Increasing Stakeholder Participation in Higher Education through Academic Program Development& Reviw
University of Bahrain

The Problem

The University of Bahrain is the sole national university in the Kingdom of Bahrain and since its establishment in 1986 it graduated approximately 45,000 graduates which is a large number compared to the population of the Kingdom which is roughly one million people.
Before the start of the initiative the academic system at the University of Bahrain was a traditional system with a lack of standardized approach for development of new academic programs and no periodic review of ongoing ones. The Academic Department (mainly faculty members) was the main entity responsible for developing the academic programs without involvement of other stakeholders (such as employers, students, and alumni).
The academic programs suffered from a lack of specific written objectives and outcomes, and used were designed based on faculty members’ tacit. Similarly courses within the curriculum suffered from the same problems. Also, there were no specific standards or regular performance measures and there were no periodic measurements of the performance for these programs. The culture of self-assessment and periodic review of the academic programs was minimal or nonexistent within the University colleges. Although there were many graduates from the academic programs, there was no actual measurement of the impact on society, and obviously revising the academic programs depended mainly on perceptions and non-systematic observations.
Despite sporadic efforts by some colleges to review the performance of their academic programs, there was no standard methodology that supports transparency in assessment of the performance of the University such as RADAR or ADRI. Also, there were no benchmarked studies to evaluate the overall performance of the academic institution.
Policies within each program were developed according to the needs of the department or the college. The university could have a word at any time on policies, but there was no connection to the stakeholders to assist in the policy-making. Feedback was minimal depending on close relations that faculty build with employers and alumni. Feedback was also counted to be one-way or sometimes no way, i.e., UOB should receive feedback as well as should provide feedback to government sectors.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
An electronic Assessment Information Management System (AIMS) was developed for integrating the information for all academic programs, hence facilitating e-participation; this system includes educational outcomes for each academic program through clear deployment methodology. These outcomes specify the skills, knowledge and attitude expected from each student throughout the courses registered by him/her. Furthermore, the system documents all the experiences including working team experiences in relation with the quality assurance as well as meetings with stakeholders. The system facilitates the transfer of knowledge to the future teams by storing the action plans for the quality assurance committees and documenting the specification of academic courses and programs. The Knowledge Assets, which previously were tacit knowledge, has been now identified and saved for the owner and the stakeholders, such as the faculty members, which includes scientific expertise, research outcomes, administrative and academic. The system has been designed to enable access by all the stakeholders to this information, as well as access from college to college within the University system.
One of the results of this project was the achievement of international accreditation of 10 B.Sc.-level academic programs in two colleges from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The knowledge at the two colleges was documented, and disseminated to all other colleges, with change of management techniques approach and through establishing a comprehensive handbook of quality assurance which satisfied the needs of accrediting agencies. The College of Business Administration programs and the B.Sc. in Law program subsequently obtained Confidence from the national Quality Assurance Authority and Education Training (QAAET). The achievement became possible through continuous improvement by conducting surveys with students at various levels of their academic life, with the alumni, and with the employers providing valuable information feeding back to the improvement of the program. Policy-making decisions is done through two meetings done with the advisory committee that includes all the stakeholders including students, and key employers who run the market.
Through this project, academic programs specified their outcomes and assessed them. This was done with continuous measurement of the satisfaction of employers, alumni, faculty, students and senior students. The project included extensive training of the academic members on how to write the expected learning outcomes and the methodology of course and program assessment, with continuous systematic assessment and identification of improvement actions.
A comprehensive documentation within AIMS web system and update for the academic programs information is regularly conducted. The system facilitates e-participation and allows all stakeholders to access the information through the Internet, which ensures open access, transparency, and ease of sharing. This has introduced multi-disciplinary and ‘horizontal’ approaches to public service delivery and management.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Initiatives from two colleges within the University system (College of Engineering and College of Information Technology) prepared for the ABET accreditation and lead to the establishment of the approach adopted later for Quality Assurance of academic programs. This was followed by a review visits to the University by the Quality Assurance Authority and the Bahrain Center for Excellence. Through the recommendations from all of these review initiatives and through the recommendations of the strategic planning committee of the University lead to the establishment of the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Center and Quality Offices in all colleges as well as Committees in the academic departments. The QAAC used the knowledge gained from the efforts of the two colleges to create an approach that included consultation of stakeholder committees for academic programs as well as extensive training and inclusion of the academic faculty. The approach ensured participation of students and faculty members and alumni in developing the academic programs. The QAAC works closely with the Bahrain Center for Excellence in promoting a culture of assessment and learning, monitoring the opportunities for improvement and implementing them. The approach is also tied in through the strategic plan with the Bahrain Vision 2030 that is being executed with the Economic Development Board of Bahrain.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The first stage of the initiative was to build a knowledge base on academic quality assurance and program continuous improvement. This was done through planning and training for ABET accreditation and institutional and program review. Since this was only available within two colleges only, the next stage focused on horizontal transfer of knowledge. Next, after the establishment of an owner of the initiative (namely, the QAAC), the University built an internal system to specify and measure the learning outcomes of the courses and academic programs. To handle the enormous amount of information from all colleges, the next stage developed an electronic system that supported the academic review process.
Next came the training phase which included intensive short courses on how to develop learning outcomes and introduce the concepts of assessment, learning and improvement through an annual self-evaluation and improvement plan. This included continuous communication with the stakeholders including students, employers, and faculty. An annual report summarizing the self-evaluation reports is then submitted to the University annually, and the improvement plans are tracked by the programs. The methodology used from enhancing the programs is reviewed every 3 years. The AIMS online system, an innovation mechanism, was essential to all these stages, and provided a streamlined information system for managing the improvement of the academic programs as well as communication with the stakeholders and logging of assessment data. Not to miss, as mentioned earlier, the more vulnerable groups including students and employers had been a main part in the improvement of the programs. The inclusion is done through surveys and through periodic meetings with those vulnerable groups.

