Guest post from Esther Jubb, Manager, Institutional Assessment for Blackboard Global Services.
Hi, I’m Esther. Greetings from the UK, where I work with Blackboard’s international clients as a strategic consultant and subject matter expert in the area of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness. As part of an ongoing series of posts on assessment, this post is going to offer the community a comparison of the assessment environment in the UK and the US and offer context to some of the challenges that we’re currently facing.
The language and practice of assessment that is so embedded within higher education in the United States requires a little translation and interpretation when being considered within the context of the UK, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands and other Anglo-European higher education systems. There is an assumption that when we are talking about assessment we are speaking a common language and describing similar processes, but this could not be further from the truth.
The differences are political, social and cultural. The public funding of higher education in Anglo-European systems means that government (the State) has a direct interest in the quality of education delivery and has created statutory bodies to audit and evaluate institutions. However, since degree accrediting and awarding powers rest with individual institutions, there are no national or regional standards, similar to those stipulated by US accrediting bodies. In the UK, individual disciplines have provided disciplinary benchmarks to ensure that there is some consistency in the provision of degrees across institutions; and professional bodies have of course been key in determining standards for professional degrees like Architecture and Pharmacy. But ultimately the culture of institutional autonomy has ensured that the sector has resisted the temptation to undertake formal and direct assessment as would be familiar to US campuses.
In the UK, the assurance of quality in terms of education delivery is taken seriously, but is not measured in outcomes in the same way that it is done in the US. The statutory quality body has been interested in assuring that an institution has robust quality processes that are embedded in institutional practice. All programmes of study in UK universities are asked to document their intended learning outcomes and the means by which the outcomes are achieved and demonstrated. These are publically available documents, but the success of a programme in meeting these outcomes is still determined by student assessment (i.e. the final student grade). The assurance of unbiased student assessment and consistency across the sector is undertaken through internal strategies of double and blind marking, and an external examiner system, rather than direct measures of student work specifically targeted at programme level assessment.
Our UK processes may be distant from the assessment environment of the US, but there is change afoot. A recent government report highlighted weaknesses in the current approach and determined that a significant reform of the system was needed to ensure continued public confidence in the quality of higher education. Examples of some assessment practices from the US were highlighted as being able to more clearly demonstrate programme quality. The landscape of quality assurance in UK universities is going to change and in future we may find that we have more in common with US assessment practices and less need for translation services.
Dr Esther Jubb
BA(Hons), MA, PGCertHE, Ph.D, FHEA
Manager, Institutional Assessment
Blackboard Global Services