UNESCO virtual institute to help improve HE quality

UNESCO is planning to set up an online institute aimed at enhancing quality in higher education institutions across Africa. The Virtual Institute for Improving Quality of Higher Education in Africa – VIIQHE – will help to tackle the depreciating quality of lecturers.

It is hoped that the initiative will be launched in the first quarter of this year.

Juma Shabani, chargé de mission for higher education in the division for teacher development and higher education at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, told University World News:

“Using a one-minute survey, we managed to collect the views of respondents from 12 countries spread over all the sub-regions and one from the Council of Europe for ranking challenges to higher education in Africa that require urgent intervention.”

The top 10 challenges identified through the mean-rank method were: depreciating quality of lecturers; research capacity deficits; inadequate infrastructure and facilities; lack of a regional quality assurance framework and accreditation system; slow uptake of ICTs to deliver quality higher education, including by distance; capacity deficits in quality assurance agencies; weak internationalisation of higher education; management inefficiencies; slow licence-masters-doctorate, or LMD, reforms; and the poor quality students coming out of secondary schooling.

"Once I obtain necessary approvals from UNESCO’s authorities, I will proceed with the next step of seeking partnerships of stakeholders with the UNESCO division for teacher development and higher education, to address these challenges through sustainable and high-impact projects,” said Shabani.

This would be done within the framework of UNESCO’s medium-term strategy for 2014-21.

The results of the survey were in line with several reports of the International Conferences on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa – ICQAHEA – which indicated that quality assurance among lecturers was far from tolerable.

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.

Shabani said the new institute VIIQHE would “build and strengthen the capacity of teachers and other personnel in higher educational institutions in Africa in critical areas of national and regional need with a view to improving quality”.

It would work to enhance the knowledge and skills of academics in teaching large classes effectively using meagre resources, applying modern methods of assessment and evaluation of student learning, guidance and counseling techniques, curriculum development, techniques for writing grant-winning proposals, implementing LMD reforms, and quality assurance.

The institute will further share experiences on best practices in research and community service within the context of the Action Plan of UNESCO’s 2009 World Conference on Higher Education and the African Union Decade of Education.

Shabani said all staff at all higher education institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa would be eligible to participate freely in VIIQHE training programmes.

He added that there was now a Guide to Effective Teaching and Learning in Higher Education published in 2013, which would be used to train lecturers online via the new virtual institute.

“It is anticipated that the virtual institute will run for an initial period of three years during which time over 60% of teachers in higher education in the region would have been served through pedagogic training and in other areas where capacity needs to be strengthened including quality assurance, contemporary research methods, writing grant-winning proposals and use of new technologies."

He called any member of the Working Group on Higher education, as an individual or an organisation, to partner UNESCO to help “expeditiously actualise the plan”.