Use of Alumni Tracer Study to Maintain Curriculum Relevancy


23 Mar 2015 13 Dec 2017

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Distance education can play a crucial role in the professional development of a developing country like Indonesia by meeting human resource requirements. It caters to the requirement not only those who are unemployed but also of those who are on the job. Their knowledge can be updated through continuing education programmes. In-service teacher education is an investment in human capital, which brings benefits in the form of enhanced educator productivity, and higher levels of output. One of the most important functions of the education sector is to provide knowledge and skill to various sectors of the education area. It is widely argued that the structure and pattern of education, especially at the elementary and secondary stage, has to be purposefully re-oriented towards new national standard to join together with the projected future pattern of graduation requirements. Currently, most of the countries of the world, especially Indonesia, has given due importance to in-service teacher education to provide diversification of educational opportunities so as to enhance individual professionalism, reduce the gap between urban and rural area of skilled teacher and provide an alternative for those pursuing higher education.

Distance and online learning in the Open University of Indonesia (UT) has been greatly developed as a methodology for providing education for those who formerly may have found further education inaccessible for various reasons. In the purpose of accreditation process, UT put a finest on compliance and included some reporting requirements in tracer study that necessarily lead programs toward excellence or increase in-service teacher students' impact on their schools and distance learning. In writer's opinion, Universitas Terbuka can responsively maintain curriculum relevancy and usefulness for professional development.

Ornstein and Hunkins (2009, p.15) argue that curriculum development includes how a 'curriculum is planned, implemented and evaluated, as well as what people, processes and procedures are involved..'. Curriculum models help designers to systematically and transparently map out the rationale for the use of particular teaching, learning and assessment approaches. They suggest that although curriculum development models are technically useful, they often overlook the human factor such as the personal attitudes, emotions, values involved in curriculum making. Therefore they are not a method and should not be a substitute for using professional and personal judgement on what is a good approach to develop student learning.

UT organized alumni tracer study in 2009 and got more than 10.000 responses but in this paper the writer only use 200 responses to be analyzed randomly. Tracer study encourages UT to solve complex problems confronting professional development. It is also common for higher educational institutions to have their graduates make an evaluation of their learning experience and the quality of learning which they received. This evaluation process often takes the form of graduate or alumni surveys, which are sometimes referred to as tracer studies. It is focused not only on measuring teacher and program performance, but also other alumni and other aspects. UT should know the fortunes of their graduates in order to make a complete assessment of how the educational process has impacted their graduates. With the tracer study result, UT is able to make development and modifications on their programs that could enhance their students' chances of achieving success. In this paper the use of the tracer study will be discussed as an effective method of evaluating the success of distance and online programmes to provide and maintain curriculum relevancy for professional development in UT.


UT which was established in 1984 is a national university constituted under the Presidential Decree of the Republic of Indonesia Number 41 Year 1984 and has the same legal and academic status as any other national university in Indonesia. UT is quite unique as it is the only university in Indonesia that is dedicated to distance learning.

The academic programmes of the UT are specifically designed to enable persons who have graduated from senior high school to pursue a higher education. The programmes of the university enable students to join in at the level of the qualifications they possess and are structured from certificate and proceed to diploma, bachelor degrees and graduate degrees.

At present with a total student enrolment of around 639,049 (, 2010), UT has the largest student bodies in the country. The students are enrolled in more than 30 programmes of study out of which 96 per cent of the students are employed and around 82 per cent are teachers. The completion of programmes by students become more difficult for students who enrol at Open Universities as they are compelled to study while working and attending to their normal family responsibilities. It is pertinent therefore, to examine the alumni satisfaction after they graduated from UT.


The Characteristic of UT's students

UT's students are similar with the other ODL students. Its characteristics are classified as non-traditional students (Easton, 2003): have internal motivation to seek higher education and self-discipline to undertake study. One of the motivations is they can study while working for people who for some reasons cannot attend face to face education, for example people living in rural areas, in isolated islands, who cannot move to the cities where there are universities. UT differs from other open university on two accounts. It requires formal entrance qualifications and it has both full-time as well as part-time students (Hiola & Moss, 1990). 

The lack of time and funds promote students to apply in UT. Potential UT's students are not a captive market. UT can at least rely on a student intake derived from the geographical location in which they are approximated. Proximity and subsidized fees through scholarship often make nearby institutions the first option for students. For those who cannot physically attend, UT provides education from certain places on the world by ODL. The prospective distance education student can therefore join in UT for the type of programme they wish to pursue which are congruent with their professional and personal goals.

UT has many competitors around the world, because the demand for ODL has grown extensively. Many private and public universities have increased their student intake by offering online programmes. With the large number of institutions participating in ODL it has become a highly competitive market for providers. Distance education has taken on the characteristics of a service industry, with students becoming the loyal customers for the education product. The need for customer satisfaction therefore increases the necessity to have students evaluate the product (Millington, 2008).

