TEQSA visits Beijing to strengthen international collaboration

October 10, 2016

On 12-14 September, 2016, TEQSA CEO Mr Anthony McClaran visited Beijing to sign Memorandums of Understanding with two Chinese quality assurance agencies called the China Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) and the Higher Education Evaluation Centre (HEEC).

He also met with the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE), the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Centre (CDGDC) and two universities which have partnerships with Australian providers called the School of Continuing Education, Tsinghua University and Beijing Jiaotong University.

The trip was co-ordinated in collaboration with the Australian Embassy in China. Mr McClaran said the visit was a win for Australia’s collaboration of international quality assurance.

“This was a successful visit which enabled the signing of two MoUs, the consolidation of the existing relationship with a third agency and the opening of a dialogue which may lead to an agreement with a fourth combined together with two university visits.”

“Much credit is due to the staff at the Australian Embassy who provided superb support on the itinerary, a formal dinner for the key participants and day-to-day support at all the meetings.”

“The relationships and MoUs will lead to real activities, including inter-agency discussions and collaborations, possible sharing of experts, staff and assessment events and speaking engagements at conferences. We will need to ensure regular follow-up.

“The visit of the Chinese delegation in November will give us an opportunity to reinforce these areas.”

Mr McClaran said the Chinese and embassy were generous.

“Every host was generous, from decorating tables with small Australian and Chinese flags to placing full size flags for both countries on either side of the reception desk. Refreshments were plentiful and included traditional moon cakes in honour of the impending Mid-Autumn Festival. Gifts were exchanged at every meeting”. 

      

TEQSA has now signed agreements with 11 international quality assurance agencies.

Details of trip - key meetings

1. School of Continuing Education, Tsinghua University (12 September)

Key attendees:

  • Ms Zhang Wenxue, Deputy Party Secretary
  • Mr Guo Zhao, Vice Dean
  • Six other university staff members
  • Mr Christopher Lawson, First Secretary, Australian Embassy
  • Ms Lei Xiaofeng, Senior Manager, Australian Embassy

Tsinghua is a globally outstanding university founded in 1911 the School of Continuing Education, the first such school to be approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), has two joint programs with Australian universities:

  1. Master in Management (Specialising in Technology and Innovation) with ANU;
  2. Master of Applied Finance with Macquarie.

Both started in 2004 and the Macquarie and ANU programs have both been rated excellent by the MoE. The visit provided an opportunity to showcase their impressive internal quality assurance, with extensive use of external expertise and student feedback.

The presentation stressed the emphasis on quality improvement, going well beyond simply meeting threshold standard. 

CEO Anthony McClaran: “I gave an overview of TEQSA’s international responsibilities, our approach to international partnerships and the commitment to this work in our Corporate Plan and revised International Strategy. I mentioned the link to the Australian Government’s National Strategy for International Education, a point reinforced by Christopher Lawson.”

2.  CEAIE (12 September)

Key attendees:

  • Mr Zong Wa, Deputy Secretary-General
  • Ms He Pei, Deputy director, Dept of Cross-Border Education Quality Assurance
  • Mr Lawson and Ms Lei

TEQSA signed an MoU with CEAIE last year and TEQSA Commissioner Nick Saunders visited in March 2015. With particular responsibility for international exchange, CEAIE has 150 member institutions, offers accreditation, and runs training for university staff.

It runs the China Annual Conference for international Education (CACIE) which attracts 500-600 overseas universities. It has partnerships with TDA and ASQA, is working closely with QAA (UK), is in membership of the CHEA International Quality Group (CIQG) in the USA, and is actively engaged in the battle against academic fraud. Mr Zong will be leading a large delegation to Australia in November and a meeting with TEQSA will be part of their program. The purpose is to help Chinese providers to understand the strength of accreditation systems that are not just top-down.

Mr Zong reconfirmed their commitment to exchanging information about providers; welcomed cooperation on applied research into matters of mutual concern; would like to work with Australia in 2017 on the QA of transnational education (they are working this year with the British Council); and would welcome TEQSA’s “technical support” in the evaluation of Chinese university programs taught in English. CEAIE has identified over 300 providers that are teaching international students in English. 28 are currently undergoing accreditation and CEAIE would like support with the next 150.

3.  Dinner at the Ambassador’s Residence (12 September)

On Monday evening Mr Justin Luckhurst, the Charge d’Affaires at the Australian Embassy, kindly hosted a dinner at the Ambassador’s residence to “celebrate strengthened Australia-China cooperation in education quality assurance”. The senior Chinese guest was Mr Fang Jun, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges, MoE and the Embassy were delighted to have secured his presence. Other guests included the senior representatives of the agencies included in the visit, university vice-presidents, and the Director Education marketing, British Council.

