Establishment of Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA)
As a reflection of the rapid growth of the higher education sector in the Sultanate of Oman during the eighties and nineties of the last century, the government of Oman recognised the need to establish a government body to be a specialized external quality assurance agency in the field of higher education. In response to this need, a Royal Decree was issued in 2001 to establish the Oman Accreditation Council (OAC) to act as an official body responsible for the accreditation of higher education institutions and the programs offered by them. The OAC was also concerned with reviewing amendments related to the National Qualifications Framework of the qualifications awarded by higher education institutions. The organizational structure of the then OAC included ten Omani Board Members comprising of highly-qualified academics and those with practical experience in different professions. It also included a “Technical Secretariat” which consisted of a number of experts and administrators. The OAC Board was delegated full authority and jurisdiction to take decisions within the range of assignments entrusted to the Council without having to refer back to the Ministry of Higher Education to ensure the independence of the Council. The Technical Secretariat of the Council assumed the task of the implementation of decisions issued by the OAC Board and carried out the technical work assigned to it. Despite the fact that the members of the Board enjoyed autonomy, the Technical Secretariat was administratively and financially linked to the Ministry of Higher Education.
In order to increase effectiveness and to correspond with international best practices which emphasize independence and autonomy of the agencies responsible for quality assurance and accreditation of higher education, a Royal Decree was issued in 2010 establishing the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) and replacing the former OAC. The OAAA is an entity with legal status and financial and administrative independence, which reports to the Education Council. The OAAA was established to continue the efforts initiated by the OAC in the dissemination of a quality culture and accreditation of institutions and their programs. This is in order to enable Omani graduates to compete in the job market, and to contribute effectively to the sustainable development of the country.
OAAA’s Roles and Responsibilities
The Royal Decree stated that the OAAA is responsible for regulating the quality of higher education in Oman to ensure the maintenance of a level that meets international standards, and to encourage higher education institutions to improve their internal quality, through the following:
The Royal Decree assigned new areas of responsibility to the OAAA which did not exist for the former OAC. These include quality audit of higher education institutions, recognition of foreign programs and signing of mutual recognition memoranda of understanding with relevant authorities of quality assurance in higher education in other countries to assure quality of higher education. The Royal Decree called upon public and private higher education institutions as well as other concerned parties to operate according to regulations and standards established by the OAAA.
Achievements of Oman Academic Accreditation Authority:
Item (A) of Article (8) of the regulations in relation to the Royal Decree No. 54/2010 establishing the OAAA, states the Authority’s mandate includes the “Establishment of a system that includes the standards and procedures for quality audit and institutional and program accreditation of higher education institutions, in addition to establishment of the procedures for recognizing foreign higher education academic programs offered in Oman”. In this regard, the OAAA continued the efforts of the former OAC in the development and implementation of the national quality management system in Oman. The Authority was keen on including the main components of quality assurance and academic accreditation in this system. It worked towards improving and updating this system on a periodical basis through making use of lessons learnt from its implementation and of latest developments in the higher education sector. It also benefits from benchmarking against international quality assurance and accreditation systems. This system includes the following main components:
Item (C) of Article 8 of the regulations attached to the Royal Decree No. 54/2010 states that one of the tasks of the OAAA is the “Accreditation of higher education institutions against relevant standards established in this regard”. Institutional accreditation is one of the main tasks that the OAAA endeavours to achieve as was the case with the former Accreditation Council. This process includes designing standards and carrying out required procedures to ensure that the concerned higher education institutions have the required capacity and capability to offer academic programs of high quality. The most remarkable achievement in this regard is the setting up of an advanced system of accreditation of higher education institutions to enable them to promote their performance to the level that qualifies them to obtain institutional accreditation which meets local requirements and is based on international standards. This accreditation system consists of two consecutive stages: (a) Institutional Quality Audit (b) Institutional Standards Assessment.
Institutions Quality Audit is one of the major responsibilities of the OAAA. This activity was started by the former Oman Accreditation Council when it conducted a trial Quality Audit in 2008. The Institutional Quality Audit process aims at providing useful information for students, their parents and all parties concerned with the quality of higher education institutions operating in the Sultanate of Oman. It also represents a type of public accountability of these institutions. This process includes conducting a self-assessment by the institution of all its activities and practices and issuing a document called "Quality Audit Portfolio". Then, the OAAA forms an external Panel to review the accuracy of the contents of this document. This Panel checks procedures of quality assurance and mechanisms of improvements of quality of performance of the institution. It also evaluates the effectiveness of procedures against the goals and objectives identified by the institution. Through this review, the ability of the institution in achieving its goals and objectives and making continuous improvement is reported on. The Quality Audit does not result in a summative outcome stating success or failure of the institution but it produces a report which is published for the public on the OAAA website www.oaaa.gov.om. The report includes Commendations of the strengths in the performance of the institution and Affirmations on aspects that support efforts of the institution as well as Recommendations for improvement of aspects which are not properly addressed by the institution.
