The Oman Academic Accreditation Authority (OAAA) is charged both with regulating the quality of higher education in Oman to ensure the maintenance of international standards, and with encouraging higher education institutions (HEIs) to improve their internal quality. The main responsibilities of the OAAA include institutional and programme accreditation, in addition to the development and maintenance of the national qualifications framework. Full information on this authority’s mandate is available on the OAAA website (https://www.oaaa.gov.om) and a summary is outlined below.
Establishment of OAAA
An external quality agency in higher education was first introduced in the Sultanate of Oman in 2001. Established by Royal Decree (74/2001), the Oman Accreditation Council (OAC) was charged with the building of a quality culture through establishing and implementing a system of institutional and programme accreditation, and the review and development of the National Academic Qualifications Framework. In 2010, in order to enhance effectiveness and to correspond with international best practice, the OAC was replaced with the OAAA, an independent entity reporting to the Education Council. Established as an autonomous body by Royal Decree (54/2010), OAAA has continued to build on the foundations laid by OAC in developing a quality management system in Oman.
OAAA’s Roles and Responsibilities
In establishing OAAA, the Royal Decree (54/2010) stipulated 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 (HEIs) to improve their internal quality through the following mandate:
A. Establishing a system that includes the standards and procedures of quality audit and institutional and program accreditation of higher education institutions, in addition to establishing the procedures for recognizing foreign higher education academic programs offered in the Sultanate;
B. Conducting quality audits of higher education institutions;
C. Accrediting higher education institutions against relevant standards established in this regard;
D. Accrediting higher education academic programs against relevant standards established in this regard;
E. Developing and updating the National Academic Qualifications Framework in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education and other relevant authorities;
F. Collaborating with the Ministry of Higher Education regarding the development and updating of the procedures of quality audit and institutional and program accreditation of higher education institutions;
G. Signing mutual recognition memorandums of understanding with relevant authorities of quality assurance in higher education in other countries.
(Article (8) Royal Decree 54/2010)
(Article (8) Royal Decree 54/2010)
The Royal Decree (54/2010, Article 7) called upon public and private HEIs as well as other concerned parties to “abide by the systems, standards, and procedures of academic accreditation” laid down by OAAA.
National Quality Management System
The OAAA, in building on the work of the former OAC, has continued to contribute to the design, development and implementation of the National Quality Management System (NQMS) in Higher Education in Oman. In so doing, OAAA has collaborated with the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) on elements of the NQMS that fall both within the mandate of the MoHE (for example, the institutional and academic programme licensure) and within OAAA’s mandate, as outlined in greater detail below.
Accreditation of Higher Education Institutions
OAAA has developed a national accreditation system for higher education institutions. The system consists of two consecutive stages: Stage 1: Institutional Quality Audit, and Stage 2: Institutional Standards Assessment.
Institutional Quality Audit (IQA), the first stage of Institutional Accreditation, commenced in 2008 by OAC and OAAA continues auditing HEIs as per the published schedule. IQA is designed to provide a level of assurance to the public about the quality of an HEI’s systems and activities and to give constructive feedback to the HEI to assist with its ongoing improvement initiatives. The emphasis of IQA is on evaluating the effectiveness of an institution’s quality assurance and quality enhancement processes, measured against an HEI’s own goals and objectives.
HEIs are expected to undergo IQA after the graduation of at least one cohort. IQA involves the HEI undertaking self-evaluation of its activities, resulting in a Quality Audit Portfolio. This document, together with supporting evidence, is reviewed by an external Audit Panel convened by OAAA who in turn produce a Quality Audit Report. This formative report is published on the OAAA website and includes: formal ‘Commendations’ where good practices are recognised by OAAA; ‘Affirmations’ where the HEI has identified significant opportunity for improvement and demonstrated appropriate commitment to addressing the matter, and ‘Recommendations’ where there are significant opportunities for improvement not yet being adequately addressed. By the end of 2018, OAAA had published 47 reports of the 59 HEIs in Oman that have undergone IQA. (1)
Institutional Standards Assessment (ISA), the second stage of Institutional Accreditation, commenced in 2016 by OAAA as per the published schedule. ISA is designed to provide a level of assurance to the public that an HEI’s systems and activities meet internationally benchmarked standards and to encourage HEIs to improve their quality. ISA covers the same scope as IQA but the emphasis of ISA is on evaluating whether an HEI has met the applicable institutional standards set by OAAA.
