The formal process of approval against established standards by an independent body
To assure quality and continued relevance, on-going accreditation of academic programmes is of major importance and this is carried out in a variety of ways. In some countries, the accrediting function is performed by government ministries and agencies. Elsewhere it may be handled by professional or learned societies. A third approach is to have accreditation handled by independent organizations.
Historically, accreditation approaches of academic programmes primarily focused on content. For engineering, this was based on examining the curricula to determine if sufficient attention was being given to areas including mathematics, the physical sciences, engineering sciences and design. However, over the past decade, a shift has taken place in the emphasis to include a more ‘outcomes’ based approach. The accreditation review should include assessments of the performance of a graduate in his or her role as an engineer (The review normally includes feedback from the employers of the graduates relative to their satisfaction with academic preparation and performance of the graduates). Programme outcomes may be best defined as the quality and quantity of graduates, together with the roles and impacts they have in their careers and for their employers. An effective nuclear engineering programme should engage with the organizations that employ their graduates to determine the quality of the preparation of the students for a career in industry. A well-organized link with the employing organizations provides a critical feedback that leads to continuous improvement.
A well-defined set of criteria should be developed by the accrediting organization and presented to the academic institution well in advance of an accreditation visit. This is necessary to enable the faculty/department to implement the curriculum/a needed to meet the criteria.
For creditable accreditation two features are vital:
- Educational programmes are, by their nature, long-term endeavours to graduate students over three to six year time frames. As the accreditation criteria need to be stable and have continuity the accrediting organization must establish clear and consistent criteria. They must not be continually altered, as it will dilute the quality of the educational programmes.
- The reviews must be done on a regular periodic schedule, which could be every 3-5 years. A sufficiently long period of time enables the faculty/department to implement changes and improvements, and allows the organization to properly prepare for the next review.
The following are the key elements in a well-established accreditation process:
Prior to submitting to a peer review, and as a first step in the accreditation phase, a review within the institution will reveal deficiencies in the educational programme.
Qualitative and quantitative criteria
The qualitative criteria define the ‘must do’ of the educational programme, while the quantitative components impose a threshold and give the control instrument for quantifying performance. These criteria establish the standard. The standard should be high and challenging to reach.
The faculty/department should have an opportunity to see the report and respond to issues and recommendations that have been made. These responses should be taken into account by the accrediting organization in arriving at the final conclusions and actions. In most cases, the faculty/department will be given some period of time to implement any needed changes or improvements.
Upon consideration of the committee/commission report and any response from the university, an accrediting organization will decide to maintain/approve or deny accreditation of the programme. Provisional accreditation may also be granted pending an interim review. Experience has indicated that the accreditation process is time consuming and involves essentially all academic staff of a faculty/department. It shows not only the potential to provide a specific programme, but also the organizational capability. However, the accreditation process with well-defined standards and periodic reviews are critical in assuring the quality and timeliness of academic programmes.