The Oman Academic Accreditation Authority completed the Institutional Quality Audit of most of the higher education institutions operating in the Sultanate of Oman and issued Quality Audit Reports on its website www.oaaa.gov.om. By the end of 2016, 57 higher education institutions had been through Quality Audit out of 61 institutions on the OAAA Quality Audit schedule.
Higher Education Institutions are expected to undergo Standards Assessment four years after Quality Audit.
The institution shall be judged to either have met or not met the standards. If the standards are met, then the institution shall become fully accredited and shall be awarded an accreditation certificate. After another five years, it shall be subject to another Standards Assessment and so on. If the standards are not met, the institution shall be put on probation for up to a year based on a decision made by the OAAA Board. The institution shall then undergo Standards Reassessment. If successful the institution will be fully accredited and awarded an accreditation certificate, and thus it shall re-join the institutional accreditation cycle. If the institution fails to meet the standards after Standards Reassessment,up to one more. the OAAA shall terminate the accreditation process and submit its findings to the Education Council and the Ministry to which that higher education institution is affiliated.
In 2016, the OAAA issued the Institutional Standards Assessment Manual to guide the sector and other stakeholders through Institutional Standards Assessment and is now available on the Authority’s website: http://www.oaaa.gov.om/InstitutePdf/ISAM%20Book%20Final.pdf. The OAAA completed two pilot Institutional Standards Assessment during 2014/ 2015 and five official Institutional Standards Assessment during 2016. The OAAA plans to conduct the assessments of the remaining higher education institution according to the schedule approve by its Board.
Accreditation of higher education programs is one of the main responsibilities of the OAAA as it was also a responsibility of the former Oman Accreditation Council. Item (D) of Article 8 of the regulations attached to the Royal Decree No. 54/2010 states that one of the responsibilities of the OAAA is "Accreditation of higher education academic programs against relevant standards established in this regard; and recognition of foreign academic programs offered in the Sultanate of Oman". The process of program accreditation aims at giving confidence to the public that academic programs offered inside the Sultanate of Oman are of high quality and that graduates of these programs acquire knowledge and skills that enable them to compete in both local and foreign labor markets.
The project of developing standards and procedures for the Standards Assessment of academic programs is underway. Draft Program Standards have been provisionally approved by the OAAA Board and the Authority is now working on finalizing the Program Accreditation Manual.
Developing National Academic Standards for General Foundation Programs (GFPs) and GFP Audit Process and Manual.
In 2008, the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority developed "The National Academic Standards for General Foundation Programs" in cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education and Sultan Qaboos University to bridge the gap between general education outcomes and requirements of higher education. The development of these standards was supported by the assistance of international experts and through extensive consultation with Oman’s higher education sector. Four teams were formed in the fields of English language, Mathematics, Computing skills and general Study Skills. These standards were approved by the former Higher Education Council and released by Her Excellency the Minister of Higher Education in 2009. They are published on the OAAA website www.oaaa.gov.om.
GFP Standards constitute an external benchmark and higher education institutions are expected to re-align their own foundation programs to the national GFP Standards as a minimum. Along with other areas, HEIs’ efforts in re-aligning their GFPs to the national minimum standards and the quality assurance and enhancement activities of GFPs will constitute a major part of the GFP Quality Audit scope.
The GFP Audit Manual, a draft of which is posted on OAAA’s website and is due to be finalised and circulated to the sector early 2017. The GFP Audit Schedule has been approved by the OAAA Board and the first seven HEIs are due to submit their GFP Quality Audit Portfolios in February and November 2017.
The OAAA established a national register of external reviewers. This register is published on the website www.oaaa.gov.om. It includes experts and academics from inside and outside Oman who participate in the OAAA’s external quality assurance activities. These external reviewers have been selected in accordance with specific standards set by the OAAA before they are enlisted on the register. The OAAA applies a rigorous process for approving reviewers who need to meet these standards. The Authority makes every effort to update and maintain the Register of External Reviewers on a continuous basis. It is continuously searching for new reviewers who meet its standards to submit their names to the OAAA Board for approval. These efforts are made to provide an adequate number of distinguished reviewers to help in external quality assurance activities conducted by the Authority at present and in the future. The national Register of External Reviewers include more than one hundred reviewers from more than 25 countries in addition to more than 80 external reviewers from public and private higher education
institutions operating in Oman and some affiliates from the industrial sector. The OAAA trains local reviewers on an ongoing basis and any reviewers added to the Register are approved by the OAAA Board. The Authority is the first in the Gulf region to provide training for local reviewers for both stages of institutional accreditation and the first to use them in these processes.