Committees have been established for all programs for inclusion of the views of concerned sections of the community in public affairs such as students, alumni and employers enhancing programs to satisfy the needs of the market and the program itself. the level of the . They were involved in measuring program performance, and monitoring opportunities for improvement and development of courses and program; There were continuous measurements for graduates opinions through the online system AIMS developed by the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Center (QAAC) at the University. The system includes both an approach and a database for the performance indicators, linking programs with key stakeholders. An approach was also established for self-assessment of the programs. The initiative succeeded in the dissemination of the culture of measurement/assessment in all colleges, measuring the maturity of the academic programs, documentation of knowledge assets, knowledge transfer between colleges in the field of quality assurance, and a start in measuring the impact (end result), as well as the review of all programs using self-assessment reports.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
University of Bahrain Strategic Planning Committee 2009 - 2014, which is supported by the Economic Development Board which includes three initiatives which aim to raise the quality of teaching and learning in the higher education. The QAAC was responsible for implementing the three initiatives which included spreading of the QA culture and implementing systems for monitoring performance and continuous improvement. The QAAC benefited from the expertise gained from the preparations for international in the College of Engineering and College of Information Technology to develop a system of quality assurance.
To facilitate implementation, a small quality unit was created in each college, and a quality committee was also created within academic departments as a change agent which could spread the culture to the rest of the staff. To create a competitive spirit and facilitate sharing of knowledge among all colleges a QA committee was formed which included all colleges. Within this phase the knowledge was disseminated horizontally among all colleges and programs within the University.

This Committee meets regularly every month; and is responsible for monitoring the system of QA. It also facilitates training of all academic members in all colleges, development of the electronic AIMS system. To spread the culture of quality, the QAAC also maintains a presence among stakeholders within social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. This allows the spread of the knowledge as well as the culture amongst the locals within the university or regionally to other universities within or outside the Kingdom of Bahrain. Participation in Arab and world-wide conferences provided more interaction with other universities and authorities, as well as giving an example of handling quality system of education.

Documentation of the Quality Teams experiences related to the quality of academic programs facilitated the process of transferring knowledge to the future teams through documentation of quality action plans, assessment and performance results, and the full specification of the academic courses.
Identification and documentation of the knowledge of academic teaching staff (currently and previously) includes scientific expertise, administrative and academic experience through the Faculty online profile. Inclusion of all stakeholders has increased university's legitimacy and relevancy as a result of enhanced stakeholder's participation in decision-making processes and interaction between the university and the public.

