EAST AFRICA: New quality assurance system

Institutions of higher learning in Africa must adhere to appropriate academic standards and acceptable learning environments to compete effectively globally, according to Kenya's Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Dr Sally Kosgey. A harmonised quality assurance system for East Africa, currently being developed, would help ensure the standards and comparability of university education among member countries, Kosgey said last weekend.

Speaking at the opening of an East African quality assurance workshop in Nairobi, Kosgey affirmed the Kenyan Ministry's commitment to guarantee standards in local higher education institutions, through Kenya's Commission for Higher Education (CHE) and in partnership with other regional quality assurance bodies.

In 2006, three East African higher education regulatory agencies - the CHE, the National Council for Higher Education in Uganda and Tanzania's Commission for Universities - signed a memorandum of cooperation in a bid to streamline and harmonise higher education accreditation, quality assurance practices and procedures in the region.

Kosgey said higher education had proved to be a prime engine of social and economic development among nations and, with increasing demand, quality assurance was paramount. Regionally organised quality assurance frameworks that embraced internationally recognised standards had gained in popularity, she noted, encouraged by globalisation and the internationalisation of education.

"The quality of higher education being provided in our universities has been the concern of many governments in the region. This is because of recognition of the central role that higher education, especially university education, plays in the socio-economic, cultural and political development of the nation," the minister added.

She said university education in East Africa and elsewhere had undergone rapid growth in the last 20 years in terms of numbers of institutions, student enrolment and diverse modes of delivery - such as e-learning and distance education. This was exerting pressure on the quality of university education.

Kosgey lauded the development of an East Africa Quality Assurance Framework, saying it would be a yardstick to ensure that university graduates in member countries attained the skills and competencies needed to be relevant to and competitive for jobs in the region and worldwide. She also told the meeting her ministry would continue championing accreditation processes, standards and frameworks aligned to regional and international standards.

But many challenges impeded the provision of quality higher education in the region: insufficient human capacity, inadequate funding, and lack of standards and mechanisms for regulating the quality of cross-border education and e-learning.

In an address to the workshop, Executive Secretary of the CHE, Professor Everett Standa, said quality in higher education was a key to achieving a competitive edge and corporate excellence.

"It also promotes the reputation of an institution, its staff, students and management. It markets the products of an institution as it enhances employment opportunities of quality graduates," Standa said.