The Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) began its work on indicators and the measuring of performance in higher education in South Africa in 1999. CHET's interest in this field stemmed from its analyses of the governance model that had been adopted by South Africa as part of its post-apartheid higher education transformation strategy.
South Africa's higher education governance changed, after 1997, from the apartheid era mix of state control and market-drivers to one of state supervision.
A key feature of this state supervision model is that universities are permitted to manage their own affairs within a framework of nationally determined goals.
The post-apartheid South African government has used this framework as a steering mechanism by: (a) specifying student enrolment targets for individual universities; (b) determining what qualifications and fields of study universities can offer; (c) linking these goals to a funding system that contains performance incentives; and (d) monitoring institutional performance in relation to these goals and incentives.
Between 2000 and 2008 CHET published four major reports on measuring performance at South African universities. It showed in these reports that the South African state supervision model sets these as the essential ingredients for its performance measurement system:
Extending the performance measurement project
In 2007 CHET decided to extend its work on higher education measurements to determine if sets of performance indicators could be applied across a range of African countries.
CHET accepted that the first two elements in South Africa's performance management system could not be applied to universities in other countries, because of differences in governance systems and in national higher education policies and goals.
CHET stressed, however, that the key principle of performance measurement being relative to goals would have to remain in place, and that any cross-national system would have to identify a set of goals that applied to all universities involved. The third requirement of higher education performance measurements being based on consistent quantitative data would obviously have to be applied in any cross-national system.
The new project was launched by inviting a number of universities from other African countries to participate in a workshop, in early 2007, on cross-national performance indicators.
At the conclusion of the workshop, delegates indicated that they supported and would participate in the cross-national performance indicator project. The workshop agreed that these performance indicators should be based primarily on quantitative data, and that the first steps in the project should involve gathering the required sets of quantitative data.
A total of eight universities were invited to participate in the cross-national performance indicator project. They were selected on the basis that each could be described as the premier university in its country. The eight universities are: Botswana, Cape Town (South Africa), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Eduardo Mondlane (Mozambique), Ghana, Makerere (Uganda), Mauritius, and Nairobi (Kenya).
CHET has, in a draft report that was discussed at a workshop held in October 2011, given an account of its experiences in the gathering of comparable sets of data from the eight universities. This workshop was attended by representatives from each of the universities.
CHET reported to the workshop that it had, using these data, produced descriptive and performance indicator profiles for the eight selected universities, and added that these profiles satisfied the quantitative data requirement for cross-national performance measurement.
The October 2011 workshop then discussed in detail CHET's proposals on identifying cross-national goals for the measuring of performance across the eight universities.
CHET's proposals were based on the argument that the principle of performance measurement being relative to goals could be met if goals are extracted from the mission and vision of each university, and if these vision and mission goals are related to more specific goals embedded in the academic core of each university. The academic core of a university consists of the inputs that it has available for the delivery of teaching and research, and the research and teaching outputs that the university produces on the basis of these inputs.
CHET's analyses of their mission and vision statements showed that each of the eight universities aims to:
Table 1 sets out the more specific goals that the academic core of each of the eight universities could be expected to meet, given the common features of their vision and mission statements. A brief summary of the basis for each academic core goal is offered in the second column of the table. The October 2011 workshop accepted that the goals in Table 1 could be used to assess, in a cross-national way, the performance of the eight universities.
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The October 2011 workshop did not, however, accept a further CHET proposal that target scores be set, which would allow the academic core profiles of each university to be ranked on a three-point scale of strong, medium or weak. Table 2 shows, as examples, the rating proposals for the academic core goals.
CHET's next steps
CHET has accepted the views expressed at the October 2011 workshop about not using the three-point rating scale, but will continue to reflect the indicator score of each university, using the quantitative data reflected in Table 2.
CHET will amend the final columns of each profile to show for each of the goals: (a) what the range of values is for the eight universities, and (b) what target value has been set by each university in its planning processes. The assessment of the academic core of a university will then be based on quantitative data that indicate whether it has satisfied each of the goals.
CHET will publish the final version of its report Cross-National Performance Indicators: Case studies of eight African universities in February 2012.
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