Peru is one of the last countries in South America to implement a national system of quality assurance for higher education. Interestingly, this has resulted in a different dynamic within the higher education community than that witnessed elsewhere. There has been little resistance to the new scheme. Unlike the response in many quarters a decade ago, no one seems to be suggesting that accreditation and external review is an affront to university autonomy. Rather, the preoccupation is with understanding newly-published standards and how they should be applied. The cry from the Peruvian higher education community is for more not less— an overwhelming demand for training and support as institutions begin to work on self-studies, even before these reports are required from them.
Peru’s system of accreditation is somewhat different from other models. Although accreditation is required for degree programs and for institutions, institutional accreditation has been put aside for the moment while standards for the accreditation of degree programs are developed. Although the law requires accreditation of only 15 university degree programs in the areas of health and medicine, education, and law, nearly all degree programs are expecting to participate, putting additional pressure on the nascent accreditation agency to develop guidelines and standards for the entire higher education system all at once.
As yet there is no immediate benefit to an institution for accrediting a program nor a clear penalty for not doing so. Although there will be a new fund set up to provide grants for projects to make improvements to an institution or a specific program after the self study and external evaluations are completed, this has not been well publicized yet so it can hardly be considered a strong incentive for engaging in the process. Why then have Peruvians in the higher education community been more receptive to the idea of accreditation than their peers in other countries? Was it a belief that accreditation was inevitable after observing these systems taking hold elsewhere? Was it concern for the quality of the rapidly expanding higher education system? Was it a recognition that in order to be taken seriously on the international stage that this kind of self-regulation and certification was necessary? It is probably all of the above. But the reasoning behind the initiative and the law was none of the above. Rather the law supposed that this rapidly developing economy needed more highly trained people with higher level skills for the workforce. Standards for degree programs are seen as a way to connect job skills needed by the labor market with programs offered by postsecondary institutions. This of course begs the question of whether the purpose of higher education is job training and if the answer is “yes” whether tertiary institutions are actually capable of fine-tuning degree programs towards this objective.
Why Peruvians are showing enthusiasm for engaging in evaluation and accreditation is not clear. It is most interesting that they are. What comes of it remains to be seen.