Interview with Mrs. Luz-María Nieto-Caraveo, Professor and Academic Vice President of the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, and Mexican Representative in AHELO Group of National Experts (GNE)
Why is your country interested in AHELO?
Intense work has been done on a National Quality Assessment System during the last decades, including self-assessment, external assessment, national tests for entering and graduating students in higher education, quality assurance agencies, and the overall assessment of the system. It must be taken into account that the higher education system in Mexico is constantly growing, in the context of the demographic, economic, technological and political transition the country is undergoing. Furthermore, a good part of the most important HEIs is implementing substantial reforms oriented towards innovation, the development of competencies, curricular flexibility and student mobility, among others.
Mexico’s participation in this project will allow for the generation of new institutional learning, the exploration of methodological alternatives in the international spectrum, the widening of the assessment capacities in participating institutions and in general of the entire HEI system.
So far, three universities have expressed an interest in participating in the project, all of them part of the subsystem of Public State Universities: the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, the University of Guadalajara, and the Autonomous University of Yucatan. The participation of some other HEIs is expected, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education (SEP), as well as the involvement of agencies that are part of the Higher Education Assessment System in México.
What specific challenges does AHELO present to higher education in your country?
The challenges presented by AHELO in México are basically the need to identify, analyse, recognise and assume articulated components of professional training on a common platform, in the context of the diversity of characteristics of the subsystems and institutions of higher education in México and the rest of participating countries.
The main challenge within Mexico is to demonstrate that the assessment of learning outcomes is possible in the framework of this diversity, provided that this is assumed with a comprehensive perspective oriented towards improvement. Mexico has a very diverse higher education system, not only because of the origin of financing (public or private), but because of its forms of organisation, functions (for example those in which research has a strong role and others where it does not: technological institutes, polytechnic universities, among others), degrees of autonomy and decentralisation, and the type of studies offered. Furthermore, participation in this project will require a profound, critical and prospective reflection on the implications of assessment of learning outcomes in teacher training, curricular design and programme assessment, among others, both at the level of each participating institution as well as at the level of the whole system.
Another challenge stems from the necessary construction of a form of inter-institutional organisation that allows for the viability of the project in a conceptual, methodological, and operational manner, as well as permission to call on experts, authorities, professors and students to participate, through a scheme of transparent communication, which is also open to stakeholders.
Finally, another important challenge is to assume the multicultural perspective of the assessment of learning outcomes, both inside the country, in relation to other participants on the project, and by incorporating factors that allow for the proper contextualization of the project findings.
Do you think some institutions in your country are worried over a new assessment tool such as AHELO? What would you tell them?
Assessing higher education, understood as a comprehensive process, is oriented towards improving professional training, as it provides the elements that allow for fundament decisions to be taken during the process of change. As the AHELO project is put forward with that primary end, their results will give more pertinence to educational programs. The advantage of assessing learning outcomes is to obtain information on the achievements of plans and programs of study, as well as to detect weaknesses to be corrected in our institutions. This study has not been designed to draw position lists (rankings) or simple comparisons. It is a contextualized study, designed from a clear scientific base that proceeds via random samplings inside institutions, from a representative selection of these samplings, with the purpose of avoiding distortions of information. Its results should be articulated with the contextual factors that constitute one of the paramount ambits of the analysis.
What could be the benefit of AHELO for your country, the institutions, the students and the employers?
It is considered that the added value of the AHELO project rests in its possibility to generate synergies, as well as comparative learnings, from an international and multicultural perspective, focalizing the topic of outcomes assessment as one more necessary component of assessment of quality of education. This will surely strengthen public policies and self-assessment processes and external assessment of educational programs, and contribute to improve the quality of our graduates. From the technical point of view, participation in this project will allow us to increase our reserve of experiences, methodologies and instruments of assessment of higher education.
What experience does your country bring to the assessment of HE learning outcomes?
Mexico can provide experience derived from the diverse modalities of assessment of higher education, such as the external assessment by CIEES (Inter-institutional Committees of Assessment of Higher Education); the accreditation of educational programmes by organisms recognised by the COPAES (Council for the Assessment of Higher Education – a civil association); the general graduation and entrance exams, CENEVAL (National Center for the Assessment of Higher Education –a civil association); and the projects and activities of the INEE (National Institute of Assessment of Education), among others.
In the ambit of higher education institutions, there is an important stock of experiences, reflections, products and instruments in all these modalities, plus those of institutional self-assessment and of educational programmes.
Furthermore, there is in Mexico a considerable body of systematic research and reflection concerning the conceptual, methodological and technical aspects of educational assessment that has been documented in diverse publications, and which underpins research networks and specialised institutions.