Promoting social equity, diversity, and inclusion through accreditation. Comparing national and international standards for public affairs programs in Latin America

Published date05 September 2016
Date05 September 2016
AuthorNadia Rubaii
Subject MatterEducation,Curriculum, instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Promoting social equity,
diversity, and inclusion
through accreditation
Comparing national and international
standards for public affairs
programs in Latin America
Nadia Rubaii
Department of Public Administration,
College of Community and Public Affairs, Binghamton University,
State University of New York, New York, USA
Purpose – This purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which accreditation of public affairs
programs can be a tool to advance social equity, diversity, and inclusion. The paper is presented in the
context of the widespread acceptance of the importance of addressing social inequalities in Latin
America and the critical role that public policy and public administration can have on advancing these
Design/methodology/approach – International and national accreditation standards are compared
using content analysis for their reference to social equity and diversity in their standards regarding
faculty, students, curriculum content and learning outcomes. The research applies content analysis of
key documents and thematic coding.
Findings – International accrediting agencies that focused explicitly on programs in public affairs
place a much greater emphasis on social equity and diversity than their national counterparts which
accredit a full range of programs and institutions. National accrediting agencies assert the value of
diversity, but their standards and reporting requirements suggest otherwise.
Research limitations/implications The research suggests that international accreditation
standards have the potential to advance social equity goals more effectively than national standards
and that there is great potential to enhance this component of national accreditation standards.
Implications for policymakers, accreditation professionals and scholars are identied.
Originality/value – The research is original in its focus on the role of accreditation in promoting
social equity and its comparison of national and international standards. Although limited to Latin
America and public affairs programs, the research provides a basis for examining similar patterns with
respect to other disciplines and professions, and in other regions of the world.
Keywords Diversity, Latin America, Inclusion, Accreditation, Public affairs education,
Social equity, Program accreditation
Paper type Research paper
The inuence of globalization on the demand and supply of higher education is well
documented. In the past two decades of the twentieth century and continuing into the
twenty-rst century, the world has experienced a rapidly increasing demand for higher
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Public affairs
Received 22 February 2016
Revised 5 June 2016
15 July 2016
Accepted 18 July 2016
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.24 No. 4, 2016
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-02-2016-0007
education, and a corresponding proliferation of new institutions and programs
(Blanco-Ramirez and Berger, 2013). Among the new universities and degree programs
are some of questionable quality and capacity, particularly with respect to their ability
to prepare graduates for the demands of a globalized economy. Many governments,
particularly in developing countries, have recognized that this trend necessitates greater
regulation of quality to protect key stakeholders (Billing, 2004;Blanco-Ramirez and
Berger, 2013). Countries around the world have responded by establishing or
strengthening standards and processes for assuring minimum quality standards and/or
promoting excellence. At time same time, globalization creates pressures and
opportunities for quality assurance agencies to use accreditation standards to fulll a
broader social role, specically as it relates to social equity, but it is less clear to what
extent this role has been embraced.
Depending on where one looks and what metrics one uses, globalization can be
seen as helping or hindering the quest for greater equality and equity. It has been
credited with leveling the playing eld in what Friedman (1999,2005) refers to as a
“atter world”. At the same time, it has been blamed for exacerbating inequities
according to what Florida (2005) refers to as a more “spikey world” in which some
locations are able to attract the most talented and creative professionals who take
them to great peaks of economic advantage, and other communities are left behind
in the valleys. While global inequalities have declined overall across emerging
economies and developing nations of the world, largely because of economic
advances in China and India, inequality within countries has increased in many
countries, as measured by the Gini coefcient. (Bourguignon, 2016). Responding to
within-country inequalities demands actions on the part of ofcials at all levels of
government and in all sectors of the economy, including the public and private
actors in the realm of education. Institutions and programs of higher education and,
by extension, the agencies that evaluate and accredit them, have both an
opportunity and responsibility to respond to social inequities.
While higher education has a longstanding tradition of advancing social goals, this
manifests differently across countries (Kempner and Tierney, 1996) and it is an often
neglected aspect of comparative higher education research (Valimaa and Nokkala,
2014). Comparative studies of higher education policies are more likely to examine
issues of institutional power relative to the state, relations between the academy and the
market, the level of autonomy and academic freedom provided to institutions and
faculty as teachers and scholars (Goedegebuure et al., 1994a,1994b), rather than
demographic diversity. When diversity is included as a criterion for comparison, it
generally refers to the extent of diversity among higher education institutions (HEIs)
and systems, such as whether they are public or private institutions, comprehensive of
specialized and the level of governmental regulation (Goedegebuure et al., 1994a,1994b;
Meek et al., 1996), not diversity in the sense of social equity or inclusion of all ethnic and
racial groups. Similarly, comparative studies of quality assurance systems tend to focus
on differences in processes, standards or ability to advance economic goals more so than
social goals (Lim, 2001).
The overarching question posed by this research is:
Q1. To what extent and in what ways do systems of accreditation designed
principally to address higher education quality, also advance social equity,
diversity and inclusion?

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