New regional initiatives to boost quality assurance

A regional coordination mechanism for quality assurance and an integrated partnership framework for capacity building on governance and quality are to be established for West and Central Africa, following a conference held in Dakar late last year.

The initiatives were announced at a UNESCO-DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) gathering held in November under the theme “Strengthening Regional Cooperation in Quality Assurance in West and Central Africa”.

“Regions and countries on the African continent are at very different stages in the development of quality assurance systems,” Michaela Martin, a programme specialist on higher education at the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, told University World News.

“Some of the Southern and East African English-speaking countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya are already well advanced. But many of the French-speaking countries have not yet established any quality assurance system. Senegal is in the process of setting up an agency, and many other countries may follow suit.”

While quality assurance in African higher education is developing rapidly, it is still at a formative stage in many countries and only 19 out of 55 states have a national quality agency, according to the October 2012 report Europe-Africa Quality Connect: Building institutional capacity through partnership.

The two new initiatives will strive to strengthen harmonisation and improve quality assurance in higher education in the two African regions where they are weak.

The regional coordination mechanism for quality assurance will primarily work with countries to formulate long-term, sustainable strategies to improve quality, and provide platforms for dialogue and sharing of experience. DAAD will provide its technical support.

The integrated partnership framework for capacity building on governance and quality assurance will be supported technically and financially by the African Union, UNESCO, DAAD and other partners such as the African Development Bank and regional economic communities. Implementation will begin in 2013.

"The two initiatives have the potential to boost the development of quality assurance in West and Central Africa, where countries and institutions are very much in need of support. It is an opportunity both to fill a major gap in these regions and to allow for intra-continental collaboration,” Martin explained.

The role of universities in the new initiatives, she said, would be to develop structures and processes of internal quality assurance in line with national or regional standards.

“Higher education institutions will also need to strengthen their information systems with a view to monitoring chosen indicators, such as student flows and study success as well as graduate labour market entry.

"This would entail the capacity to critically and periodically review study programmes and management processes, and to design mechanisms which allow institutions to act upon identified quality gaps,” Margin said.

Echoing this view, Felix Wagenfeld, a higher education programme manager at DAAD, told University World News: “Assuring and developing quality in higher education is at the heart of setting up an African higher education area.”

Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, vice-rector for academic affairs at the Islamic University in Uganda, welcomed the initiatives as a positive step along the road to integration of African higher education through the harmonisation of qualifications and mobility of students.

However, he warned, they “will face several challenges, including different cultural backgrounds, language barriers and the different traditions in African higher education”.