will not attempt an across-the-board approach - we are aware, and wish to encourage, each institution to develop their own respective role, vision and mission, and strategies, the QAC has no intention to compare one institution against another - our job is not to produce a 'league table' for the press.

The QAC will work with institutions to ensure that our audits can help them take forward the higher education agenda in the coming years. The QAC will promote quality enhancement by identifying and facilitating the sharing of good practice in learning and teaching. One key aspect of the QAC methodology will be a partnership approach. The Council wants to make sure institutions and staff do benefit from the QAC's work. We will encourage institutions to be reflective and self-evaluative, as well as forward-looking. Quality audit in itself will provide opportunities for enhancement of the institutional management of quality in learning and teaching. We will support learning from one-another, and work to inform and encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education. We can always do better. That should be our common goal with the institutions.

The QAC is still in its infancy. We have thought carefully about the audit regimes in Australia and the different parts of the UK, in particular, and elsewhere in the world, when drawing up the present model. We are in the process of consulting the eight institutions on the Audit Manual, which will set out in detail our policies and procedures. We are finding suitable Auditors, both locally and overseas. Many challenges lie ahead of the QAC and I am counting on your support.

I am sure that this seminar will present interesting analyses of quality issues and be very relevant to Hong Kong. Staff from the QAC Secretariat are present today to learn more about your views, which the QAC will be delighted to know. And more importantly, I look forward to your actual engagement with the QAC, and its Audit Panels and Secretariat, in the coming months.

Thank you.