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Graduate education assessment developments

A great deal of attention has been paid in recent years to assessing the quality and outcomes of higher education, but mostly at the undergraduate (or first degree) level. A leading group of educators from 17 different countries, however, is proposing that more attention be paid to quality assurance at the master’s and doctoral levels. To this end, the Fourth Annual Strategic Leaders Global Summit concluded its meeting in mid-September in Brisbane, Australia by announcing a new set of Principles and Practices for Assessing the Quality of (Post)Graduate Education and Research Training.

The 10-point document was agreed upon by delegates from a wide range of countries and academic traditions, including not only the US and Australia but also Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the UK, and Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the communication carefully stresses the contextual nature of quality assurance approaches and activities in “diverse contexts”—as defined by country, institution, and discipline—but also acknowledges the shared benefits of effective quality assessment to the “future of the global research enterprise both within and outside academia”.  According to the document, the primary objective of quality assessment is to ensure and improve quality across the full continuum of the graduate student experience, from recruitment and admission through to career placement. Also notable for internationalisation advocates is the 8th principle articulated by the group: “The assessment of quality in international collaborations is integral to (post)graduate research training in the 21st century”.

Meanwhile, the National Research Council in the United States released on 28 September 2010 A Data-based Assessment of Research-Doctorate program in the United States, which includes close to a quarter-million data points on over 5 000 doctoral programmes in 62 fields. While noted for its wide scope and insight into trends such as time to degree completion, the years-overdue report is also drawing criticism for both the age of the data analysed and its utility for making effective comparisons (or rankings) across programmes. Few question the need for effective assessment of graduate education. Still, this remains an exceedingly complex intellectual undertaking that is further complicated by stark political realities, including the fact that quality findings are increasingly tied to funding and even programme survival.

Principles and Practices for Assessing the Quality of (Post)-Graduate Education and Research Training
US National Research Council