The "Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes" (AHELO) Feasibility Study, developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is the first to directly assess higher education students with the objective of understanding "what they know and can do". Abu Dhabi's students are being tested alongside 40,000 peers in 270 institutions across 17 countries. The AHELO study has developed evaluations in three different areas - Generic Skills, Economics and Engineering - and Abu Dhabi has chosen to partake in the Engineering Strand alongside 8 other countries: Australia, Canada (Ontario), Colombia, Egypt, Japan, Mexico, the Russian Federation and the Slovak Republic.
Final-year Civil Engineering students from the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), Abu Dhabi University, and Al Hosn University, participated in the computerized test sessions between May 10-15.
"By becoming involved in the feasibility study phase, Abu Dhabi's universities will be pioneers in the development of the international study, and will have the opportunity to take part in the global higher education community committed to research-based quality assurance," said Dr. Mugheer Al Khaili, Director General, ADEC.
According to the OECD, "the tests will help measure students' knowledge and capacity to reason in complex and applied ways and to effectively use these skills and competencies in different settings".
"The ability to measure what students know and how well they can apply this knowledge will also allow institutional and government leaders to measure universities' teaching quality in terms of subject-matter knowledge and relevance to the global job-market. This is absolutely crucial for the implementation of the Abu Dhabi Higher Education Strategic Plan, particularly concerning Abu Dhabi's priorities to raise the quality of sector and ensure that it is aligned with labour market requirements" said Dr. Rafic Makki, Executive Director of the Office of Planning and Strategic Affairs and Acting Executive Director of Higher Education, ADEC. There are currently three major international assessments which evaluate school pupils performance that have significantly contributed to the development of evidenced-based policy making in Basic Education: the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). In Higher Education however, no such tool has existed until AHELO, which has been built upon other existing quality measurement mechanisms, such as learning outcomes by leading accreditation bodies and national/institutional level assessments.
"Many universities have built-in learning outcomes identified in program curricula, but the measurement and evaluation of these outcomes are not always consistent across countries, nor necessarily aligned in meaningful ways to the world of work," added Dr. Makki.
The learning outcomes adopted for the Engineering Strand are primarily based on those used by ABET and EUR-ACE, the dominant Engineering accreditation bodies in North America and Europe, and the final framework for the instrument was developed and accepted by 94 academic communities in 57 countries, thereby allowing for consensus-based global comparability. In December 2012, the final report will be published and each of the three Abu Dhabi-based universities will receive a tailored report detailing the performance of their students that will allow them to compare the results of their students with disciplinary benchmarks.
In early 2013, OECD will organize a conference to review the findings of the AHELO study. "There have been significant developments in the quantitative understanding of Higher Education through improved quality assurance measures in recent years, assessed by indicators largely focused on inputs, processes and outputs of higher education systems and institutions. The final conference will determine whether such a study is feasible across the plethora of systems, languages, and cultures represented by the initial 17 participating countries. If deemed feasible, AHELO may very well be the new gold standard in Higher Education and will serve as a rich student learning outcomes-focused complement to other global institutional quality measures such as ranking and accreditation" concluded Dr. Al Khaili.