“I was invited to address the guests and took the opportunity to point to the strength of the current relationship between the two countries, with China already the number two destination for Australian students studying abroad and set to become number one with the expansion of the New Columbo Plan. I then spoke about the key role that TEQSA plays in assuring the quality of all Australian HE, and how this role is embedded in the TEQSA Act itself, our new Corporate plan and our international engagement strategy. I briefly described our growing number of partnerships with other agencies, not least of course in China. I then outlined the challenges to QA from TEQSA’s perspective in the year ahead. I mentioned our work to understand attrition, to support measures on academic integrity and to maintain the “high front gate” of our sector, so that students could be sure of the quality of new providers.”

4.  Beijing Jiaotong University (13 September)

Key attendees:

  • Professor Zhang Xingchen, Vice-President
  • Mr L V Chao, Deputy Director and other staff
  • Ms Katherine Vickers, Minister Counsellor, Australian Embassy
  • Ms Lei

Beijing Jiaotong is celebrating its 120th anniversary. It is a mid-ranking university with strong ties to the railways. Each of its 13 schools reflects different aspect of that industry. It has a partnership with Wollongong University. Professor Zhang Xingchen, Vice-President, led the university team at this meeting. The University is compliant with the Washington Accord and has consciously changed its approach from being, to use their words, “teacher-centred to student-centred”. The arrangement with Wollongong is in the area of Mechatronics and admitted its first students as recently as 2014. Student progress is strictly monitored; support is offered but repeated failure means exit.

5.  HEEC (13 September)

Key attendees:

  • Professor Wu Yan, Director-General
  • Professor Zhou Aijun, Deputy Director-General and nine other staff
  • Ms Vickers
  • Ms Lei

The visit to HEEC was a direct follow-up to the visit made by Professor Wu Yan, Director-General, to TEQSA in June this year. “I gave an update on our international engagement strategy and then Professor Wu outlined current HEEC priorities, which centre on the use of data in QA, risk analysis, accreditation and peer review.” At dinner the evening before, Professor Wu had outlined the three priorities for Chinese HE: “quality, quality, quality”, and so HEEC have little doubt about the importance of their role.

6.  CSCSE (14 September)

Key attendees; 

  • Professor Sun Jianmin, Director-General
  • Mr Che Weimin, Deputy Director-General and other staff
  • Ms Vickers
  • Ms Lei

 The agency’s mission is to facilitate international exchange for students and scholars. An overview of CSCSE’s role was given and I responded with an overview of TEQSA’s approach to international engagement, and of current tasks such as the introduction of the new HESF, work on academic integrity and the vigilance of the high front gate. Refreshments were plentiful and in some cases included traditional moon cakes in honour of the impending Mid-Autumn Festival. Gifts were exchanged at the end of almost every meeting, the approach having been negotiated in advance by the embassy, who always travel with extra gifts.

7.  CDGDC (14 September)

Key attendees: 

  • Mr Ren Zenglin, Deputy Director-General and three Directors
  • Ms Vickers
  • Ms Lei

 "I had been keen to include a meeting with CDGDC in the itinerary, since they are the one major Chinese QA agency with whom we do not have an agreement. This meeting was an opportunity for both agencies to get to know each other’s work better and to begin to explore any potential areas for greater cooperation."

CDGDC is, like other Chinese agencies, directly under the MoE. It has particular responsibility for the verification of academic degree certificates and “other related educational materials”. Its focus is on HE, rather than VET, qualifications, although it does also look at the school qualifications of those seeking to enter HE.

The presentations we received emphasised the strictness of the Agency’s approach to evaluation, particularly at the undergraduate, as opposed to postgraduate, level although, having said that, the Agency’s judgement determines which research and graduate institutes are allowed to recruit students. It operates a six-year review cycle although since 1990 has also conducted random checks, with 10% of dissertations from any given provider being chosen for random scrutiny. If the results are unsatisfactory, then the following year the percentage checked will be increased. Low quality ratings lead to reductions in, or even the removal of, an institution’s graduate numbers.

CDGDC’s approach encourages providers to conduct their own evaluations, using external experts and publishing the results. The Agency’s evaluations also result in rankings, so the quality of providers is subjected to a high degree of public scrutiny. The most recent rankings, however, were published in 2012.Challenges include the vast scale of the Chinese system and difficulty in recruiting sufficient experts. Reliance on data is therefore very important.

The Agency is also expanding into accreditation in some areas, although how this fits with the work of other agencies was not entirely clear. Any questions about the (potentially overlapping) remits of agencies tended to be met, in all our meetings, with the reassurance that since they all worked under the MoE such factors did not really become concerns.

After I had given an overview of the way in which TEQSA conducts its regulatory business and our approach to international matters, we returned to next steps. CDGDC’s interest is in working with us further noises of data collection and analysis. They suggested that the next step would be for them to issue an invitation to TEQSA to participate in and present at a conference on that subject which CDGDC is hosting in December. More details will follow.