The AIMS system is supported by clear deployment methodology to verify the validity and integrity of the information. The established electronic system AIMS for input of educational outcomes ensures whatever has been achieved of each course and academic program, and is continuously monitored through a dashboard showing the maturity of the programs. Furthermore, the web site for transferring knowledge between academic departments and the questionnaires and e-surveys to all stakeholders has been established and has been used effectively by the different colleges. This has led to more effective policy-making and implementation.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The main difficulty was the resistance to change among faculty members who were not accustomed to being reviewed and some had not been too keen on specifying the learning outcomes. This was seen as another burden among the busy schedule of an academic which included among other things teaching and research duties.
Another difficulty was the time needed to understand the concept of learning outcomes and how to build the curriculum upon them. This included linking your outcomes and objectives to the needs of the stakeholders.
The documentation of tacit knowledge and transfer to other colleges was also a problem. The amount of data and its interconnectivity made this a complex task. Finally, closing of the loop by implementing improvements based on the assessment was a hard task to accomplish.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The University depended mainly on local staff in this initiative, in order to develop knowledge within the country and make sure the initiative is sustainable. Some help was provided for the implementation of the initiative through employing a visiting professor to initiative knowledge acquisition and transfer to the university.
The establishment of the QAAC required employing few administrative staff, and the online system was developed in-house from scratch by a programmer working within the QAAC. All financial resources were within the University budget, however some reviews by international panels were supported by EDB initiatives.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The sustainability of the initiative can be achieved due to the establishment of the QA committee which ensures periodic monitoring and development of the approach and the system for its implementation. Furthermore, the whole approach was thoroughly documented and published in a Handbook which also aims to spread the knowledge horizontally and document the approach.
An extensive training program initiated a discussion among all University programs. This ensures that the University is transformed into a learning organization which uses assessment of performance and self-evaluation to keep improving. Furthermore, review of the whole approach every 3 years ensures it is current and valid within the needs of the stakeholders and maintains sustainability. This is enforced by the annual report submitted to the University Council which summarizes the program reviews and suggest improvements by all academic programs. Furthermore, all programs now have committees of students and employers which meet regularly to give input and contribute in the development of the academic process.
All of the actions and the maturity of each program (measurement of its performance and impact) are also monitored on a dashboard in the online AIMS system. This ensures transparency among the stakeholders and contributes to sustainability of the development efforts. A stakeholder can get an overview on the program or see specific areas and the progress of the program within these areas.
Finally, a plan for international accreditation has been initiated by the University to ensure recognition and external validation to the programs. The initiative clearly contributes and helps the academic programs in this area. This initiative has clearly articulated targets/goals and has an overall strategy. The success of the initiative lead to the increase in the number of internationally accredited programs and increased the level of satisfaction of employers for University graduates. As to the impact on the society, currently 36% of senior students are offered jobs before graduation, and the initiative contributed to the enhanced reputation of the University’s graduates. The level of graduates from UOB is highest amongst the kingdom, and receives higher wages on average.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The following are some of the lessons learned in each area.
Leadership and leadership teams: Since this is an initiative which included a massive change in culture, the leadership must be committed totally to it and must back it up in order for it to succeed. This includes the leadership teams within the programs and not just the top leadership.
Knowledge Management: Knowledge assets should be identified and documented. This was done through a Handbook that was published to all stakeholders. Knowledge Management was streamlined through the use of the online AIMS system. It is vital to promote sharing of knowledge horizontally though workshops, meetings, and peer-help. This lead to Knowledge Transfer horizontally between colleges and at another stage was transferred to other private universities within the country. The design and implementation of this initiative inspired other universities through meetings and invitations.

Human Resources: Training was needed for all faculty on identification of outcomes and review of academic programs. Although this was a cumbersome process it lead to building expertise in self-evaluation and review process. It increased the number of professors who are able to teach based on outcomes and constructive alignment between assessment and outcomes, that is based on university, student, and program expectations.
Processes/Methodology: Develop clear methodologies to review the academic programs. The process must be clear and integrated within the strategy of the University. Clear methodologies for knowledge transfer horizontally between colleges; methodologies to transfer knowledge to the local academic community and private universities; methodologies to deal with the opportunities and areas for improvement points; clear methodologies in building, developing, implementing, monitoring and reviewing of academic programs, to enable developing these deployment methodologies to ensure sustainability.
Partnership and resources: Partnership with the Quality Assurance Authority; Partnership with the Bahrain Center for Excellence; Partnership with employers, students and graduates. All of these partnerships resulted in the success of the initiative and gave it unique features which made it applicable to the local situation in Bahrain.
Stakeholders: Any such initiative must contain continuous measurement for vulnerable groups including student and employers' satisfaction, Stakeholders Satisfaction is crucial to achieving the goals of such a change project.
The success of the initiative lead to the increase in the number of internationally accredited programs, lead to the increase of the number of programs that have full confidence from the Quality Assurance Authority for Training and Education, and increased the level of satisfaction of employers for University graduates. As mentioned earlier, currently 36% of senior students are offered jobs before graduation, and the initiative contributed to the enhanced reputation of the University’s graduates.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   University of Bahrain
Institution Type:   Academia  
Contact Person:   Hesham Al-Ammal
Title:   Dean, College of IT  
Telephone/ Fax:   +973449999
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Sakhir
Country:   Bahrain

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