Quality assurance on the rise, but more action needed – Report
More efforts by national and regional bodies are required to develop a shared understanding of quality assurance practices and to assist in ironing out existing differences in quality assurance across the continent.
The new report, Europe-Africa Quality Connect: Building institutional capacity through partnership, presents the outcomes of a two-year pilot QA Connect project designed to support the development of quality assurance in African higher education.
The report is targeted at African universities, their associations, national quality assurance agencies, and governments at the national and African levels.
The QA Connect project was carried out by a consortium including the European University Association (EUA), the Association of African Universities (AAU), the Irish Universities Quality Board and the Portugal-based University of Aveiro in partnership with the African chapter of the Erasmus Mundus Alumni Assoication.
The report indicates that the growth in African higher education over the past 50 years – including the number of institutions, the penetration of private, for-profit providers and the emergence and relative spread of open learning – has highlighted the need to develop formal quality assurance processes.
Quality agencies started to emerge in Africa in the 1990s and cooperation at the regional level has been growing in recent years. The AAU set up the first pan-African network for quality assurance in 2009, an important step for quality assurance on the continent.
At the political level, the African Union identified quality assurance as a key element in its harmonisation of higher education strategy.
The QA Connect project was designed to assess the feasibility of using the EUA’s Institutional Evaluation Programme (IEP) methodology in African universities.
The IEP is an independent service of the EUA designed to support participating higher education institutions in the continuing development of their strategic management and internal quality culture. It does not evaluate on the basis of a uniform set of external criteria but examines each institution on its own terms and seeks to provide recommendations.
Besides targeting capacity development in African universities, the QA Connect project was also based on the principle of mutual exchange between quality assurance actors in Europe and Africa, and was used to inform the EUA’s work in supporting the internationalisation of quality assurance in Europe.
Following a call for participation, the AAU selected five universities to participate in pilot evaluations that offered a balance in terms of geography, size and their relationship to the government.
They were Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, the Institute of Professional Studies in Ghana, Kenyatta University in Kenya, the University of Namibia, and Université Omar Bongo in Gabon.
Evaluation visits were conducted by a team of European and African experts, and were preceded by a training workshop for the experts and a preparatory workshop for the institutions being evaluated.
Following the publication on the project website of evaluation reports for each of the five universities, the strengths and weaknesses of the exercise were discussed at a workshop bringing together the institutions and a wide range of higher education stakeholders.
The report indicated that quality assurance is developing quickly in Africa as national quality agencies are established and as higher education institutions develop internal quality approaches.
The results of the project confirmed the need to conduct institutional evaluations in Africa, in the context of expanding higher education institutions and systems, due to growth in student enrolments.
“In such a context, developing a programme similar to IEP and managed by AAU, a continent-wide body that represents the voice of African higher education, could be useful in preparing universities for their national evaluation exercises and would further strengthen the institutions’ role in managing quality, thus raising quality levels,” says the report.
“These evaluations would have the potential for developing evaluation expertise across regional African associations and enhancing quality levels across the continent”. These evaluations would also achieve the following:
- • They would complement existing national quality assurance processes, “particularly where these are focused mainly on accountability rather than supporting institutional development”.
- • They could complement activities being carried out at sub-regional level and could enhance regional integration in higher education across Africa.
- • An Africa-wide pool of experts would “collectively gather and share comprehensive knowledge on quality assurance and governance of African universities, and thus develop expertise in institutional development in priority areas”.
- • Expertise gained would contribute to developing in-depth and topical understanding of higher education by university associations because the evaluations help to identify current and crosscutting issues.
- • They would support the AAU’s mandate of promoting quality and enhancing universities’ strategic capacity.
As an outcome of QA Connect, the AAU will establish its own programme for institutional evaluations. “To this end, it will develop an implementation plan for the next phase, which will be built on the lessons learnt from the successful pilot evaluations,” says the report.