HEIs are expected to undergo ISA four years after Quality Audit. ISA involves the HEI undertaking self-evaluation of its activities against the applicable standards, and includes the HEI’s response to the Affirmations and Recommendations arising from the OAAA IQA Report. This results in an ISA Application which, together with supporting evidence, is reviewed by an external Panel which judges whether an HEI has met the standards; the accreditation outcome is made public on the OAAA website while the resulting summative report is confidential to the HEI and certain other concerned entities.
HEIs meeting all the applicable standards are accredited and awarded an accreditation certificate, valid for five years. Those institutions meeting all but one or two of the applicable standards are “Conditionally Accredited” while those not meeting three or more standards are placed “On Probation”. An HEI that is conditionally accredited or placed on probation is normally required to begin Institutional Standards Reassessment (ISR) up to one year after the HEI receives the final version of the ISA Report. If the HEI meets the standards through ISR, the institution is accredited and re-joins the institutional accreditation cycle. If an HEI does not meet the standards after ISR but shows good progress, it may be given a second and final opportunity to undergo Standards Reassessment. HEIs that are unable to meet the standards after a second ISR come to the end of the accreditation process and OAAA advises the Education Council and the HEI’s supervising ministry (if applicable). The Education Council may decide to terminate the HEI’s license to operate. By the end of 2018, OAAA had published the results of 10 HEIs in Oman that have undergone ISA to date.(2)
Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes
OAAA has developed a national accreditation system for higher education programmes which includes programme standards and an accreditation process. In this system, programmes are evaluated against generic standards through a Standards Assessment (PSA) process. PSA is designed to give confidence to the public and other stakeholders that an HEI’s programmes meet internationally benchmarked standards that are locally contextualised. PSA also aims to encourage HEIs to improve their programme quality.
Both Programme Licensing and Institutional Accreditation are prerequisites of Programme Accreditation by the OAAA. To support the development of programme standards and the PSA process, OAAA undertook two pilot PSAs (in December 2014 and March 2015). This exercise resulted in revisions to the Conceptual Design Framework (CDF). In May 2015 the OAAA Board approved revision to the scope of the programme standards in order to achieve an appropriate focus on the programme. This and other changes were reflected in a second draft of the CDF, available on the OAAA website. (3) OAAA’s experience in implementing IQA, ISA and GFP Quality Audit indicated a need for refinement of both standards and the PSA process. These are currently under review.
Accreditation of General Foundation Programmes
OAAA is in the process of developing a national accreditation system for General Foundation Programmes (GFP). In 2008, OAAA developed “Oman Academic Standards for General Foundation Programmes" (OASGFP), 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, which cover English language, mathematics, computing skills and general study skills, was achieved through the involvement of international experts and through extensive consultation with Oman’s higher education sector. Following the decision of the Higher Education Council (13/2008), HE the Minister of Higher Education issued a Ministerial Decision (72/2008) stating that the OASGFP should be adopted by all public and private higher education institutions operating in the Sultanate of Oman.
OAAA takes a three-phase approach to the accreditation of these programmes:
Development of the Register of External Reviewers
The OAAA has an established national register comprising more than 300 external reviewers. This register is published on the OAAA website and includes locally-based and international experts and academics who participate in OAAA’s external quality assurance activities. The selection of external reviewers is guided by policy and approved by the OAAA Board. Each Panel convened by the OAAA for each of its external quality assurance activities comprises either one or two locally-based reviewers to support the building of a community of practice within Oman. Training of locally-based reviewers is a condition of registration and the OAAA recognises that this training, and indeed the experience of conducting external quality assurance activities, contributes to the development of knowledge and capacity in the higher education sector in Oman.
Review and Development of the National Qualifications Framework
The existing National Academic Qualifications Framework has been a key element in the National Quality Management System in Oman within Higher Education since 2004. 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 programmes to be offered by HEIs and for recognition of foreign qualifications. The OAAA makes use of this national framework in accreditation of academic programmes thereafter. HEIs use this framework in the design and development of their academic programmes.
OAAA has been working on the development of a comprehensive national qualifications framework which will replace the existing National Academic Qualifications Framework. The new comprehensive Oman Qualifications Framework (OQF) will help to improve the recognition, consistency and quality assurance of all qualifications offered in Oman as it will include academic, technological, professional, vocational and school qualifications.
The OQF will be of benefit to learners, employers and parents as it will help increase the transparency of all qualifications offered in Oman and will provide a means of comparing one qualification with another, including the means of comparing foreign and international qualifications with qualifications from Oman. The OQF will support learner progression and lifelong learning by clarifying progression routes and providing opportunities for learners to move vertically from one level to another and also to move horizontally or diagonally, if they wish, between all different forms of education and training, minimising the duplication of learning. More information on the OQF can be obtained from the OAAA website..(4)