Corruption among factors affecting HE quality process

The Association of African Universities (AAU) has identified corruption and threats to officials of accreditation bodies as some of the issues affecting the quality of some higher education institutions across the continent, its Secretary General, Etienne Ehile (in photograph), has told University World News.

“Because of corruption, some universities that are owned by ‘the rich and famous’ as well as politicians just get opened without the minimum requirements. Some accreditation bodies also face threats if they refuse to open unbefitting institutions,” he said.

In an email exchange, Ehile said some accreditation bodies are overwhelmed by a shortage of staffing and financing, such that their governments end up authorising some institutions to start operating without full assessments.

“Later on, they make follow-ups after the damage has already been done,” he said.

Ehile said the AAU is preparing to implement the regional recognition of higher education qualifications across Africa and for this reason is hoping to vigorously implement the Pan African Quality Assurance Framework (PAQAF) this year as part of the Harmonisation of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation (HAQAA) initiative.

Ehile said there were different initiatives and activities under PAQAF which includes Tuning Africa, which aims among other things to have a minimum body of knowledge for each discipline in every country and eventually the whole continent.

In addition, similar credit systems that match the minimum body of knowledge in terms of the number of courses offered and their duration and programmes are planned so that there is free movement of students from one institution to another. “It would mean that the academic year for all programmes would also need to be synchronised,” Ehile said.

The HAQAA initiative initially focused on developing a common understanding of quality assurance and was followed by the selection of 15 universities in 15 African countries which underwent the internal institutional evaluation for self-improvement using the African Quality Rating Mechanism (AQRM).

“The African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance were also developed to work hand in hand with the AQRM. It is envisaged that if all African higher education institutions use similar quality assurance guidelines and the AQRM as a tool for internal development, there will be a continental similarity in the standards used for governance, research, teaching and learning, staff promotion, internationalisation, student and staff support,” he said.

This will also enable staff mobility and exchange programmes, he said.

“All these need to go hand in hand with governments relaxing visa requirements and the introduction of regional and continental passports, such as the recently introduced diplomatic passport issued by the African Union Commission.”

Challenges and constraints

Ehile said a number of challenges had slowed the process and there was a need to reach out to more of the African higher education communities in different African countries.

As a result of tight budgets, only a few people could be selected at continental level to attend the workshops, meetings and other activities related to the PAQAF initiatives, he said.

“Most of these people are also strategically selected from ministries of education, higher education and national quality assurance agencies like the councils for higher education, the national accreditation bodies, and the national councils for tertiary education.”

Unfortunately, most of them seem not to be conducting effective information dissemination while others “don’t do it at all”, he said. This was because most of these people were politically appointed.

“Once another government moves in, they are pushed out and they leave without sharing [information] with people like the permanent secretaries and lower level staff who are not normally affected by the changes of governments.”

He said the consequence of these changes is that everything that has been learned is lost and never gets to the intended recipients. He is also not sure what these state higher education bodies lack that makes them inactive in as far as starting the implementation at national level is concerned.

This is despite real enthusiasm on the ground. Ehile said a 26 January AAU webinar highlighted significant enthusiasm from the participants regarding the process of harmonisation. As a result of this, the AAU was responding with the implementation of the AQRM and the African Standards and Guidelines as soon as possible, starting in Ghana and moving on to other countries.

Ehile said the AAU will soon be involved in a consultative process and a series of meetings to work out the roadmap, including timeframes, with all stakeholders in Ghana, including the National Council for Tertiary Education, the National Board for Professional and Technician Examinations, the National Accreditation Board and the education ministry.

“At a later stage, the meetings will rope in vice-chancellors /presidents/rectors and administrators of both public and private universities. So we still have a long way to go but once the ball starts rolling, at some point it will gain more momentum, with the help of Zimbabwe as our case study and other countries which have already worked towards harmonisation, such as the East African countries led by the Inter-University Council for East Africa, which is a regional quality assurance body,” he said.

Although the AAU has been concerned with quality assurance for some time, universities are continuing to report poor quality, said Ehile. As a result, there was a need to work closely with the councils for higher education, national accreditation boards and national councils for higher education throughout the continent.


He said the AAU offered workshops and conferences tailor-made for all types of universities, including private universities.

However, some ‘for profit’ private universities had short-changed students by, for example, employing fewer lecturers with PhDs so as to cut wage bills. “This compromises the quality of students’ tuition,” he said. “Other private universities are doing very well and there is no need to paint them all with the same brush.”

However, a lack of uniformity was a problem, he said. Some countries concentrated on monitoring public universities only, while others concentrated on private universities and others on both.

“The situation varies country by country and it is a worry for the AAU because it should be uniform across the board,” he said.

On the issue of leadership training, Ehile said there had been a good response not only from the top echelon of university leadership but deans and other categories of university staff to the AAU’s two flagship leadership training programmes: “University Advancement” and “Leadership Skills Development”. However, he said sponsorship for conference participation was urgently needed to enable as many as possible to participate.

On the issue of academic freedom, Ehile said it was generally a “reflection of the political situation of African countries”.

“It is common knowledge that global policies have affected Africa’s education systems. In terms of accessibility, we are witnessing an increased number of privatised higher education institutions which may lead to a fragmentation of higher education systems, with intellectuals, in their search for economic and political opportunities, being drawn towards ‘elite’ institutions,” he said.

There was now a division between poorer quality national institutions and for-profit private and foreign institutions, some of which took a dim view of academic freedoms. “In general, the state of academic freedom in Africa cannot be said to be excellent but it can be improved upon with all countries embracing multiparty democracy and freedom of expression.”