SARUA – A leading regional vision for higher education

Under the leadership of founding CEO Piyushi Kotecha, the Southern African Regional Universities Association has, over the past decade, developed a rich regional knowledge base, extensive networks, relevant regional higher education studies, innovative methodologies and programmes, as well as sound pathways to the consolidation of regional collaboration.

Looking forward, the association plans to implement a new four-year strategic plan which builds upon this foundation in a large and diverse region.

In adopting the four-year plan, the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) executive committee affirms the important role that higher education has to play in achieving the region’s strategic and ambitious development framework as set out in the following documents:
  • • The SADC Protocol on Education and Training, which seeks to promote a regionally integrated and harmonised higher education and training system that promotes equivalence, harmonisation and standardisation through collaboration. The purpose of the process is, among others, to increase staff and student mobility within the region, promote joint teaching, the collaborative development of teaching and learning materials, the co-operative design of postgraduate programmes and collaborative research.

  • • The Revised SADC Regional Indicative Strategy Development Plan (RISDP) 2015-2020, which prioritises inter alia the implementation of a regional qualifications framework, human resources skills development, matching of education with labour market demands and accelerating the development of priority sectors for industrial and infrastructure development.

  • • The SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 which provides a blueprint for inclusive, long-term modernisation and economic transformation in the SADC region, built on the transition from the commodity-based growth path in which African countries find themselves, to become value-adding, knowledge-intensive and industrialised economies.
However, the higher education sector’s ability to contribute to the realisation of this strategic agenda faces severe constraints. These include the lack of funding to support increased access, high unemployment rates, especially among the youth, and severe backlogs in the use of technology to support high quality teaching, learning and research.

These challenges will continue to impact on the sound development of vibrant higher education institutions that are able deliver the outputs that support regional growth and competitiveness.

In aligning its agenda with these regional imperatives, SARUA has engaged in various strategic leadership dialogues and capacity development initiatives, in order to identify its priority areas and programme foci for the next four years.

It has also liaised with the South African government (the departments of science and technology, and higher education and training) as the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to start discussions on how best to involve higher education in the regional industrialisation strategy and the harmonisation of higher education within the SADC.

To align higher education with regional policies, SARUA’s short-term focus in 2018 falls on harmonisation and capacity development for quality assurance and continuing education, the continuation of work in the areas of curriculum innovation and capacity development, one leadership dialogue and vigorous engagement with current and potential members to ensure that SARUA is responsive to their needs.

Flowing from these activities, the medium-term focus from 2019 to 2021 will include further development of joint postgraduate programmes (curriculum innovation), leadership and management development, the further rollout of the regional quality assurance programme, and the development of capacity to ensure the quality provision of both formal and continuing education programmes.

SARUA will continue to explore synergies with other higher education bodies and proactively engage with programme partners such as the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Ubuntu Net Alliance, among others, on regional capacity development programmes.

The five specific priorities for SARUA in its four-year plan are as follows:

Capacity development
  • Quality assurance: SARUA will collaborate closely with SAQAN to support universities and national quality assurance agencies in the development of their quality assurance systems. This is to ensure that they participate constructively in the development and implementation of a regional harmonisation agenda, which develops trust in the standards of academic programmes and the quality of the student learning experience, and supports student mobility through the recognition of their learning achievements within a regional qualifications framework. This project will build on a workshop on quality assurance in the SADC which SARUA hosted in October 2017 in partnership with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in South Africa, and the Southern African Quality Assurance Network (SAQAN). The workshop focused on the identification of capacity-building needs for the improvement of internal and external quality assurance systems within the SADC, and proposed various principles for taking the work on quality assurance systems forward within the context of the draft African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.

  • Continuing education: As part of its quality assurance project, SARUA will explore the establishment of a regional ‘Continuing Education’ community of practice. Continuing education is set to play an increasingly important role in meeting needs for lifelong learning and continuing professional development. The consortium will help member universities address all aspects essential for high quality continuing education provision. These include effective systems for governance, course approval and registration, the certification of learner achievement, course design and the development of resources for course design, teaching and learning resources, and assessment. One of the aims of the consortium is to function as a self-regulating body that allows member universities to recognise the learning achievements of course participants.

  • Teaching and learning: SARUA has begun discussions with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the United Kingdom to provide academic staff with the opportunity to complete the HEA’s Certificate of Learning and Teaching, a comprehensive programme that covers core areas of teaching and learning in higher education. Participants who complete the programme successfully may apply to become fellows of the Higher Education Academy. In the longer term, the programme will develop a core group of staff able to develop the programme within their own universities or within the region. Furthermore, SARUA will explore a collaboration agreement with the Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC), in order to give SARUA members access to the CHEC Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education Teaching and Learning.

