Accreditation in Cyprus Higher Education

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1 Accreditation in Cyprus Higher Education Prof. Dr. Andreas G. Orphanides Dean of Academic Affairs Cyprus College, Cyprus The purpose of this paper is to present firstly an overview of the categories of higher education institutions in Cyprus in relation to the accreditation system that is currently in effect in Cyprus Higher Education, and then the accreditation system itself. We will describe the accreditation system and process, and will raise issues pertaining to them, with suggestions for further improvement. 1. Categories of Institutions in Cyprus Higher Education System The Higher Education system in Cyprus includes three major categories of institutions: (a) The state university(ies); (b) the state extra-university tertiary education institutions; and (c) the private extrauniversity tertiary education institutions. More precisely: 1.1. The University of Cyrpus was established in 1989 as an autonomous state university with state funding, the languages of instruction being Greek and Turkish. The major objective of the University is the development of knowledge through teaching and research for the social and economic development of Cyprus. The University of Cyprus is not required to undergo an accreditation process. A Technical University and an Open University are currently at the stage of preparation, and it is expected to begin their operation in a couple of years The State Extra-University Tertiary Education Institutions are as follows: a. The Higher Technical Institute was established in 1968, with English being the language of instruction. It offers a variety of technical educational programs leading to the award of a Higher Technical Diploma. b. The School of Nursing started its operation in 1964, offering a 39-month general nursing and psychiatric program in English. c. The Higher Hotel Institute was established in 1965 offering a 3-year hospitality educational programs. d. The Forestry College was established in 1951 offering a 6-month and a 2-year educational programs in general forestry practice. e. The Mediterranean Institute of Management was established in 1976 and offers an 11- month most-graduate educational program in Management. None of the public tertiary education institutions is required to undergo an accreditation process.

2 1.3. The Private Extra-University Tertiary Education Institutions offer tertiary education to over 50% of all education students studying in Cyprus, with over 15% out of them being international students from over 45 countries, setting so the foundations for developing Cyprus into an international tertiary education center. There are approximately eighteen private tertiary institutions offering 1-year, 2-year, 3-year and 4-year accredited educational programs in Business, Economics, Accounting and Finance, Computer and Engineering Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, Nursery education and a variety of vocational areas. They lead to a certificate or diplome or higher diplome or Bachelor s degree or Master s degree. The first private higher education institution founded in Cyprus is Cyprus College, founded in The private tertieary education institutions in Cyrpus are registered with the Ministry of Education and Culture, and also undergo an accreditation process controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The Ministry of Education and Culture is currently preparing the criteria for the development of certain private tertiary education institutions into private universities. Based on what I mentioned so far, it is already clear that accreditation in Cyprus applies to private tertiary education institutions only. The state university, as well as the state tertiary education institutions are not required to undergo an accreditation, neither is there any such accreditation process available for these institutions. Obviously, it is assumed that the state status of these institutions automatically indicates the existence of the expected quality at these institutions, and also offers them automatic recognition, without having to undergo an independent external evaluation process. This practice is naturally questionable and controversial. 2. What is Accreditation? Accreditation is viewed as a process by which an institution, usually voluntarily, undergoes an independent peer evaluation of its educational activities. This evaluation is undertaken by a group of faculty members and academic administrators from other peer institutions; their objective is to determine the quality of the under evaluation institution, or of one or more educational programs, depending on whether accreditation is institutional or of educational programs. This is mainly achieved by examining a variety of inputs in and outputs of the educational process, as well as the educational activities involved in the teaching/learining process. A major part of this evaluation is undertaken by the institution under evaluation through a selfevaluation process, whidh is presented in the form of a Self-Study document. The Self-Study document actually is treated by the evaluators in the accreditation process as the primary source of information and data, in relation to the already established accreditation standards and criteria. The accreditation process is administered without suspicion or intention to penalize an institution. On the contrary, the accreditation process is viewed as an axercise during which an institution, expecially with the task of preparing the Self-Study document, identifies strenghts and weaknesses, and suggests ways to remedy the weaknesses and to further improve. It is significant to mention that accreditation is not a process to classify institutions of educational programs in terms of quality, or rate them as excellent, average or poor. Accreditation is the process which verifies for the knowledge of the institution s constituencies that the accredited institution or program meets the minimum requirements set forth by the accreditation standards and criteria, indicating so an acceptable level of quality. On the other hand, the reputation of an institution is built and earned in the course of several years performance and contribution to the society.

