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M. Zakari

Arab Open University/ Imam University (SAUDI ARABIA)
As a developmental non-profit project, the Arab Open University was established under the umbrella of the Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND), with an aim of providing higher education for the widest possible spectrum of learners. It started in October 2002 with 2000 students, and now it has branches in seven Arab countries, and a student population of more than 35000. Establishing an international academic partnership with the UK Open University, the AOU offers bachelor degrees in English Linguistic and literature, Business Administration, Information technology, and Education, and planning to offer graduate degrees in the same and other disciplines.
The AOU has some unique academic and institutional characteristics, which make it somehow different from any other higher educational institution in the Arab region and even in the world. On top of these characteristics is having a unique structure with headquarter in the country of Kuwait, and other branches in other Arab countries with full compasses. Each of these countries has a different higher educational system that should be applied in the AOU branch in that country. Another characteristic is the partnership with the UK Open University which requires full implementation of the UK higher educational quality assurance code of practice. The university adopts a blended learning model that consists of 25 % compulsory face to face intuition and other distance teaching and learning using information technology and learning management system.
These characteristics have challenged the AOU leaders to adopt a quality assurance and performance evaluation model (QAPE) for assuring quality and excellence of its academic and institutional practices. The model was intent also to make the university and its branches ready for local and international accreditations. The AOU QAPE model consists of four groups of processes: (1) internal evaluation and improvement processes; (2) independent internal assessment process; (3) local accreditation process; (4) and international accreditation processes.

This study explains how the AOU quality assurance and performance evaluation model works at the headquarters and the branches levels. The study, also, evaluates the AOU 5 year experience with this model; illustrating the advantages and challenges of it. Part of this evaluation is seeking the AOU leaders prospective of the effectiveness of the applied QAPE model.