  • Online and blended learning: Online and blended learning complements traditional face-to-face learning, and presents a critical opportunity for universities in SADC to address challenges within the conventional campus-based approach to higher education provision. SARUA will focus on the enormous opportunities that online and blended learning provide for increasing the very low higher education participation rate in SADC. It will do so by focusing on capacity development opportunities for academics and staff to develop and deliver high quality online and blended learning courses, and on the development of learning materials and tools to support online and blended learning.
Leadership and management development

A 2018 Leadership Dialogue will focus on the implications of the SADC Industrialisation Plan and the revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2015-2020 for higher education. In addition, SARUA will host strategic events to engage with senior leadership on key higher education trends and their implications. The perspectives that these events will provide will inform the association’s medium-term strategy and plan for 2019 to 2021.

The need for the professionalisation of higher education leadership and management is acknowledged internationally. SARUA will work with international agencies as well as national higher education organisations to provide capacity development opportunities for university managers such as faculty deans, departmental heads and the heads of administrative and support sections. These opportunities will range from short workshops and seminars, to short courses and formal programmes.

Supporting national and regional development

SARUA will play a key role in the realisation of the SADC Industrialisation Plan and the revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2015-2020 over the longer term by promoting the development of policy and discussion papers, commissioned and contract research, and will collaborate with existing regional networks.

Curriculum innovation and responsiveness
  • Formal qualifications: The development of the joint masters programme in climate change and sustainable development by the SARUA Curriculum Innovation Network, which was established in 2015, represents a significant achievement in contributing towards the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The network has developed a customised masters degree programme in climate change and sustainable development, through a delivery consortium of seven universities. The current focus is on monitoring the progress made by participating institutions in the implementation of the programme. During 2018, SARUA will also conduct a mapping exercise with its members to discuss priorities for the development of further joint masters programmes in areas linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the aspirations of the Africa 2063 agenda, and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy.

  • Continuing Education: By means of its Continuing Education Community of Practice, SARUA will foster collaboration in the development of continuing education learning materials that are linked to the key developmental priorities of the SADC.
Regional profile of HE landscape

The need for an up-to-date regional profile of the higher education landscape in SADC was confirmed at the meeting of SADC ministers responsible for education and training and science, technology and innovation, held in Swaziland in 2017.

SARUA has developed an initial proposal for the development of the regional profile, and plans to commence with work on the profile during 2018. The profile should be an invaluable resource for higher education policy-makers, planners and researchers, as well as for students and stakeholders in the public sector and industry.

Since its establishment in 2005, SARUA has laid strong foundations for its role in regional higher education development. It has conducted numerous leadership dialogues and undertaken a wide range of research projects.

Through these projects, SARUA has done pioneering work in mapping the status and profile of the higher education sector within SADC, including the creation of country profiles. It has also produced various reports on relevant themes such as climate change, science and technology development, and strategies for strengthening the interaction between higher education, the public sector and industry.

Building on this work, SARUA has continued to host regular annual leadership dialogues in which vice-chancellors and other senior university leaders consider topics such as internationalisation in higher education, open access and research publications in Africa, global trends in technology in higher education, and the contribution of universities and innovation to inclusive regional development.

These dialogues and studies have made a significant contribution towards the development of a comprehensive and shared development agenda for the region, and to the definition of priorities for the higher education sector. As the need for higher education collaboration becomes increasingly clear and pressing within a continental and regional context, SARUA is well positioned to make a significant contribution to the SADC developmental agenda.

SARUA's four-year plan was adopted after a detailed and careful assessment of the region’s policy priorities, key needs to strengthen the capacity of the sector and its leadership and the need for a sound information base that can assist in informed decision-making.

Given the large scope of work, SARUA is mindful of the need for a sustainable regional funding model that enables the full participation of all the universities in the SADC region and re-iterates the need for a mixed model of funding (government contributions and university contributions) and also calls upon other key development partners to assist and collaborate in the delivery and success of its four-year plan.

Together with the SARUA executive, I express our heartfelt thanks to Piyushi Kotecha for her vision, drive and immense achievements over the past decade in putting SARUA on the map internationally, on our continent, and in our SADC region. We look forward to building upon this footprint and working to deliver on our mission with our valuable partners.

Professor Martin Oosthuizen is the executive director of the South African Regional Universities Association as of January 2018. He is also the chief executive officer of the Cape Higher Education Consortium, a former deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at the North-West University, South Africa, and he currently serves on the Higher Education Quality Committee and chairs its Accreditation Committee. Other members of the SARUA executive committee include Professor Jean-Paul Segihobe Bigira (chair); Professor Cisco Magagula; Professor Dr Orlando António Quilambo; Eng Quinton Kanhukamwe; and Dr Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah.