International Accreditation of Academic Programs in Private Universities in Costa Rica: Experience of the Occupational Therapy Program of the Universidad Santa Paula.
Author: Erick Valdelomar Marín
- Santa Paula University of Costa Rica (USP). School of Occupational Therapy. San Jose, Costa Rica.
The training of professionals in the health sciences must respond to the highest standards of
quality of training of national and international institutions, not as an academic necessity
exclusively, but towards the ethical commitment of higher education institutions to guarantee
professionals who understand the complexity of values that define human needs1 as well as the
acquisition of integral competences to commit oneself to enhancing the human development of all
people; understanding this, as the process of increasing the opportunities of the people as
Amartya Sen 2 refers.
In this sense, contributing from higher education institutions to the training of professionals who
value and understand the local context of human development in connection with the
macroeconomic expectations of societies that understand global, social, cultural, scientific,
economic, and political dynamics 3 , are fundamental elements for vocational training with a global
vision that adapts to the rapid advances in technology, science, and education of our present 4 . In
this way, from the academy, to base the knowledge that allows to give structure to the
professional contentand the learning process of the curricula of health careers such as the
Occupational Therapy (OT) career.
Experience of Accreditation Processes of Academic Careers in Health:
The Santa Paula University (USP), as a private institution in higher education, has understood
these elements as a priority to generate high quality policies in professional training; that is why it
has voluntarily presented academic programs of specialized careers in health to accreditation
processes with national and international agencies, thus consolidating its commitment to the
implementation of a culture and policies of continuous improvement in the academic quality and
professional training of its undergraduate and postgraduate careers.
In Costa Rica, the granting of the status of accreditation to an academic career of higher education
officially by the State is the responsibility of the National System of Accreditation of Higher
Education (SINAES); whose mission is to promote the quality of Costa Rican higher education and
consolidate in it a vigorous culture of quality and evaluation in Costa Rica. Costa Rican higher
education institutions, both public and private, 5 .
Thus, the Occupational Therapy Career program is presented by USP to SINAES to carry out the
Accreditation process, achieving it in 2019, after carrying out the self-evaluation of the SINAES
standard and receiving the visit of external peer evaluators.
For the School of Occupational Therapy, the experience of the accreditation process with SINAES
was totally enriching since it allowed us 6 :
- Generate a self-assessment report on the improvement opportunities to be managed,
- Know the perception of the context through feedback from employers, teachers,
graduates, students and administrators;
- Have an international peer return report on strengths and opportunities for improvement;
- Create a Commitment to Improve the opportunities for improvement identified by
external evaluators and by the National Accreditation Council of SINAES.
Experience of International Accreditation of a Health Career
In addition to this accreditation at the national level, the School of Occupational Therapy in the
search to have access to the best practices at a global level in the training of this discipline for the
updating of the Curriculum and the Professional Academic Profile of Graduation, which would
respond to the integral and changing requirements of a society for the formation of professional
human resources 7 and that follow innovation criterios and international premises where “the
essential thing is the training of Occupational Therapists who can handle diversity” 8 and who are
qualified to face the great challenges of the socioeconomic scenario 9 of our current and future
reality; an accreditation process was voluntarily initiated with the World Federation of
Occupational Therapy (WFOT), the highest representative worldwide of this profession, in order to
have a professional graduation profile that emphasizes relations with the context and human
diversity at a local and global level.
The WFOT is a non-governmental organization with official status at the United Nations, which
since 1958 develops and shares the Minimum Standards for the Education of Occupational
Therapists 4 , which provide a global unifying approach to the curriculum development of quality
programs in vocational training, as well as a strong emphasis on the interpretation of the local
context while emphasizing a broader perspective of international practice 10 .
In this way, it is that, for the updating of the curriculum and profile of professional graduation of
the degree in Occupational Therapy, the international criteria of the Minimum Standards for the
Education of Occupational Therapists (MSEOT) of the WFOT are taken as a reference. The
purpose of these norms is to promote human rights in global society by impacting the profession
by establishing international standards similar to other international organizations, including the
World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) 4 .
The WFOT MSEOTs refer to educational processes as well as content and context, which include
the emotional climates of learning and work environments and geopolitical influences on higher
education, health, and social policies, as well as the services derived from them. They are
important because they allow curriculum designers to interpret curricular content areas to meet
the needs of the society they serve, concentrating on the richness and magnitude of society in a
global sense; emphasizing that this richness allows recognition of the different ways in which
international evidence can guide professional practice 4 , thus decreasing; the gaps between best
practices between top-tier countries and developing countries like ours.
The importance of an academic program complying with international standards for the
professional training of a discipline, lies in being able to face the challenges of the XXI century.
Therefore, the trajectory of a professional career must go beyond the traditional areas, since
students need to assume positions in research, administration and management in the health and
social sector that allows them to face the complexity of emerging practice at local, regional and
global levels 11 . That is why it is recommended to understand that academic programs of
professional training need to update the goals, structure and content to address the professional
and educational developments necessary for the advancement of the profession in the
professional and international inter-disciplinary context, and that for this; the surveillance of an
international entity such as the WFOT in case of Occupational Therapy, is part of the correct
decisions that universities must map in their continuous improvement processes.
Global Citizenship and Advocacy in Higher Education for Future Professionals
The promotion of internationalization at Santa Paula University is developed through the Office of
International Cooperation (OIC), from three angles of International Cooperation: teaching,
research, and collaboration. The mission of the OIC is to promote and facilitate the integration and
development of multicultural and international experiences, knowledge and skills in the entire
student, faculty, and administrative population; with the vision of turning the internationalization
of education into one of the transversal axes of the institution and that is reflected in the
academic training, internal administration, and socio-institutional environment of the University.
Additionally, USP’s Occupational Therapy Career Program has established within its specific
objectives the generation of global knowledge as citizens of the world for students who are in
training. We understand that incorporating international, intercultural and global dimensions into
curriculum content is essential to prepare students to live and work in a complex and globalized
world 12 . We believe as an academy that the generation of experiences of international exchange of
knowledge transfers and experiences with other people and cultures, provide opportunities to
travel a journey in self-discovery through experiences outside the comfort zone, which lead to
transformations in knowledge, attitude,values and beliefs of future professionals.
In this sense, we have developed experiences of approach with other universities with which we
have international agreements for the development of distance activities from the “Collaborative
International Distance Learning” (COIL) approach, as well as experiences of student exchange and
academic teaching mobility. This has allowed us to manage virtual and face-to-face experiences of
academic exchange between universities, giving life and structure to the possibilities of knowledge
transfer between teachers and students. These experiences have been developed with the
Universidad de Los Andes de Chile, Universidad Central de Chile, Universidad del Valle de
Colombia, Universidad Santander de Colombia, Universidad Nacional de Cali Colombia,
Universidad Castilla de la Mancha Madrid Spain, Universitat U-Vic Barcelona, University of Central
Arkansas and Howard University.
Conclusions of the International Accreditation Experience:
The accreditation process of USP’s OT career took place in December 2020, which ended in August
2022, which concluded with the approval of our curriculum by the WFOT for a period of 7 years.
With WFOT’s accreditation of our OT career, we seek the development and promotion of a
standard of excellence in the practice of occupational therapy, and for USP following compliance
with these minimum standards means a hallmark of quality assurance of value-added education 10 ,
as it encompasses the international review, supervision and monitoring of the global commitment
of the profession in congruence with the fundamental values and principles for the formation of
global citizens with a high sense of social advocacy.
The OT School agrees with WFOT that education at the higher level in occupational therapy must
be anticipatory and responsive to growing global health challenges. These views require a broader
view of education, which not only focuses on technical, clinical, and professional skills, but also
emphasizes leadership, adaptability and social competencies that are identified as essential in the
As essential points that allowed us the international accreditation with WFOT we concluded that:
- The training of Occupational Therapists in their curriculum and graduation profile must be
immersed and in connection with the macroeconomic expectations of societies that
respond to global, social, scientific, economic, and political dynamics 4 .
- For the development of professionals in Occupational Therapy, technical, clinical and
professional skills must be fostered, emphasizing leadership, adaptability, interpersonal
skills such as communication, political knowledge, interpersonal relationships, affective
sensitivity, awareness for change and for entrepreneurship in professional education,
which are fundamental in a curricular plan according to the WFOT and essential for
professionals in the twenty-first century 13 .
- The content of the Minimum Standards as well as the approval process of the educational
program together with the WFOT’s monitoring of developments provide a global unifying
approach to the curriculum development of entry/entry level quality programs to
occupational therapy 4 .
- The process of designing a curriculum should promote a strong emphasis on interpreting
the local context, while emphasizing a broader perspective of international practice 12.
- The scope of what is known and will be known from the work of occupational therapists
providing services in multiple contexts and cultures requires them to educate the next
generation of therapists and manage systems from local contexts to global contexts and
be researchers creating and disseminating knowledge and leading with vision 12 .
We conclude by referring that the Occupational Therapy School is betting and preparing a new
generation of Occupational Therapy Professionals, who have competencies for the agency to
initiate change, decision-making skills, willingness to engage and innovation to address social and
occupational injustice and with Internationally employable and committed to ethical action and
social responsibility on a global Scale 13 .
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