(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
Higher-education accreditation is a quality assurance procedure wherein the services and operations of universities, colleges and degree programmes are reviewed to verify whether applicable standards are met. Accreditation is granted if standards are met.
Higher-education accreditation is typically managed by a government agency, most commonly a ministry of education. In the United States, however, the quality assurance process is run by nonprofit organisations overseen by the government. Generally, there are two types of accreditation in the United States. One is connected to geographical zone—that is, regional vs. national accreditation. The other is connected to the university itself—institutional vs. programmatic accreditation.
Regional vs. National Accreditation
Both regional and national accreditation are techniques of ensuring that a college or university is providing a high-quality education to its students. Institutions choose to participate in this system in order to ensure that their students receive the best possible education. It’s fair to presume that accreditation is a quality assurance and improvement programme with peer-review board standards.
Higher-education accreditation is a quality assurance procedure wherein the services and operations of universities, colleges and degree programmes are reviewed to verify whether applicable standards are met.
Regional accreditation is normally reserved for academically focused, nonprofit private or state-owned institutions. The majority of American nonprofit universities have this type of accreditation. National accreditation is typically sought by for-profit institutions that offer career, technical, and vocational programmes. Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious because it has been around for a longer time. When students are considering transferring between institutions or applying to graduate school, other universities are more likely to recognise credits earned at regionally approved institutions.
In the Arab world, universities that seek international accreditation often choose one of the six U.S. regional accrediting organizations.
Institutional vs. Programmatic Accreditation
While regional or national accreditation are broad terms connected to a wider scope, institutional or programmatic accreditation is a more specific one. Institutional accreditation examines a college or university’s academic and organisational framework as a whole, whereas programmatic accreditation examines specialised degrees or professional programmes at a college, university, or independent institution . For example, accrediting a university is an institutional accreditation. Accrediting a faculty of engineering and the various degree programmes within it is programmatic accreditation.
Different Accreditation Systems
We often read, especially in the Arab world, that a university is following specific standards in applying for accreditation. The choice is mainly between American and British systems.
So what are the differences? Generally, all accreditation systems focus on four main pillars:
- Management, staffing and administration
- Teaching, learning and assessment
- Student welfare
- Premises and facilities.
Accreditation helps employers in determining the quality of an institution’s educational programmes and whether a graduate is qualified.
The difference lies in how these pillars are prioritised. American accrediting organisations traditionally placed more value on “input” factors, such as adequate facilities, properly credentialed faculty, number of students, and students’ scores on college entrance exams.
British standards tend to focus more on the quality of a school’s educational outcomes, such as graduation rates and job placement rates. In recent years, however, the American accrediting associations have been focusing more on outcomes, too.
Arab universities—that is, institutions authorized by their own country’s education ministries that do not seek international accreditation—mainly mix and match the two systems.
Why Accreditation Is Important
This takes us to an important question: who benefits from accreditation?
Accreditation assists in determining whether an institution meets or exceeds minimal quality criteria. Based on this information, parents and students can more easily identify appropriate colleges for enrollment, taking into consideration that in many Arab countries tuition fees are looked upon as an investment.
On the graduate-study level, it is essential for students to know whether their transfer credits are acceptable or not, particularly when they are planning to continue their education overseas. Most scholarships for graduate students are granted to graduates of accredited ’universities. In some countries, having graduated from an accredited faculty or programme establishes a foundation for ascertaining the eligibility for postgraduate student aid, mostly in the countries where scientific and cultural missions arestill limited to the state.
On the professional level, accreditation helps employers in determining the quality of an institution’s educational programmes and whether a graduate is qualified. When it comes to seeking a job, it’s not just about the quality of education; it’s also about the relevance and currency of what’s being taught.
There are two types of accreditation in the United States. One is connected to geographical zone—that is, regional vs. national accreditation. The other is connected to the university itself—institutional vs. programmatic accreditation.
As technology, globalisation and other factors change many disciplines and sectors at a faster rate than ever before, this is becoming increasingly vital.
This means academic programmes, as well as the tools and resources students utilise, including software, must adhere to industry standards and best practices. It also implies that the faculty members instructing in the programmes must be up to date in their fields of expertise.
Where to Search for Accredited Universities
You can explore Al-Fanar Media’s updated database of more than 750 internationally accredited universities and programmes in the Arab world.
For accreditation information about universities and academic programmes in the United States, the nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintains a database of institutions and programmes accredited by recognised U.S. accrediting organisations. The council also offers an international directory with information about quality assurance bodies in other countries that have been authorized by their governments.
Eman Elbedawy is an Egyptian writer focusing on higher-education issues.
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