Pursuit of quality in the process of higher education in Saudi Arabia: a study across three stakeholder groups in two public universities
Al-Shehri, Muhammed Dafer
In 2004, the Saudi Higher Education Supreme Council (HESC) established the National Commission for Academic Accreditation and Assessment (NCAAA). According to the Secretary General of the NCAAA, introducing this system at the national level was essential for economic and social development in Saudi Arabia. The emergence of the NCAAA represents the central focus of this thesis, specifically in relation to the NCAAA’s role in improving the educational process in Saudi higher education institutions (HEIs). The overarching objective was to explore and describe the present engagement within Saudi higher education with the recommendations made by the NCAAA directed towards the enhancement of the quality of student learning, with the intention of identifying whether the attributes of the Saudi higher education system were consistent with these recommendations. This overarching objective was further divided into the following three more specific objectives: a) To explore administrators’ (i.e. faculty deans’) perceptions of the extent to which the recommendations made by the NCAAA have been adopted in two public Saudi universities. b) To explore teachers’ perceptions of their practice, considering comparisons between the two institutions. c) To explore the students’ experiences, again considering comparisons between the two institutions. The above objectives drove the data collection process, and these data constituted the empirical base of the study. The research was conducted in two public universities located in two geographically distinct provinces of Saudi Arabia. Data were collected from three groups of stakeholders, including senior administrators, teachers and students. This was done by means of individual interviews with 11 senior administrators and the collection of survey data from 78 teachers and 430 students, who were recruited from 11 faculties across the two institutions. Semi-structured interviews with senior administrators focused on their personal views and opinions of the educational process with respect to student learning, in order to identify the extent to which their faculty/unit was engaged with the NCAAA recommendations. The questions in the teacher and student surveys were derived from the recommendations published by the NCAAA with regard to the improvement of the educational process, and focused on their teaching practice and learning experiences respectively. The qualitative analysis of the administrators’ data suggested some differences in terms of how the two institutions engaged with the NCAAA’s recommendations and thus I adopted a comparative approach to the analysis of the teachers’ and students’ responses. A factor analysis was carried out to further clarify the themes present in the surveys from the perspectives of both teachers and students, and descriptive analyses were then used to explore the extent of resonance with the recommendations of the NCAAA. Inferential statistics were applied to investigate any differences between the two institutions against the outlined themes. The administrators’ responses at both institutions indicated that there was room for improvement in adopting the NCAAA’s recommendations. While the perceptions of teachers at both institutions seemed to suggest compliance with these recommendations, the statements of the students were more congruent with those of the administrators. The findings of the study indicate that there is yet some way to go towards the realisation of the aspirations of the NCAAA. They further suggest the desirability of a greater degree of student involvement in the evaluation of the quality of the educational process. Finally, the transformation of a series of recommendations for quality enhancement into a culture of quality within an individual institution is a process that can be expected to take some time. The study, while indicating a degree of commitment to, and espousal of, the recommendations of the NCAAA, suggests that there is some considerable way to go before this will be seen to impact directly and significantly on the student experience.