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Quality Culture and Entrepreneurial Dynamics in Higher Education: How Can It Be Implemented to Improve Algeria's Economy?

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May 25, 2016 / 0 Comments
   

Over the last couple of decades, it has often been reiterated that, since universities are amidst a knowledge-driven global economy, they are no longer simply teaching and research institutions (Clark, 1998; Aronowitz, 1998, 2000; Marginson & Considine, 2000; Etzkowitz, 2002). Rather, they are increasingly required to engage with national and international economic development. Today, there seems to be no doubt about the importance of effectiveness in higher education in the production of the workforce. It is also widely agreed that creativity fuels employment, market performance and economic growth. Therefore, higher education is increasingly facing the challenge of promoting innovative skills.

 

Algeria – like many other countries across the world – is attempting to approach higher education policy as an investment strategy, with learning and research priorities focusing on building innovation and raising employability opportunities. Algerian higher education institutions are urged to tackle worldwide issues related to both input-based metrics (quantitatively indicated metrics such as study time, amount of student workload, etc.) and outcome-based metrics (such as employability and research productivity). They are requested to align with international standards of excellence.

 

Driven by the will to reach these goals, the École Polytechnique d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme (EPAU), in Algiers, has begun the implementation of a set of strategic actions that are believed to help, on the one hand, to developing an entrepreneurial and organizational culture committed to quality improvement; and on the other hand, to establishing more collaborative ties with architectural practitioners and other professionals from the socioeconomic sphere. EPAU was created in the 1970s with the aim of providing higher education in the fields of architecture and urban planning. Today, although it is considered to be a national pole of excellence in Algeria, as enrolled students go through a very selective process, EPAU aspires to improve institutional performance.

 

Therefore, over the last three years, the process of change has been going through different steps:

  • Step 1: Explaining to internal stakeholders (leadership, academic and administrative staff, students and researchers) the necessity to rethink accepted beliefs and practices. The communication strategy, which has been adopted, includes the organisation of a series of conferences. The objective of these conferences is set to raise awareness on the urgent need to develop an internal quality culture and management.
  • Step 2: Conducting institutional self-reflection by involving students, academics, and administration staff. Yet, prior to the beginning of the self-assessment survey, it was imperative to clarify, from the outset, that the objective of this inquiry was not set to identify underperforming persons in order to punish them; but aimed instead at instigating collective self-improvement. The questionnaire targeted the study of seven main domains: governance, education, research, university life, facilities, international cooperation and socioeconomic relations. All academic staff and more than half of the administration employees were targeted by the survey. Besides, out of the 900 students enrolled at EPAU, a total of 300 students were involved in this inquiry.

Naturally, the process of data gathering was followed by the examination, review and interpretation of the results. The findings were publically presented and discussed at a workshop that was organised at EPAU by the Assurance Quality Unit in 2015. This workshop was viewed as a platform to discuss and debate propositions for self-improvement.

  • Step 3: Improving quality at different levels including that of the architectural curriculum through the harmonisation and enhancement of study programmes. On May 2015, a new Programs and Regulations Commission has been created at EPAU by the Head of the institution. One of its missions has been the reconceptualization of educational and learning practices in order to align syllabi for developing the new economic skill sets. The latter include, in addition to technical skills (know-what and knowhow), skills in reasoning and creativity, and other behavioural and entrepreneurial skills (i.e. perseverance, awareness, communication, collaboration). Of course, the thinking process about the nature of qualifications needed for both employability and innovation has been involving all the academic staff as well as representatives of the National Order of Architects Board and different other professionals, including NGOs.
  • Step 4: New procedures have been introduced in order to make the institution’s resources and experts more visible to architectural practitioners, decision-makers and socioeconomic partners. Besides, efforts are being made to expand EPAU’s alumni network. The mobilisation of alumni engagement and corporate support aims to contribute to the transformation of the educational experience for students (internship, employability, etc.). The objective is to ingrain the seeds of co-creation between the EPAU community and the various actors who are engaged in the production and the transformation of the built-environment.

 

It is widely believed that such endeavours, which aim at the development of a quality culture and the promotion of entrepreneurial architecture, require time and efforts for two main reasons. Firstly, higher education dynamics are deeply related to accepted practices, values, and beliefs. Secondly, the complexity of the framework in which change operates within a public institution of higher education should not be underestimated, since attempts could be undermined by factors such as the lack of autonomy, restricting external regulations and financial constraints. Nevertheless, the ongoing experience of EPAU is also showing that the instigation of a process of quality culture along with the improvement of institutional performance can find positive ground when all stakeholders welcome change and aspire for it.

 

This article is part of a blog series featuring the views of tertiary education experts from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regarding tertiary education in their respective countries as well as the use of the University Governance Screening Card, an innovative tool that enables universities in the region to compare themselves with international standards, define their own unique set of goals and establish benchmarks to assess the progress in achieving them. The University Governance Screening Card (UGSC) was developed under the World Bank/CMI program on tertiary education and applied by 100 universities in the MENA region.

Kahina Amal Djiar

Kahina Amal Djiar is Head of Postgraduate Studies and Research at Algiers Ecole Polytechnique d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme (EPAU). She obtained her MSc and PhD in the United Kingdom on 2003 and 2007 respectively. She developed her expertise on the study of housing and the built environment in the Maghreb Region. She published extensively on the subject, and organised many academic events. Over the last three years, she coordinated several reform initiatives at EPAU as both Quality Assurance Responsible and President of the Programs and Regulations Commission.

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