José Dias Sobrinho
Professor José Dias Sobrinho is a Doctor of Human Sciences (Education, University of Campinas [UNICAMP] Brazil) and undertook a postdoctorate course in the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris. He is a retired lecturer and voluntary member of UNICAMP. He is also a lecturer on the postgraduate programme at the Universidad de Sorocaba (UNISO, Brazil).
Among the different posts that he has held are: vicerrector of postgraduate studies at UNICAMP; director of the Faculty of Education at UNICAMP; chairman of the Special Assessment Commission of the Brazilian Ministry of Education; and editor of the journal Avaliação.
He is the author of the following books: Avaliação da Educação Superior (2000), Vozes, Petrópolis, 234 pp.; Universidade e Avaliação. Entre a ética e o mercado (2002), Insular, Florianópolis, 190 pp.; Avaliação. Políticas educacionais e reformas da Educação Superior (2003), Cortez, São Paulo, 198 pp.; and Dilemas da Educação Superior no mundo globalizado. Sociedade do conhecimento ou economia do conhecimento? (2005), Casa do Psicólogo, São Paulo. He has also edited five books and forty editions of the journal Avaliação. He is author of thirty chapters of different books and twenty journal articles on higher education assessment.
Professor José Dias Sobrinho, an expert in Higher Education in Latin America, is the author of the article “Accreditation of Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean”. This paper will be published in the next GUNI report Higher Education in the World 2007, presented at the 3rd International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education: Accreditation for quality assurance: what is at stake?
“Globalization requires accreditation processes that facilitate the comparison and reconciliation of degrees and diplomas; increase the mobility of lecturers, students and professionals; and assure the quality of education services. In particular, cross-border courses, and above all virtual courses, need to be monitored”.
Should accreditation be controlled by general regulations established by the state and implemented by public and private agencies?
Yes, accreditation should be controlled by general regulations established by the state. However, the agencies, and above all the assessors and disciplinary communities, should be given a certain degree of freedom. In my opinion, public agencies are in a better position to carry out processes related to the public aspect of education. In addition, they are more removed from market interests. The state should ensure that accreditation complies with the objective of offering society reliable information on educational institutions, from the perspective that such institutions are involved in strategies for developing and strengthening democratic society. Therefore, I think that government agencies are more appropriate than private agencies. Private agencies, when accepted, should be accredited by the state from time to time. The state should also check that their activities are in line with public decisions and interests.
When did accreditation processes arise in Latin America and the Caribbean?
Most of the processes and accreditation organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean began to operate in the nineties, prompted by government laws. For example: the Higher Council for Education, CSE, Chile, was founded in 1990; the National Commission of Undergraduate Accreditation, CNAP, Chile, 1999; the National Council of Accreditation, CNA, Colombia, 1992 (Colombia also has the National Commission for Doctorate and Master’s Programmes, 1994); the Ministry of Education and Culture, Uruguay, has carried out these functions since 1995; the National Commission for University Evaluation and Accreditation, CONEAU, Argentina, 1996; the National Higher Education Accreditation System, SINAES, Costa Rica, 1999; the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, COPAES, México, 2000. In Brazil, the word “accreditation” does not exist in the sense of quality assurance. Postgraduate programmes have been assessed by CAPES since the sixties. Federal and private institutions and degree courses are regulated by the Ministry of Education (MEC). State and municipal programmes and institutions are regulated by each state’s Education Council. Since 2004, the National Higher Education Accreditation System (SINAES) has coordinated assessment and regulation, and carries out the functions of accreditation (quality assurance/certification) and assessment (improvement). Most accreditation organisations are governmental, such as those in: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and others. However, there are also non-governmental accreditation organisations such as those in Mexico and Venezuela.
Which Latin American and Caribbean countries are at the forefront of developing accreditation processes for institutions and programmes?
I think that Brazil has considerable experience in institutional and programme assessment, including: the postgraduate assessment carried out since the sixties; the “Program of Institutional Evaluation of Brazilian Universities” (PAIUB) developed in the nineties; the National Examination for students, used between 1996 and 2003; SINAES, which undertakes internal and external assessments of institutions, degree courses and students (students take the “National Examination for Students’ Performance”, ENADE, in their first and final years). In addition, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia are increasingly developing the theoretical and methodological aspects of accreditation and evaluation practices. The Universidad de la República (Uruguay) has made significant advances in its institutional assessment. Mexico has wide experience, but has also experienced many difficulties in developing programmes on a national level. In Central America, Costa Rica has considerable experience. In addition to the development of accreditation and assessment processes, theoretical knowledge of this field is also increasing in the region.
Do you consider that the best way to attain quality assurance and accreditation processes of excellence is to establish international accreditation agencies whose procedures are directed by Education Ministries and coordinated by UNESCO?
This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, the need for international accreditation is growing. Globalization requires accreditation processes that facilitate the comparison and reconciliation of degrees and diplomas; increase the mobility of lecturers, students and professionals; and assure the quality of education services. In particular, cross-border courses, and above all virtual courses, need to be monitored. These are all arguments in favour of international agencies. However, higher education should play a central role in national strategies. National Ministries of Education should have enough authority to ensure: the public mature of higher education, even in the cases of private courses; education’s commitment to strengthening democratic values and to developing each society’s plans. Subregional agencies play an important role in attempts to strengthen agreements between countries. However, this should reinforce the authority of National Ministries, rather than weaken it. Likewise, I can see a role for UNESCO. Of all the international organizations, UNESCO has the most moral and intellectual authority to help countries and agencies carry out quality accreditation tasks appropriately. Its role is one of coordination, organisation, academic and political support. However, it cannot impose rigid accreditation or education models that are valid for all countries. Each nation has its priorities and needs, which its education institutions should be committed to. Quality is linked to international criteria and to the history of the people who make up a society. It is therefore both social and dynamic and cannot be reduced to abstract and generic plans that bear no relation to the political projects or individuals’ objective realities in specific societies. Therefore, accreditation and international organisations or agencies, including UNESCO, should take into account local realities and national and subregional strategies and plans.