New agency to monitor quality of university education

The northwest African nation of Mauritania is to set up a national quality assurance authority to strengthen the competitiveness of its universities and develop a higher education system of international quality.

The new agency plan was unveiled by Sidi Ould Salem, the minister of higher education and scientific research, in a speech last month opening the new 2016-17 academic year, according to the ministry website.
Low quality system
Mauritania, which is the size of France, is in the Maghreb region of western North Africa and has an estimated population of 4.1 million people.
Its public higher education institutions have just 19,862 students and consist of one university – after the University of Nouakchott and the University of Science, Technology and Medicine Nouakchott were merged into one institution called the Modern University of Nouakchott – as well as one school and three institutes, according to the ministry.

There are four private universities, including one Lebanese-owned and the other Mauritanian, and one academy.

Several national and international reports have highlighted the problem of weak quality in Mauritanian higher education, and the country’s low performance on research indicators. A 2015 national higher education statistical report also indicated problems of weak management and governance and an ageing student population.

Unsurprisingly, the country’s universities do not rate in international or regional rankings at the Arab or African levels.

In the World Economic Forum's 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report, published in September, out of 138 countries, Mauritania was ranked 81 for university-industry collaboration in research.

But far worse, it was ranked 128 for tertiary education enrolment rate, 132 for quality of maths and science education, 137 for quality of the education system and quality of research institutions, and 138 for the availability of scientists and engineers, the capacity for innovation, and higher education and training.

Quality assurance authority
To deal with poor quality in higher education, the new agency will focus on fostering sustainable quality enhancement in line with world-class standards.

It will set standards and guidelines to measure the performance of higher education and training institutions, conduct quality reviews of universities aimed at ensuring accountability and continuous improvement, instigate national capacity building activities to support quality enhancement, and encourage partnerships and communication with stakeholders.
The agency is in line with the three-year plan for higher education that will end next year.

Its main objectives are strengthening institutional management and governance of tertiary institutions as well as improving the relevance of curricula, the quality of training and the employability of graduates, according to 2016 UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030.