How does OAAA ensure that higher education institutions (HEI) meet international benchmarks, and to what extent do you collaborate with foreign partners to do so?
OAAA's three main activities cover HEI accreditation, program accreditation, and the updating and maintaining of the Oman Qualifications Framework. Institutional accreditation involves assessing HEIs against national standards that have been developed through benchmarking standards and processes, regionally and internationally, with those of over 40 quality assurance agencies. Extensive consultation took place with international consultants, either through feedback on draft standards, or through the contribution of keynote speakers in the symposium OAAA held to consult on standards. These standards have also been revised through extensive consultation with the local higher education sector to ensure that they are suitably contextualized for Oman. International collaboration continues to inform our work at OAAA with at least 60% of each of our review panels generally consisting of regional and international external reviewers. A similar approach in terms of harnessing international collaboration has been employed for the development of standards for program accreditation, and we have worked with the Scottish Qualifications Authority to develop the comprehensive Oman Qualifications Framework covering all types and levels of education.
How do you expect Omani HEIs to remain ahead of the curve regarding the world of work?
It is the responsibility of the higher education sector to monitor market needs, and we ensure, through our review activities, that HEIs remain in continuous collaboration with industry. This is important so that programs are developed by HEIs that are relevant to the current and future needs of industry and that these programs are periodically reviewed to ascertain their suitability for meeting the rapidly changing needs of the labor market. Each new program requires a feasibility study that is designed to check that it embraces national priorities as reflected through Vision 2040. While the Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for licensing these new programs, OAAA plays a role in ensuring that HEIs remain current and relevant in their provision. A number of the criteria of our accreditation standards reflect the onus on HEIs to maintain a healthy relationship with the industries and stakeholders they serve, with only those HEIs meeting all standards being accredited.
How do you project the provision of academic learning and vocational training by private and public sectors to evolve in the future, and what role do you expect each side to play?
OAAA supports the growing emphasis on vocational training through the listing of vocational and professional qualifications on the Oman Qualifications Framework; this allows for a productive articulation from one pathway to another, complementing the contemporary need for lifelong learning and flexible career patterns. The private higher education sector has a role to play in broadening the opportunities for individuals to develop their skills in all areas of learning. Approximately 50% of HE students are currently studying in the private sector, and the government encourages this through a generous sponsorship program. OAAA supports the diversification of the economy by ensuring that these private institutions are fit for purpose, and that they deliver a sound return on the national investment in HE. This is accomplished through delivering a strong graduate output that, in turn, contributes effectively to the sustainable further development of the country.
What are your strategic priorities for 2020, and what factors are driving them?
OAAA has many priorities for the future, focusing on each of the three core areas of our work. In Institutional Accreditation, our priority is to continue working on this second stage of the process to ensure that all HEIs currently scheduled for accreditation undergo standards assessment on time. In terms of program accreditation, our priority is to finalize the newly-developed standards for implementation; to this end, pilot program standards assessments (PSA) will take place in selected accredited HEIs at the end of 2020 with expected commencement of officially launched PSA in 2021. Our other notable project currently under development is the Oman Qualifications Framework.