The Quest of Improving Quality Assurance in Legal Education in Laos
Legal education is not only important but challenging to develop and maintain its quality status. Indeed, law itself is so important as it pervades every public policy and human affair. However, to nurture the future talented judges, lawyers and building good legal institutions are tremendous challenges for educators, managers and academic staff who work in the field of legal education.
Recognising the strategic importance and key role of modern legal education in enhancing the quality of the legal graduates as well as to strengthen the legal education in Laos, the road towards achieving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) quality assurance standards for legal education offered by the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLP) of the National University of Laos (NUOL) and the Faculty of Law and Administration (FLA) of Champassak University began in 2018. This is part of the on-going effort to support the project LAO/031 titled “Support Project to Legal Teaching and Training and to the Promotion of the Rule of Law Concept in Laos” funded by the Luxembourg Cooperation and implemented by LuxDev, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency. The project seeks to enhance the quality assurance standards of FLP and FLA with the ASEAN Quality Assurance Reference Framework (AQAF) which was launched in 2016 to harmonize the quality assurance standards among ASEAN member states. Meeting the AQAF facilitates the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint which underlines the need for “the movement of business persons, skilled labour and talents” as a key element for achieving greater economic integration in ASEAN.
ASEAN QA Standards vis-à-vis Improvement of Legal Education
The AQAF was jointly developed by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN), SEAMEO Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development (SEAMEO RIHED) and ASEAN University Network (AUN). In harmonising the quality assurance standards to the AQAF, AUN develops and continually revises its AUN-QA institutional and programme frameworks to meet the changing needs of higher education as well as meeting the regional and global economic and industrial trends. Besides, to promote the quality education in the region, the AQAF serves as a common reference point for quality assurance agencies and institutions as they strive towards harmonisation amidst the diversity of quality assurance systems, cultures and traditions within the region. The framework uses generic principles and statements of good practices. Hence, its purpose is to promote good practices of internal and external quality assurance and improve the quality assurance of programmes and faculties in a systemic way.
In this light, reviewing and redesigning the legal education of Laos to meet the AUN-QA programme framework would be the way forward for Laos to meet the AQAF and paving the way to greater legal and economic integration and cooperation in ASEAN.Furthermore, to meet the ASEAN QA standard, the FLP and the legal programme need to satisfy the quality of education, being defined and described clearly in each sub-criterion. They include quality of academic and support staff; student quality; student advice and support; and facilities and infrastructure. Besides, quality assurance of teaching and learning, staff development and stakeholders’ feedback, as well as the achievement of the outputs such as pass rates and dropout rates, the average time to graduate, employability of the graduates, and research activities are all required in the standard, which is illustrated in the Figure 1.
Figure 1: AUN-QA Programme Framework (Version 3)
The Prominent Results from Initiative of LAO/031 Project
The quality assurance journey of FLA and FLP started with a gap analysis of their quality assurance systems vis-à-vis the AUN-QA programme framework (Version 3) through two training workshops: AUN-QA Programme Framework, and Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) Framework and Focus Group Design. Following the gap analysis, areas for improvement of the study programmes offered by FLP and FLA were identified. The FLP was prioritized to lead the curriculum design and review of its five study programmes in the LAO/031 project. The commendable journey towards achieving the ASEAN quality assurance standards by FLP is illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: The roadmap to achieve the ASEAN – QA Standard in FLP
In preparing for the plan to have the five study programmes from FLP certified by the AUN-QA Network, a series of initiatives were rolled out to close the identified gaps in the FLP’s quality assurance system by the project and the regional and international experts.
Taking a big picture of the legal development in Laos and the region as well as the AUN-QA programme framework, the new curricula of the five undergraduate programmes were revised and approved by NUOL and the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in 2019 and implemented in Academic Year 2020. The new curricula took into consideration of the ASEAN Qualification Reference Framework, the National Qualification Framework, AUN-QA standards and the varied legal and labour market needs of the stakeholders.
The implementation of the new curricula was followed by a series of capacity building workshops and consultations on the formulation of learning outcomes, design of course syllabus, writing of self-assessment report, and internal quality assessor training.
Workshop of Self-Assessment Report (SAR) Writing held in 2019. © LuxDev
Despite being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, FLP did not stop its quality assurance journey. In fact, it continues to push through initiatives to strengthen and enhance its competences in quality assurance and quality assurance system. In October and November 2020, two pilot assessments were carried out by the regional and international experts to assess its five study programmes and in preparing the faculty for its AUN-QA programme certification in 2021. The two pilot assessments were carried out online over 9 days involving Division Heads, Heads of Department, faculty members, support staff and students. The preliminary findings of the five study programmes to improve the curricula, resources, and internal quality assurance system were presented and submitted to FLP for follow-up.
Online 1st Pilot Assessment – Interview with Students. © LuxDev
Opening Ceremony of the 2nd Pilot Assessment. © LuxDev
In sustaining the quality assurance practices in FLP, an internal quality assurance (IQA) documentation system project (Figure 3) was mooted. The documentation covers the ten core processes of the IQA system of FLP and it is expected to be completed in March 2021.
Figure 3: FLP’s IQA Documentation System
Towards the ASEAN QA Certified Legal Education in Laos in 2025
In moving forward, FLP in collaboration with the LAO/031 project and the regional and international experts will continue to enhance its IQA system in preparing for its AUN-QA programme certification of its five study programmes in 2021. Mock assessment of its five study programmes involving external stakeholders and a study visit to universities of a neighbouring country have been planned. A plan to nurture a pool of local experts as part of the project sustainability in the longer term has been conceived.
To further extend the benefits of the Luxembourg cooperation project in FLP, plan for FLA and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to achieve the ASEAN quality assurance standards has been conceived in the next five year from 2021 to 2025. A sharing conference of FLP’s experience in the quality assurance with FLA and NIJ has been planned on 23 December 2020 which will be hosted by the LAO/031 project and FLP. In the longer term, facilities and infrastructure at FLP will be improved by the project to enhance the students’ learning experience and environment.
For instance, the strategic plan for improving the quality of legal education from LAO/031 and FLP focuses its efforts on supporting and facilitating the following key issues and activities:
- Developing, implementing and improving the legal curriculum, meeting the requirements for national and regional accreditation of educational programmes;
- Nurturing the culture and values of high-quality education through introducing the mechanisms for ensuring its quality, enhancing academic integrity, developing procedures for legal education quality assurance units for monitoring and improvement of the quality of education purpose;
- Applying appropriate teaching and learning methods of law schools to teaching students professional values and skills required to practice law;
- Meeting the standards and requirements for the legal content of the academic integrity system, applying various practice-oriented projects through the use of court trial broadcasts in teaching law, etc.; and
- Enhancing the quality of facilities and infrastructure as well as teaching materials, well-equipped classroom and offices, safety and securities standards to support teaching and learning process.
With the support and concerted effort by the LAO/031 project office, FLP, FLA and NIJ, and the regional and international experts through developing and implementing a number of initiatives, projects and documents aimed at standardising and modernising legal education, collaboratively we will uplift the quality of legal education and its quality assurance to ASEAN QA standards and be at par with the developed universities in ASEAN.↑ To the top