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The quantity and quality challenge

Jul 02,2022 - Last updated at Jul 02,2022

One fundamental goal for higher education institutions (HEIs) is to provide society with qualified graduates in all fields necessary for society’s competitiveness, progress and prosperity.

The numerical relationship here is direct in its impact: the increase in demand for graduates causes an increase in recruitment. And the opposite is true.

The numerical impact weighs in, further, on our HEIs for two other reasons.

The first is poor student enrolment at the school level in vocational programmes, which would provide them with the necessary skills to find jobs upon finishing school education and spare them the fortuitous need to join programmes at HEIs, which are mainly academic in nature.

The second is the reliance of our HEIs, both public and private, almost exclusively on student tuition fees to cover costs and meet expenses; which compels them, in this case, to accept more students in order to get more funds.

Admitting more students means hiring more faculty and staff, in addition to opening more specialisations, especially the ones that are attractive to students and parents.

The former causes the size of the institution to grow and even inflate, thus contributing to what we call the quantity or “mass” challenge; and the latter causes the institution, which under it becomes a mirror of other institutions, to lose its distinctness and compromise its differentiation from other institutions.

The crucial question to pose here, in the context of this ever-escalating quantitative dimension pertaining to students and academic and administrative staff, is: What happens to quality, which is crucial to maintain if graduates are to be employed and if the institution is to continue to have a good reputation?

Quite simply, the hiring institutions require highly-skilled, quality graduates. Are our HEIs currently providing those societal institutions with the quality of graduates they need?

We remind that several decades ago, especially in the sixties, seventies and eighties of the past century, the demand was higher than the supply and the hiring institutions, both nationally and regionally, needed a lot of graduates to fill so many jobs in the market and in society at large, and therefore they compromised somewhat on their hiring specifications and standards and hired graduates in large numbers.

Today the matter is entirely different as supply is higher than demand, and therefore the hiring institutions are very particular about the skills they need and very fussy in hiring. They accept those graduates who totally satisfy the conditions of hiring and meet the standards.

As a result, unemployment is on the rise, and many of those seeking jobs eventually bow to pressure and accept lower jobs than desired.

It is crystal clear that the quantitative factor, especially in the absence of efficient management, is affecting the outcomes of academic programmes negatively: Graduating students with lesser competencies than expected.

Under such an unorganised process of expansion of student recruitment, academic programmes and appointment of faculty and staff, and in the absence of a carefully-drawn and carefully-implemented plan for the expansion, mediocrity rules and challenges and problems escalate.

What should be done?

There is no one solution for all cases: no one size fits all here! But HEIs, depending on their specific situation, can choose one or more from the following:

One: Controlling numbers at the level of student enrolment, programme expansion, and hiring faculty and staff, and reducing them without hesitation whenever necessary.

What is most noticeable about our HEIs is that most have not put a cap on numbers, and they keep expanding, not according to a meticulous plan, but whenever the opportunity arises. This has got to stop.

Two: Freezing or cancelling overcrowded or saturated academic programmes.

Three: Continuing qualification and training of faculty members so that they have high competencies on the one hand and zero flaws on the other.

Four: Continuous quality orientation and academic advising and counselling for students from the day they enter the campus till the day they are handed their degree in the graduation ceremony.

Five: Implementing bylaws, regulations, and standards meticulously and uncompromisingly so as to ensure good performance.

If this is not done, our HEIs will continue to face challenges and problems that affect their performance negatively and at times even disastrously.

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