International community assist with educational regionalisation

| July 25, 2018

The Pacific Region is currently progressing towards achieving common levels of higher education qualifications. This is a common quality assurance approach that improves professional and technical services at home. By capitalising on improved internet connectivity in the Pacific and the advent of e-learning in many administrations, organisations like the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) have taken the lead in expanding the presence of Australian academics in Pacific.

There is no doubt that some countries in the region are experiencing significant human resourcing problems. This is both in terms of numbers of staff, in quality of graduates and in deployment to rural and remote areas.

While many countries have their own colleges and institutes through which they provide country prescribed education, there is significant variation between institutions in terms of curricula, lessons, and standards. In addition to this, the ICDP through the Pacific Connect initiative is making efforts to overcome the difficulties of assembling staff, securing space for continual traditional classroom-based training, logistical and impact on work flows and business continuity. It has been actively working with the smaller Pacific countries to develop a unified approach to developing human resources through e-learning. For instance, by assisting in enabling access to nursing courses for free. This provides an essential difference to the way smaller nations access education from the top tier universities.

Regional action on standardisation in higher education may not solve all of these problems, but it will make management far easier and the outcomes safer. During the recent Pacific Connect/USP Academic Network Dialogue hosted by ICDP and the University of the South Pacific, members highlighted the importance of strengthening the education system in the Pacific. This also highlighted issues regarding how to refresh nursing knowledge, as well as the general benefits of providing better access to free online courses for adults.

“Regional development partners, in consultation with relevant national authorities, are encouraged to develop and implement Pacific-wide initiatives including: professional competencies and standards; a Continuing Professional Development Accreditation framework; model legislation, bridging courses and reintegration programmes; and a specialist clinical services support programme.” (Ninth Meeting of the Ministers of Health, Honiara 2011)

The importance of standardisation

The standardisation of curricula developed by regional stakeholders may be a way to reduce potential deterioration in quality of both training and health services as staffing shortages take effect. Small country programmes may benefit by collaborating with our neighbours to create economies of scale and maintain common standards to produce quality graduates. In some disciplines, a multilateral approach may be more sustainable.

The Pacific is progressing from the position where education providers were governed by their national ministries and their programmes were authorised and approved by statutory professional registration authorities.

However, the region still has significant progress to make in order to address all the complex changes needed to achieve valid region-wide comparisons. These changes include school leaving standards, entry into programmes, governance arrangements of institutions and providers, the creation of clear and comparable processes of programme accreditation/approval, as well as the legislative and bureaucratic change to manage and audit new systems.

Regional efforts

These challenges are being addressed on a regional basis with the assistance of Pacific Open Learning Health Net (POLHN), together with the international community and the World Health Organization (WHO) human resource development platform. Different regions have different processes: the Caribbean holds regional professional registration examinations for many professional cadres and is progressing towards common competency based curricula; and the European Union (EU) has a system of equivalencies that allow professional mobility between countries of the region, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) community is progressing in a similar direction. In the Pacific however, arrangements for professional mobility remain largely informal.

Collaborative efforts will improve intra-regional professional mobility and the potential to fill critical staffing gaps with staff trained to a regionally agreed standard. Standardisation could produce an outcome that is both academically sustainable and cost-effective across the region. It could rationalise the design and development of competency-based curricula, create common standards of student assessment, and make the best use of limited numbers of well-qualified academic staff in the region and ensure that educational standards are maintained. This will ensure that the intra-regional workforce sharing becomes one of the solutions to workforce shortages.

The ICDP’s effort to increase the presence of Australian universities in the Pacific region will not only improve the regional framework but also help create acceptable regional standards. In summary, the increasing influence of top tier universities in the Pacific through ICDP’s Pacific Connect initiative will help facilitate the establishment of shared norms and standards, establish a common position on an issue, deliver good quality which is regional in scope, realise economies of scale, overcome national capacity constraints, complement national governments where they lack capacity, and facilitate economic or political integration. Where these benefits accrue sub-regionally, the contribution to broader regionalism will be clear.

To learn more about the free online medical courses for doctors and the free online nursing courses that POLHN offers, visit: www.polhn.org

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Mohammed Aruf Yasin

Mohammed Aruf Yasin is the Technical Officer at Pacific Open Learning Health Net (POLHN), in the Division of Pacific Technical Support at the World Health Organization.