Up to Par to set the bar

National report says Canada needs standard quality measures

ASUS Academics Commissioner Michael Ghazal says he thinks quality indicators are essential to maintaining Queen’s good reputation.
ASUS Academics Commissioner Michael Ghazal says he thinks quality indicators are essential to maintaining Queen’s good reputation.

A report released last week by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) says Canada lacks a coherent vision for post-secondary education standards.

Up to Par: The Challenge of Demonstrating Quality in Canadian Post-secondary Education says as enrollment in college and university becomes more commonplace, post-secondary institutions are increasingly under strain, which is further exacerbated by the economic downturn.

The report says Canadian post-secondary institutions aren’t held to universally applicable standards of quality. Each province and territory has jurisdiction over education within its borders, which represents an obstacle to national standards.

Isabelle Eaton, research analyst for the CCL, was one of the report’s authors. She said the CCL identified quality as a central issue for post-secondary education in 2006.

Up to Par conveys the need for clearer quality standards in post-secondary institutions, she said.

“We lack a well-understood and widely agreed-upon set of means to understand quality in post-secondary education. ... We have a lot of high-quality post-secondary education but each person’s definition can be different.”

It’s necessary to define and measure quality, Eaton said, so it’s clear if something in the system goes wrong.

“We need to have a way of creating more accountability through the system.”

Eaton said the CCL recommends that quality-assurance bodies be created as an external guarantee of quality. She said a voluntary designation system, such as the one that already exists in B.C., is one way institutions can ensure quality internally.

Michael Ghazal, ASUS Academics Commissioner and ArtSci ’12, said he agrees with the report’s conclusions. Ghazal said he thinks quality is essential to maintaining Queen’s good reputation.

“Without these sets of goals, we’re kind of lost,” he said.

Ghazal said every Arts and Science course is reviewed every seven years to ensure quality, adding that he thinks there should be more done externally to ensure quality in education.

“It’s good to know there’s a group out there that’s striving for external quality assurance.”

Fourth-year environmental science major Sarah Jones came to Queen’s from Edmonton. Jones said she found first-year calculus a challenge.

“The requirement for science is that you take math at the Grade 12 level, which in Ontario is calculus, but in Alberta, it’s not. … That was kind of terrifying.”

Conversely, Jones said her first-year science classes seemed like a retread of high school material.

“I think they were trying to put everyone on the same page.”

Jones said she would have found a scale ranking quality among Canadian institutions useful when she was applying to universities.

Jones said she thinks there are different ways to measure quality, such as lifestyle, adding that her experience at Queen’s is very different than if she had chosen to live at home and commute to the University of Alberta.

View the Up To Par report: here

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