UNIVERSITIES TO PROVE THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION
Just 8% of the members of the academic society find the level of Bulgarian university education good, the latest studies of the Union of Scientists in Bulgaria show. The remaining 92% of the members are unanimous that the decline is caused by the inefficient methods for quality assessment and control. It seems that the first serious step in that direction will be the new campaign for accreditation of the universities.The governing bodies of all 26 universities with expired institutional accreditation applied for initiating a new procedure, the Chairman of the National Agency for Assessment and Accreditation (NAAA) Professor Ivan Panayotov confirmed for the BANKER weekly. Among those waiting are the University of National and World Economy, the Sofia Academy of Medicine, the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, the Economic Academy in Svishtov, the National Sports Academy, and the University of Veliko Tarnovo. The necessary documents have been prepared and now it is the Ministry of Finance to approve the fees that will be required from the applicants. The process will start on March 10, prof. Panayotov said. Unlike previous procedures, entire professional directions instead of separate subjects will be assessed. Along with the program accreditation, an institutional one for the university as a whole will be made.Before the accreditation process begins, universities will have to assess themselves and find out to what extent they meet the new NAAA criteria. As these criteria have become more severe, some universities may be given lower ratings than their current ones and will therefore get short-term accreditation. The ones that are assessed as very good or good will be inspected again in six years. A satisfactory rating will provide a three-year accreditation. Universities that fail the exam will be obliged to provide their students with an opportunity to continue their education.NAAA experts assure that their new criteria are directed mainly towards estimating the quality of the educational process. A few components will be watched during the inspection process: the teaching, the conducting of scientific studies and the management of the university. The experts will inspect carefully the professional qualities of the lecturers, their participation in educational conferences and the potential attendance of improvement courses. The students will be asked to provide information about which of their professors read lectures regularly and which do not. Moreover, a special scale will be introduced to assess how active each university is in the research area. The scale will report how many research projects there are per employed lecturer. However, this indicator will have the least impact on the final assessment since most universities do not use this direction adequately. Only 4,000 out of 20,000 teachers in the country are occupied with scientific research, the Union of Scientists note.As to the management of the universities, it will be estimated by several criteria. Whether their management system is flexible and liable to changes will be of importance. Connections established with foreign schools and the implementation of joint master's programs will be considered an advantage. Foreign experts (from the Netherlands, France, Spain and Denmark) will be invited to the accreditation, too. Inspectors from NATO will enter the military schools. How much each accreditation procedure will cost is not known yet. The involvement of more experts will automatically raise the fees required from the universities. The institutional procedure will cost between BGN2,000 and BGN10,000, depending on the size of the university. BGN3,000 will be paid separately for each professional direction. This will enlarge the amount due by universities that teach students in many subjects.In fact, the issuance of accreditation will not automatically put an end to the control. From now on, the quality of education in licensed schools will be monitored by a special NAAA commission. Universities with good ratings are to be inspected again in three years, but those rated inferior will be checked in the third month following the accreditation. But even these measures will not be sufficient, experts say. They recommend that inspectors be allowed to make unexpected checks which is not stipulated by NAAA's new regulation.The permanent monitoring should be carried out by an internal control system. According to the amendments to the Higher Education Act (dated June 4, 2004), each university is obliged to establish such a system. Still, few of the higher schools have met this requirement. It seems that getting a licence is still far more important than providing a quality product.