Student responses on these matters can gauge the level of satisfaction with the course itself and institutional planners can implement improvements where dissatisfaction has been expressed. However, this form of evaluation does not measure the outputs and outcomes of education. Furthermore, UW-Stout conducts surveys on all its alumni one and five years after their graduation. Bosshart, Wents, and Heller (2009) state these surveys provide critical information for assessing and determining the effectiveness of programs. These results may then be utilized for program improvement. Schomburg (2003, p.25) identifies the outputs as attributes such as knowledge and skills, and outcomes as transition to employment, work experience and service to society. He suggests the use of the tracer study by institutions as a method for knowing the "destiny of their graduates and the relationship between their study and their professional reward." (p.29).

Tracer Study and Curriculum Development

Although the usual end of the course evaluation can ask for the student to assess whether they have gained the knowledge and skills necessary for fulfilling their personal objectives, there is really little proof of this until the student has completed the entire course of study and has entered the workforce. By surveying a cohort of graduates from: a specific institution; profession; discipline; graduation date; level of education; or a combination of these for comparative analysis, Schomburg (2003) presents examples of issues which can be addressed in tracer studies. Biographical data on "Where are our graduates now" may supply information on income, job title, nature of employment, and years of employment. He also believes that surveys should also include information "about the kind of work task the relationship between study and work, and professional values and job satisfaction."

The use of tracer studies to provide and maintain curriculum relevancy for professional development have been conducted by Harald Schomburg and his colleagues at the Centre for Higher Education and Work, University of Kassel, Germany, have done considerable research on conducting tracer surveys, constructing effective tracer study questionnaires and their statistical analysis. They have conducted survey projects such as the CHEERS (Career after Higher Education-a European Research Study) which investigated the links between higher education and graduate employment in Europe. They have done similar research in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Zembere and Chinyama (1996) tried to find out what factors are important for professional success of graduates taking into account personal factors and identify key aspects of the continuing professional education of graduates in University of Malawi. Another tracer study is conducted in Nigeria (Ugwuonah & Omeje, 1998) with the results as follows:

  • Link and match in both the industries and higher education profiles.
  • Broad based and trans-disciplinary curriculum planning and development
  • Collaboration between higher education institution and industries.

Tracer study conducted for open and distance learning (ODL) is not many. One of them is done by the Staff Training and Research Institute of Distance Education (STRIDE) at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In addition, tracer study also completed by the Nigerian Institute (NTI) which launched its Nigeria Certificate in Education by ODL in 1990 in response to urgent need to train more teachers. The findings of the study were that the performance of ODL graduates was as effective in the classroom as that of their peers who had studied in the traditional way. Based on the tracer study result, the Institute itself had improved its management and monitoring systems (Umar, 2006).


Provision Of a Working Definition Of The Tracer Study Concept

For the purposes of this discussion tracer study will be taken to mean:

A period when institutions of learning set up regular intervals of time to venture into the field and follow their past graduates to find out what they are doing with the training they received and find out from them how best they think the institutions who trained them will be able to help them upgrade their acquired knowledge and skills through the reform and innovation of curricula and course programmes including school-based or work-based professional development to live up to the expectations of the constantly changing technological and scientific working environment and employer demands (Boaduo, Mensah & Babitseng, 2009).

In educational research, according to Schomburg (2003), tracer study is a survey of graduates from institutions of higher education since its target groups is the alumni. The ILO Thesaurus 2005 defines a tracer study as an impact assessment tool where during evaluation the "impact on target groups is traced back to specific elements of a project or programme so that effective and ineffective project components may be identified." Schomburg (2003, p.36) notes that graduate surveys are popular for "analysis of the relationship between higher education and work." They provide quantitative-structural data on employment and career, the character of work and related competencies, and information on the professional orientation and experiences of their graduates.

The alumni tracer study in UT has objectives to build strong bonds between the institution and its graduates, because the alumni are the excellent source of advice for improvements of institution and to measure the extent of professional and academic careers pursued by the graduates after gaining knowledge and skills through academic institutions.

Many questions were designed so that appropriate answers could be ticked off. Some open-ended questions were developed to get suggestions, comments, explanations and clarifications. Immediate supervisors or employers were requested to provide views on UT's graduates in their employment, in terms of theoretical knowledge, practical experience/skill, job performance, strengths, weaknesses and suggestions for improvement. Assuming that peers can be the most important appraisers of their fellow UT's graduates, as they are very close to them in many respects, peer groups were asked to state the strengths of UT's graduates. A scaling technique was applied to measure the relevancy and usefulness of tracer in professional and academic development of UT's graduates. Some questions were featured in a tabular format to assess job profile that UT's graduates considered before and after their studies at UT. This was done to get information on the number of positions held, year of starting and ending job, title and level of the positions, influential positions, name of the employers' organization, type of employers, major responsibility, and awards, rewards or promotions. The position levels in categorically divided into three stages such as survey organization, data collection, data analysis and report writing.

