WEST AFRICA: New two-year project to boost quality

The West African Economic and Monetary Union will shortly launch a two-year project to catalyse improvements in the quality of higher education in its eight member states. The project will focus on strengthening the capacity of higher education institutions in the region to implement the Licence-Master-Doctorate system, which was introduced four years ago.

The project will be formally launched during a regional conference, "Leveraging best practices to accelerate quality improvement in teaching, learning and research in higher education in Africa", to be held in Bamako, Mali, from 5-8 September.

The West African Economic and Monetary Union (known as UEMOA, from its French name Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine), which comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, introduced the Bologna-style Licence-Master-Doctorate (LMD) system in 2007.

The aim was to improve the efficiency and performance of higher education institutions, promote a sub-regional system open to the world and able to develop joint mechanisms for promoting quality, and ensure international recognition of degrees issued by institutions in the eight countries.

To achieve reform, UEMOA countries have made a number of commitments, including establishing national mechanisms for assessing the quality of academic programmes and establishing a regional mechanism for monitoring, coordination and sharing best practices on the LMD.

But the system still faces major challenges with regard to the quality of teaching and learning, the capacity of academics, and management of the credit transfer system.

The new two-year project to boost implementation of the LMD comprises four components: capacity building on the use of information and communication technologies; effective teaching and learning in higher education; accreditation and quality assurance; and research.

The project will be implemented through the establishment of three structures: a virtual library network, a virtual institute for higher education, and the development and maintenance of portals for universities.

The virtual library network is to focus on improving the quality of teaching and research by providing access to current books, journals and other library resources as well as shared digital archival collections, enhancing the access of academic libraries to global library and information resources, and proving guidance to libraries on appropriate technologies used in the production of digital library resources.

The virtual institute will focus on strengthening the capacity of teachers, researchers and other personnel in member state universities to use ICTs, through online training in line with the LMD reforms.

The institute will also hone in on specific issues relating to LMD reform, including: teaching large classes; effective use of limited resources; modern methods of student assessment and evaluation; basic guidance and counselling techniques; curriculum development; techniques for writing grant-winning proposals; and transfer of credits.

The intention is for the institute to facilitate sharing of best practices in higher education teaching, learning and research among the staff of universities in member states.

The portal aspect of the project will focus on developing a web portal template for universities in the region. The intention is to ease credit transfer in line with the LMD reform. The portal will also provide a platform for managing teaching, learning and finances. University staff will be trained in the skills needed to maintain the portals.

"This project will contribute to effective implementation of the most important reform of higher education in West African Economic and Monetary Union member countries," Juma Shabani, Director of the UNESCO Bamako cluster office in Mali, which will coordinate project implementation, told University World News.

Shabani added that the project would build on lessons learned from best practices developed in Africa and beyond. It would significantly strengthen the capacity of higher education, research and quality assurance institutions, in terms of human capacity and physical and virtual infrastructure, which are necessary for project sustainability.

He explained that project implementation would involve several partners, including the monetary union commission, higher education and research institutions in member countries, the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education, UNESCO headquarters, and several regional and international research and knowledge networks.

"It will make an important contribution towards the construction of the African higher education and research space. However, the sustainability of this project could be compromised by political instability in member countries, inadequate financial resources allocated to higher education, and student and staff strikes," Shabani concluded.

The September conference at which the project is to be launched will also focus on two initiatives that impact on the overarching goal of improving inclusiveness and quality of higher education in Africa.

These are the UNESCO global initiative on girls and women's empowerment, which seeks to foster public-private partnerships that benefit marginalised girls and women in Africa, and the UNESCO initiative on knowledge societies, with its emphasis on the use of ICTs to foster quality education in a knowledge society.