How is the MQA different from the LAN? Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin, who is the Chief Executive Officer of LAN as well as the head of the provisional MQA team gives us some clues in the article by the New Straits Times.
At present, approval for the conduct of particular courses at the institutions of higher learning is a separate process from its accreditation. Hence you actually can have courses which are approved but are not accredited with the LAN.
Ah... is this a case of the right hand of the same ministry not knowing what the left hand is doing? Looking at the statistics, it appears that unaccredited approved courses outnumber accredited ones by more than 3 to 1 (2,646 to 727). Hence it appears that a student in the higher education sector in Malaysia is more likely to be pursuing an unaccredited programme than an accredited one. Would that explain the reasons why student loans are currently granted to unaccredited programmes?
We now also learn that accreditation is a voluntary exercise by the respective educational institutions. This means that upon receiving approval for the courses, the institutions have no obligations to have the course accredited by LAN. Then, at this point of time, "approval" by the Ministry of Higher Education is the only point in which the "quality" of the courses are vetted. Or is it?
Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin admitted that currently, the Ministry only does a cursory check on the programme outline before giving approval. Hence current students should take note that the stamp of "approval" from the Ministry is not in anyway to be taken as a stamp of a course which has met even the minimum quality benchmarks set by agencies such as the LAN.
Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin did add that with the merger of the approval and accreditation functions in the new MQA, the process will become synchronous and all courses will undergo the accreditation process in accordance to the new quality framework. But it does send shivers down the spine to think that all this while, colleges, mostly private ones, are probably able to come up with poor programmes and yet still obtain the necessary approvals from the Ministry.
The MQA Act is expected to be tabled and passed in Parliament in June, to replace the LAN Act. As always with many government acts and regulations which are noble in intent, the biggest questions concerning the MQA will be whether it will be substantive enough and whether it will set the quality bar high enough to ensure that the courses accredited do indeed possess the attributes of a half-decent programme.