The National Qualifications Framework is a key component of the National Quality Management System in the Sultanate of Oman. The importance of this framework lies in the fact that it is used by several parties and for several purposes. The Ministry of Higher Education, for instance, uses this framework for licensing proposed academic programs to be offered by higher education institutions. The OAAA makes use of this national framework in accreditation of these programs afterwards. Higher education institutions use this framework in the design and development of their academic programs. The new comprehensive national qualifications framework currently being developed by the OAAA plans to include all academic, vocational and professional qualifications. The framework not only benefits students in improving their knowledge and skills, allowing them to move vertically from one level to another, but it goes beyond that to provide them with opportunities to move horizontally, if they wish, between all different forms of education and training. This national qualifications framework provides a mechanism for employers to become familiar with levels of knowledge and skills obtained by graduates of different educational institutions. Employees can also benefit from the national qualifications framework in their professional development. They can progress in their careers through training, field experience or professional and occupational qualifications.
The Royal Decree No. 74/2001 entrusted to the former Accreditation Council the responsibility of reviewing modifications to the national framework of qualifications awarded by higher education institutions in Oman. The former Accreditation Council issued the document "Oman's National Qualifications Framework" in the English language in 2004. Then it issued a modified version of this framework in 2005 but it only included academic qualifications of higher education. Due to the fact that the document of the National Qualifications Framework needed improvement and updating on periodical basis to match latest local and international developments in the education sector, the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority, which replaced the former Oman Accreditation Council, by Royal Decree No. 54/2010, was assigned the task of developing and updating National Qualifications Framework in coordination with the Ministry of Higher Education and other concerned parties. The OAAA started the work on reviewing the current National Qualifications Framework in the Sultanate of Oman to be a comprehensive framework for all types of qualifications (including academic, professional, occupational and school qualifications) in response to the decision of the Education Council in its second meeting in 2014 which was issued to meet local needs and to cope with international trends in this regard.
The Oman Qualifications Development project officially commenced on 3 May 2015 in partnership with the Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) took up full time office at the OAAA. The OAAA conducted an official launch event for Project on 20 May 2015. Phase I of the project is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2017. OAAA is now in the process of evaluating this phase in preparation of implementing Phase 2.
The OAAA is keen on building and strengthening cooperation with many local, regional and international higher education quality assurance authorities and networks. It participates in the functions of some of these authorities and networks. Some of the objectives of the Authority with regard to this cooperation are:
The OAAA has provided and is still providing administrative and technical support to the Oman Quality Network in Higher Education for the past 10 years (2006-2016). The former Accreditation Council had participated in the establishment of this network in cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education.
At the Gulf level, the OAAA has been participating for years in the activities of the coordinating committee of academic accreditation of higher education institutions of GCC states in its capacity as a member of this committee. The OAAA contributed, in cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education, in the establishment of the GCC Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education and Oman was chosen to be the host country of this network due to the Omani experience in establishing the Oman Quality Network in Higher Education. The OAAA CEO was appointed as the Chair of the GCC Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. Later, he was appointed as Acting Director of the GCC Network's office in Muscat (April- October 2016). The OAAA also contributed to the establishment of the Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education and it has been a member of this network since June 2007. It also participated in the activities of this Arab network such as the development of common standards of institutional accreditation, setting up the qualifications framework for Arab countries and development of a glossary of terms used in quality assurance in higher education. The OAAA participated and presented papers in many workshops organized by the Arab Network for Quality Assurance. At the Islamic level, the OAAA contributed to the establishment of the Network for Quality Assurance for the Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
At the international level, the OAAA joined the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) through the membership of the Ministry of Higher Education in this network in 2001. The OAAA participated in the functions of this network since its establishment. It presented many papers at international conferences organized by the Network in 2007, 2009, 2011,2013 and 2015. In 2010, three specialists from the OAAA were registered as consultants of quality assurance in the database of consultants which is developed by the INQAAHE and the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN). This database is published on the website of the APQN.
The OAAA has also signed two memoranda of understanding with distinguished regional and international entities in the fields of quality assurance and accreditation in higher education. In 2014, the OAAA signed a memorandum of understating with Bahrain’s Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training. In 2015, the OAAA signed another MoU with the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) in the United States.