Curriculum Relevancy and Usefulness for Professional Development in UT

The alumni tracer study consists of many aspects. Some of them are impact study that seeks to determine graduates satisfaction with the institution especially with curriculum relevancy and usefulness. Another one is professional development study to determine the extent to which the curriculum has developed them qualified in their career. As the writer said that the majority of learners are already working, they need to develop their competencies and skills to stay relevant and useful. The attributes that would be developed in the distance education in the future are knowledge and skills, perspectives, contextual problem solving, networking and competency-based outcomes (Boettcher, 2006). UT should have planning to accommodate these new emphases and provide curriculum relevancy for its alumni to incorporate their education and professional competencies.

Academic curriculum as a tool used to develop the skills, roles as a vehicle, which attributes can be transferred during the learning process (Fallows & Steven, 2000). In the academic curriculum dimension for 2009, both of items are majority rated satisfactory (Table 2.). It is shown that alumni are generally satisfied with the curriculum developed by UT. In writer's assumptions, one of the contributors of the curriculum relevancy is the rich composition of participants in academic curriculum development, which consists of lecturers, students, curriculum specialist, professionals and experts in certain fields from government parties or private industries. Another contributor is the use of information and communication technology in learning process. According to Listyarini, Ratnaningsih and Yuliana (2010), alumni and stakeholders perceived that alumni had improved in their knowledge and skills of ICT and learning media.

Strategy to Provide and Maintain Curriculum Relevancy

Earlier in this paper it was suggested that the findings of tracers studies could be used to reform

ODL programmes. As seen in the African studies graduate dissatisfaction with resources, technology and the need to enhance teacher competence in audio-visual technology points to where institutional investment and reform could be targeted. The Malawi study revealed the importance of interpersonal skills and proficiency in English. This information could be used by curriculum planners for the incorporation of these skills into training and course content. The Nigerian study indicated a need for greater linkages with the industrial sector to make programmes more relevant to the manufacturing industry, especially for engineering. Most importantly, the fact that tracer studies can show that the quality of ODL graduates is comparable (as with the NTI) with those of traditional education suggests that they should be an integral tool for evaluating ODL.

Tracer studies of ODL graduates can provide the information needed to reform educational programmes to bring about the fit between the requirements of the employment world and study. Surveys do have their disadvantages: it is sometimes difficult to locate alumni and have them complete questionnaires. Schomburg (2003) warns that the graduate might not always be able to identify the relationship between the knowledge acquired during study and their professional lives and that research findings are valuable inasmuch as planners can turn the findings into concrete reforms. However, this paper suggests that the tracer study can be an information provider as well as an evaluation tool. The success of graduates can be used, as a maintaining strategy to develop curriculum. UT can use the information gathered to adapt their courses to the demands of professional development and modify programmes to expand professional advancement through ODL.

Zhou, Varnhagen, Sears, Kasprzak, & Shervey (2007) examine the role of technology in continuing professional development and learning. They investigate whether online delivery of professional development is a successful alternative to other forms of professional development. This study provides a rich account into the challenges and tensions as to how leaders in higher education create and facilitate a shared, communal vision in the context of online curriculum delivery.


This paper has provided documentary analysis about the need to use tracer study paradigm for the enhancement of the quality of courses offered in UT in Indonesia to be able to meet the demands of the changing educational demands of the new century. A working definition upon which the whole discussion was based has been provided.

It is important to indicate that tracer study is a means of gathering important information about past graduates of higher institutions to be able to identify what they are doing with the training they obtained and what could be done to add to their expertise through these institutions to be able to reform their course programmes to keep up with the needs of the rapidly changing technological and scientific age.

The result confirmed that UT is making a significant contribution to its distance learner by providing opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills, not only to perform better in their careers but also in providing the opportunity to pursue their studies to a higher level. This reflects the success of UT in providing the culture of lifelong learning among its learners. The most important thing is that the majority of alumni indicated that they would recommend their colleagues to study at UT for professional development purposes.

It must be indicated that tracer study survey is a very tedious and complicated exercise. Extensive efforts should go into tracking and contacting individual graduates and alumni. There is need to step up the process of providing regular opportunities for alumni to register and create a forum electronically and through the web. Furthermore continuous efforts should be made to collect data progressively before and after graduation which will contribute to the improvement of the analysis of future tracer studies. Additional data can be collected for the type of institutions, nature of work, and ranks of the past graduates.

The following recommendations are provided as a means to help improve tracer study in the future: (1) database developing for all higher education institution in Indonesia, (2) Establishing network between UT and its graduates, and (3) developing a committee of alumni tracer study for the whole higher education institution in Indonesia.


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