Bahrain to bolster quality of higher education

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In a bid to turn the kingdom into a knowledge-based economy, the British Accreditation Council (BAC) is rolling out Bahrain’s national university accreditation system following the completion of the second of several pilot inspections at the turn of the year.

The Higher Education Council (HEC) – the governing body of the BAC in Bahrain – has required universities to submit reports for accreditation by the end of the year.

Focus on standards

Launched in December, the accreditation system is the result of an agreement between the BAC and the HEC and aims to ensure consistent and internationally recognised academic standards for all higher education institutes (HEIs) within Bahrain.

Implementing an accreditation system is one of the six priority areas in the “National Higher Education Strategy 2014-24”, the kingdom’s long-term plan to transform Bahrain into an educational centre in the GCC region.

With the goal of becoming a top study destination in the Gulf, the government is keen on building capacity as an additional 20,000 students are expected to enter the higher education system during the period the national education plan covers. International students are expected to account for up to 35% of total enrolment, according to projections in the plan.

Accreditation should come as a welcome boost to the reputation of Bahrain’s tertiary education system and help attract international students, according to Ghassan F Aouad, president of Applied Science University.

“While institutional accreditation is a massive task, with 243 indicators across eight areas, it is a step in the right direction in transforming Bahrain into a hub for higher education in the GCC,” he told OBG.

Regional competition

As the last GCC country to begin the process of HEI accreditation, the kingdom is facing competition as other governments in the region invest more in education to diversify and create knowledge-based economies. However, Bahrain maintains an advantage due to its competitive regional student costs, tuition fees and living expenses.

A 2014 HEC strategy paper said that concerns over the quality of some universities led to a reduction in the number of inbound international students, particularly from key markets like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where the majority of international students come from.

The move toward institutional accreditation falls in line with the findings of the HEC report, which suggested that strong quality assurance mechanisms would be vital to developing confidence and attracting foreign student enrolment in Bahrain’s HEIs.

“The higher education accreditation strategy, along with the general accreditation system still being implemented by the National Authority for Qualifications & Quality Assurance of Education & Training, are necessary moves to bring Bahrain into global competitiveness and attract international students,” Solveig Nicklos, director of Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance, told OBG.

Collaboration produces results

The rollout of the accreditation system is the culmination of more than two years of planning and cooperation between the BAC and the HEC, which first signed a memorandum of understanding for the project in October 2013.

As a member organisation of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, BAC’s role is to develop documentation for university accreditation, provide workshops for HEIs, train staff and inspect universities.

This joint partnership approach has already improved results in the country’s international rankings, Riyad Yousif Hamzah, then-secretary-general of HEC, said at the December launch.

“Our ratings in the 2015 global competitiveness innovation ranking have improved in seven out of eight indicators, significantly with a rise of 31 places in the university and industry collaboration indicator,” he added. Hamzah is now the president of University of Bahrain (UoB).

UoB, Bahrain Polytechnic and the Royal University for Women were among the first institutions to be accredited under the new system with applications now open for the rest of Bahrain’s HEIs.

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