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Updated: 03/11/2014 10:58, Counter: 1369

THE ROAD TO GET ABET ACCREDITATION

Thoai Nam, Nguyen Hua Phung and Pham Tran Vu

Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering – Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, Vietnam National University – Ho Chi Minh City

Information Technology (IT) is one of a few key industries in Vietnam that have been invested and developed by many domestic and foreign companies in big cities, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. Moreover, the global competition becomes evident in IT industry where companies in Vietnam have to compete with companies from India, China, and other countries in South East Asia. Therefore, the demand for high quality human resource from industrial enterprises has increased. In addition, in 2006, a survey conducted by a group of American experts under sponsorships of Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) showed that educational programs in Computer Science of key universities in Vietnam did not quite meet the international standards. Within this context, Ho Chi Minh University of Technology – Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City (HCMUT), a university has a long tradition of leading technology education in Vietnam, has recognized the need to reform its educational programs in order to meet the demand for quality education to provide better graduates for industries and society.

Getting accreditation is a way to assure quality of an educational program for the relevant parties. Putting an educational program into accreditation process also helps to continuously improve the quality of the program. The big question was which standard we should choose for accreditation: domestic, regional criteria, or international standards? Each accreditation body usually has a specific set of criteria and requirements. To have answer to the above question, it was important to identify accreditation objectives. There were two objectives that we aim to achieve: to enhance educational programs currently in operation, and to satisfy the demand from industry. On December 15, 2006, under sponsorship of Boeing, a workshop about ABET accreditation was held at HCMUT. Motivated by this workshop, the university decided to choose ABET as accreditation body for Computer Science and Computer Engineering educational programs. After this workshop, we started preparing these two programs for accreditation in 2013.

ABET, Inc. [1] (ABET in short), established in 1932, is an accreditation body for higher education programs in fields of Engineering, Technology, Computing and Applied Science. This organization uses a set of evaluation criteria for accrediting university educational programs, so called ABET standards. ABET accreditation has been officially recognized by Council of Higher Education Accreditation since 1997. Until now, ABET has accredited for about 3,466 programs at 698 institutions in 28 nations. Since ABET is an organization that has the participation of many professional associations, ABET accreditation is industry oriented, and well recognized by big companies such as Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Boeing, etc.

ABET accreditation standards matched well the educational objectives that HCMUT wanted to achieve. When starting reforming our programs to ABET standards, a great challenge we dealt with was that there was not any organization or expert in Vietnam who knew about ABET accreditation criteria. Therefore, HCMUT had to send many faculty members of the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE Faculty) to the US to learn about ABET, assessment methods, and the actual ABET accreditation experience in some American universities. In addition, HCMUT also invited three ABET consultants to campus to advise CSE Faculty. These activities were carried out from 2008 to 2012, with the support from the Government and World Bank via TRIGs program.

Within the scope of TRIGs program, the initial objective was to thoroughly revise the Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (CE) programs to meet at least two ABET criteria:  “Curriculum” and “Continuous Improvement”. However, because of the close relationships among ABET criteria, CSE Faculty decided to revise these two programs toward all the criteria of ABET.

To perform this new and challenging work, CSE Faculty established a core expert team who were willing to accept innovative ideas about building and operating an educational program from outside. Then, expert team identified changes that needed to be made to bring the CS and CE programs toward the ABET criteria. Some important tasks were carried out: (1) collecting the needs of stakeholders to review the “Program Educational Objectives”, (2) defining the “Student outcomes” for CS and CE programs, (3) defining the outcomes of each course and connecting these course outcomes to “Student outcomes”, then, identifying gaps in program designs and making changes accordingly, (4) adjusting program curricula to make sure that the two programs could satisfy their specific “Curriculum” criteria.

The changes were made to meet not only the expectation of educators, but also requirements from industry. To achieve this, CSE Faculty held annual meetings with industrial partners in order to have their opinions on CS and CE programs. In 2009, there were only 6 representatives from industry attending the first meeting. However, the number of industrial participants increased to 29 in the 6th meeting in 2013. This kind of meeting was essential for building and operating educational programs. It also helped to strengthening the cooperation between the university and industrial partners.

One of the new and very challenging problem was to set up student assessment procedure and a systematic process to use student assessment results to continuously improve the educational programs to meet ABET “Continuous Improvement” criteria. Different from the system being used for grading student coursework, student assessment procedure had to clearly say to which extent the student meet the “Student outcomes”. As there was not any specific procedure for this purpose, the expert team had to design new one for the CS and CE programs.

Training for all faculty members was also an important task as they had to understand clearly ABET’s requirements, and assess their students correctly. The expert team as well as the external consultants did this task. Furthermore, some of the faculty members of CSE Faculty were also sent to attend active learning based teaching method training sessions organized by HEEAP project, and then applied what they learned to CS and CE programs.

After four years of preparation, HCMUT decided to request ABET for official accreditation evaluation of CS and CE programs in 2013. The registration for accreditation evaluation and submitting self-study reports for ABET was completed in July 2013. Official ABET evaluation teams visited HCMUT from 17-20 November 2013.

During the visit, ABET evaluation teams discussed with all relevant department of the university, the industrial partners, students, alumni, and most of the faculty members. They also looked into the libraries, laboratories, facilities, and teaching rooms that were related to CS and CE programs. The preliminary draft reports from the teams were positive, but the two programs still had some weaknesses and concerns. CSE Faculty had to rectify these weaknesses, collected more proof data and reported to ABET in June 2014.

ABET officially accredited the two CS and CE programs at the highest level in August 2014. Until now, these are the first and the only two programs in Vietnam that have been accredited by ABET. In South East Asia region, there are also a few universities having programs accredited by ABET. After a long renovation effort toward delivering educational programs with high quality at international standards, HCMUT deserves these results.

We have encountered many difficulties and challenges during the renovation process. Some of the challenges could be addressed, but some could not as they were not in control of CSE Faculty or HCMUT. The first challenge was that some of the faculty members did not believe or want to make any change as it might increase their workload. Fortunately, the initial positive results, together with the strong support from industrial partners and students helped to solve this challenge.

The problems related to human resource and facilities could only be resolved if there are policies from higher management levels. It is necessary to have a proper policy for salary to make faculty members happy with their working environment and develop professional skills as well as to attract more talented professionals in the future. It is also essential to have proper policies and financial resources to ensure that there are enough facilities for teaching. In order to have a high quality teaching and learning environment, there are many things that need to be done, but the biggest challenge is a solution for sustainable development so that the university receives enough investment to assure educational quality to meet the demand of the industry and society.  

The renovation process together with implementing new teaching methods to meet ABET criteria have totally changed positively the CSE Faculty in particular, and HCMUT in general. The most important and valuable result is that new way of thinking has been established within the university, from different management levels to faculty members. HCMUT, and Vietnam in general, needs more programs accredited by ABET to meet the demand of industry and society in the globally competitive environment.

[1] ABET, Inc. http://www.abet.org

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