3 3. The Accreditation System in Cyprus As it has already been indicated, accreditation in Cyprus applies to private tertiary education institutions only. The system of accreditation is governed by the provisions of the law on tertiary education passed by the House of Representatives in 1996, with amendments in This law deals with both the registration on tertiary education institutions and educational programs, and the accreditation of registered educational programs offered by registered institutions of tertieary education. This accreditation system provides for the accreditation of educational programs, not for institutional accreditation, although, as we are going to see later, the accreditation standards, criteria and regulations are those that normally apply to institutional accreditation. Therefore, it is possible to find at a registered institution of tertiary education both accredited and not accredited registered educational program. Just for the history of accreditation in Cyprus, it is worthy to mention that the first attempt for accreditation of educational programs at private tertiary education institutions was made in However, due to serious legal complications and problems, that attempt failed after the Supreme Court, by considering the accreditation procedures that were followed illegal, ruled that the accreditation process never took place and a new one should take place as soon as a new law and accreditation regulations were in place. The new law, as I have already mentioned, came into effect in According to the law and accreditation regulations, accreditation of an educational program is granted, if it is ascertained through the accreditation process that all requirements and the educational levels aimed by the program are achieved, and also that the content and quality of the educational program indeed reflect the qualification or degree awarded after the completion of the program. 4. The Accreditation Council The body responsible for the implementation of the accreditation process and for redering the final decision on accreditation os an educational program at a private tertiary education institution is the Accreditation Council. The Accreditation Council is appointed by the Council of Ministers upon recommendation of the Minister of Education and Culture for a 5-year period, and the members of the Council may be re-appointment for an additional 5-year period. The Accreditation Council appoints the accreditation Visiting Teams, reviews their final recommendation and decides on either accrediting, denying accreditation or postpone for a specified period of time the decision on accreditation of an educational program to allow the institution to improve in anumber of specified areas. 5. The Accrediation Process Every registered with the Ministry of Education private tertiary education institution is eligible to apply for accreditation of a registered education program, provided that it there is a complete curriculum for the entire program and there are also students at least in the first year of study in the program at the time of the initial application. The institution undertakes all expenses involved for the completion of the accreditation process Initial Application The initial application includes details such as the objectives of the program, the curriculum, the content of courses, the degrees to which the program leads, etc. and is submitted to the Director General of the Ministry of Education Self-Study Upon approval of the initial application, the accreditation candidate for the specific education program institution undertakes the task to prepare a Self-Study with the involvement of its entire teaching and adminsitrative personnel. The Self-Study is prepared in relation to the accreditation standards and criteria, which are grouped in six major areas:

