Lack of awareness hampers harmonisation progress

Since it was first raised three decades ago, progress towards the harmonisation of higher education quality assurance and accreditation processes has been slow and awareness of the issue and various initiatives to drive it remain frustratingly limited.

“Many stakeholders are not aware [of the processes] because of little to no information dissemination,” Dr Violet Makuku, project officer for the Harmonisation of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation or HAQAA initiative, told University World News.

During a webinar organised last month (November) by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and hosted by the Association of African Universities, or AAU, Makuku said there was a need for vigorous education and awareness campaigns as well as more buy-in for continental initiatives.

Speaking on the topic of “Promoting continental integration through the harmonisation of quality assurance and accreditation in African higher education”, Makuku said during African Union summits, higher education ministers discuss issues alongside their presidents. “They come up with brilliant ideas and resolutions which should be ratified quickly, but presidents and their governments take a long time to do this,” she said.

Delays in ratification

Talks on African harmonisation of higher education date back to the Arusha Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and Other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in African States of 5 December 1981. As of December 2014, the agreement has been commonly known as the Addis Ababa Revised Convention – but it has only been signed by 15 countries thus far.

In order to improve awareness, Makuku argued that those responsible for putting together documents such as the Agenda 2063, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, Technical Vocational Education and Training and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa should push for more publicity for their contents through African Union implementing arms.

“Somewhere along the line, there is no information dissemination and the AAU is willing to do that if the African Union Commission, well-wishers, business communities and all higher education stakeholders could provide funding to enable the Association of African Universities to carry out this noble exercise in the continent.”

Failure to disseminate

“Some people who are involved in and know about initiatives like Tuning Africa do not disseminate information when they come back [from meetings]. Some tend to personalise continental initiatives while others do not have the means to disseminate the information, or both,” she said.

Makuku also blamed stakeholders’ lack of interest in finding out through the Internet what is happening in higher education at a continental level.

“So in the end everyone is to blame,” she said, encouraging stakeholders to visit the AAU website, and national and regional Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s websites more frequently to find information.

Another limitation to dissemination was the struggle to get good French, Portuguese and Arabic translators to cater for the diverse AAU membership. Makuku said volunteer translators were needed as professional translation costs were high.

Renewed continental drive

A renewed continental push for harmonisation has seen HAQAA, a European Union-funded initiative in partnership with the African Union, pushing for standards that aim to eliminate disparities in higher education qualifications programmes across Africa.

“We need to create a common understanding of quality in higher education. Certain universities do not have quality assurance committees or units on quality assurance,” said Makuku.

A three-year initiative which kicked off in December 2015, HAQAA is one of the tools meant to help implement the long-awaited Pan-African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Framework. The initiative is coordinated by the University of Barcelona and other partners are the AAU, the German Academic Exchange Service known as DAAD, the European Association of Quality Assurance in Higher Education, and the European University Association.

Harmonisation for quality

At the heart of harmonisation is a systematic review of education standards. According to Makuku, institutions will need to meet certain standards to be accredited and gain credibility.

She said the HAQAA is pushing to have common standards and guidelines for quality assurance and accreditation, governance of institutions, research infrastructure, teaching and staff.

“If [our institutions] don’t get accredited we will produce poorly trained students, stakeholder satisfaction will be missing, and we won’t be able to produce individuals who are fit for purpose. There will be no value for money,” she said.

Makuku said there is a need to produce graduates who can work anywhere without supervision. Standards will also nurture a brand that students and employers will be proud to be associated with, she said.

Staff and student mobility

According to Makuku, common standards would help to address the issue of mobility of both staff and students.

“The period required to complete the same qualification should not take four years to complete in some universities while it takes three years at others,” she said.

The harmonisation process also includes standardisation of requirements for promoting lecturers in order to stop “haphazard promotions”, she said.

“The absence of such common quality assurance standards and guidelines has even prevented students from moving from one state university [within one country] to another,” she said.

“State universities in the same country cannot exchange staff and students without negative impacts. If a student moves to another university, he/she may have to start again because the guiding principles are different,” she said.


Outlining the various initiatives in the area of quality assurance in Africa’s higher education sector, Makuku said the AAU has been working with regional quality assurance organisations which include the Inter-University Community of East Africa, the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education, the Association of Arab Universities, the Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, the Middle East and North African Quality Assurance Network, and the recently formed Southern African Quality Assurance Network.

Tools such as the African Quality Rating Mechanism and African Quality Assurance Network are providing support to share ideas and good practices across national agencies.

In January 2017 the HAQAA advisory board and the technical working group responsible for the African Standards Guidelines will meet in Accra, Ghana to examine a green document currently being prepared.

“We collected the standards and guidelines from individual African countries, quality assurance agencies and regional quality assurance agencies and associations. We are now identifying common standards and guidelines from all the received documents and adding other uncommon but relevant aspects to the green document,” said Makuku.

Institutional evaluations of three institutions in each of the five higher education regions in Africa using the African Quality Rating Mechanism is expected to start in June 2017. Training of quality assurance personnel will also be conducted to ensure that institutional quality assurance directorates have appropriately trained staff.

Makuku called on stakeholders and institutions in Africa to “own” HAQAA and other initiatives.

“Without everybody’s input I don’t think we will be able to achieve our goal,” she said.