Pan-African accreditation and quality council agreed

Experts have agreed to set up an African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council for Higher Education, or AQAACHE, to harmonise the approval of courses and activities of quality agencies among countries. The major aim is to encourage qualification recognition, academic mobility and internationalisation across Africa.

This was outlined at a workshop held at the African Union offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 10-11 April.

"Because different higher education systems in Africa are structured in different ways, it is imperative to integrate [them] into a continental system of harmonisation in order to ensure the recognition of qualifications across the continent, stated the workshop’s concept note.

“Harmonisation with strong continental cooperation in quality assurance and accreditation is recognised to be instrumental in promoting internationalisation of higher education and to facilitating student and staff mobility."

When it is fully operational, AQAACHE would take over all responsibilities of the African Quality Assurance Network, or AfriQAN, according to the workshop communiqué.

Jonathan Mba, director of research and planning and AfriQAN coordinator at the Association of African Universities (AAU), who participated in the workshop, told University World News that its decisions were “not binding on either the African Union Commission or the AAU-AfriQAN”.

It was not yet possible to know what the council and technical committee would look like and when an African Union decision might be made.

“My best guess is that bureaucracy combined with politics may delay a decision for many months and possibly years,” Mba said. "The bottom line is that the status quo still holds."

The proposed new council would set protocols to compare qualifications across countries and regions, harmonise minimum standards and qualifications frameworks, and develop policy guidelines for capacity building for quality assurance and accreditation.

It would promote a quality assurance culture in African higher education and facilitate research into quality assurance and related issues.

AQAACHE would focus on enhancing quality in all private and public institutions – including open and distance learning universities – and on accrediting national and other regulatory agencies or facilitating their establishment.

The council would also encourage good accreditation practices for centres of excellence in Africa, including the Pan-African University, and promote partnership and collaboration among quality assurance and accreditation bodies across the continent.

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 workshop agreed that a committee of experts should be established to develop a continental quality assurance framework and to guide the operations and activities of quality assurance agencies in African countries.

The framework should include establishing quality and regulatory agencies in countries that do not have them, and developing a database of peer reviewers for accreditation, quality assurance and audits.

The continental quality assurance framework, the workshop suggested, should incorporate an African Credit Transfer System to facilitate the mobility of staff, students and labour across borders, and should draw on existing institutions and instruments including quality agencies, AfriQAN and the AAU.

The communiqué urged the African higher education community to take ownership of initiatives including AQAACHE, the African quality assurance framework and the African Quality Rating Mechanism, and to use them to support quality improvements.