WEST AFRICA: Universities discuss quality assurance

The Bologna higher education structure and systems for classification, evaluation and support of universities were among issues discussed by academics, researchers, directors and managers from French-speaking higher education establishments of West Africa and Madagascar last month during a conference on quality assurance.

The debate took place at the second international Atelier francophone inter-africain de formation en assurance qualité de l'enseignement supérieur in Libreville, Gabon, organised by the French-speaking University Agency (AUF), and CAMES, the African and Madagascan Council for Higher Education.

Agreement was reached on the need to train present and future university managers in administrative and financial management, as well as "philosophical, moral and behavioural education", reported Infos Plus Gabon of Libreville. Participants also called for institutions to have budgetary independence from governments, and training in teaching skills for teachers, said the paper.

The great challenge for the 21st century, it said, was increasing access to higher education, diversification to improve equality of opportunity, strengthening cooperation with the world of work, qualitative and relevant research conducive to innovation, and support for academic mobility.

In his concluding speech, Fidèle Nze Nguema, rector of the University Omar Bongo, where the conference took place, said: "We have been looking at how we can adapt this important instrument, quality assurance, for higher education." To start the process "we must adapt the experience we have just shared to teachers, but also to students", the online publication Gaboneco reported him as saying.

The shake-up that the Bologna structure had given African universities, with the equivalence [of degrees] which enabled student and teacher mobility, required guarantees regarding the quality of education, said Gaboneco.

Participants discussed the setting up of quality assurance systems through regulation of private and public education, accreditation of establishments and courses, and the improvement of university governance, reported Gaboneco.

It quoted the Gabon Minister for Higher Education, Dieudonné Pambo, as saying the conference "puts at our disposal the means for accrediting and evaluating courses of study as more and more private establishments are seeking authorisation". It would "allow us to realise a project which we have set our hearts on and which is already underway in other countries, including in our region of Africa - a ranking of higher education establishments", the minister added.

The conference agreed that 2009 would be the time for progressive introduction of quality assurance systems, with the support of partners including the AUF and the CAMES through seminars, and the establishment of strategic units and training modules, said Gaboneco.