4 a. Goals and Mission of the Institution b. Progams of Study c. Teaching Personnel d. Supporting Services, Buildings and Facilities e. Organization and Administration f. Financial Resources In addition, the Self-Study is expected to identify strengths and weaknesses in these areas, and in the case of weaknesses to propose remedial measures Visiting Team On Site Visit Final Report After submission of the Self-Study by the involved institution, the Director General of the Ministry of Education and Culture submits the initial application and the Self-Study to the Chairperson of the Accreditation Council, and the Accreditation Council appoints a Visinting Team for on-site visit. Members of the Visiting Team are faculty and adminstration members from the state university and state tertiary education institutions in Cyprus, and from accredited higher education institutions abroad. During the on-site visit, the Visiting Team reviews the Self-Study and other involved documents made available at the institution, and has meetings with faculty and administration members, students and other constituencies of the institution. After the conclusion of the on-site visit, the Visiting Team develops a report that is forwarded to the institution for commetns. The Visiting Team submits then its final report to the Director General of the Ministry of Education and Culture, who transmits it to the Chairperson of the Accreditation Council Accreditation Council Decision The Accreditation Council reaches a decision that is transmitted to the Minister of Education and Culture for confirmation and endorsement. The final decision can be either: a. acceptance of the application for accreditation and accreditation of the educational program, or b. rejection of the application for accreditation of the educational program, or c. postponement of decision for a specified period of time, during which period the institution will remedy minor weaknesses or deficiencies. The Accreditation Council then renders accordingly a positive or negative decision. Accreditation is granted for a period of four years, beyond which re-accreditation is required following the same process followed for accreditation. Re-accreditation is granted for ten years. In the case of rejection of the application, the involved institution may apply again for accreditation of the educational program after one year. Currently, approximately 18 private tertiary education institutions offer over a hundred accredited educational programs, including programs at Bachelor s and Master s level Remarks and Suggestions The successful accreditation process already presented has been a major development in Cyprus higher education, and has contributed significantly towards the recognition and the quality of the educational programs offered by private tertiary education institutions. However, it is natural that always there is room for improvement. To this end, I will outline a number of suggestions as follows: The accreditation process should apply to all institutions, both state and private. Apart from the issue of fairness towards all institutions in the same national higher education system, accreditation is viewed as an objective confirmation of the quality of an institution, something that the state status of an institution cannot guarantee. On the other hand, apart from quality confirmation, the accreditation process works as a vehicle for further improvement that is equally important for both state and private institutions An important weakness of the Cyprus accreditation system and process described, is that the standards and criteria are relevant to institutional accreditation, rather than educational program accreditation, since several of them deal with aspects and functions of the institution, not of the educational program. This is due to the fact that these standards and criteria were originally designed for institutional accreditation, but through

5 the process of discussions in and approval by the House of Representatives, the law changed to program accreditation. A major implication of this is that different Visiting Teams for different educational programs of the same institution evaluate the same aspects and functions of the institution, sometimes with the different conclusions. We, therefore, suggest that the accreditation system and process should change to institutional accreditation Another weakness of the Cyprus accreditation system and process described, is that the same standards and criteria apply to both academic and vacational educational programs, they, however, are mainly more relevant to academic programs. The suggestion is, therefore, to design and develop a different accreditation standards and criteria for the vocational programs Members of different Visiting Teams occasionally interpret differently the accreditation standards and criteria, sometimes influenced by situations at their own institutions. The same may happen with officials at different candidate for accreditation institutions. It will, therefore, be very useful that the Accreditation Council develops an Accreditation Handbook with all necessary explanations and clarifications, and also organize relevant workshops for both members of the Visiting Teams and the officials and personnel of the institutions The lack of an appeals procedure in the accreditation process seems to be a serious gap in the system. We, therefore, suggest to add an appeals procedure to the accreditation process We also suggest to add conditional accreditation as an alternate final decision of the Accreditation Council, something that goes along with the fundamental view that a major objective of accreditation is the improvement of the involved institution/educational program. 6. Conclusion Based on the actual experience that we have had by serving at an institution that has been undergoing an accreditation process, we would enthusiastically support both the theory and the practice of accreditation. The benefits that both our institution and the institutional actors in the accreditation process have had, have been vital and extremely important. The accreditation process, apart from providing an effective tool for quality assurance and improvement of the institution and its educational programs, it has offered us an objective testimony supporting our educational mission and service on one hand, and the recognition of our institution, its educational programs and degrees on the other. We would, therefore, strongly support the efforts for an effective accreditation platform in Europe.

6 TABLE 1 Categories of Institutions in Cyprus Higher Education System State University(ies) State Extra-University Private Extra-University Institutions Institutions University of Cyprus Higher Technical Cyprus College Institute Technical University School of Nursing Frederick Institute of Technology Open University* Higher Hotel Institute Intercollege Forestry College Philips College The Mediterranen Institute 15 smaller institutions Under Preparation

7 TABLE 2 The Accreditation Process Initial Application Self-Study Visiting Team On-Site Visit Visiting Team s Final Report Accreditation Council s Final Decision Endorsement by Minister of Education and Culture

8 Talbe 3 Areas of Accreditation Standards and Criteria Goals and Mission of the Institution Programs of Study Teaching Personnel Supporting Services, Buildings and Facilities Organization and Administration Financial Resources

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