Quality assurance guidelines await ministerial approval

Guidelines for quality assurance in African higher education, aimed at increasing access to quality education while addressing social development and employability, are ready for use but await endorsement by ministers of higher education in Africa, either in 2019 or 2020 when they meet for the continental meetings.

Only after endorsement can the African Standards and Guidelines (ASG-QA) be launched but that does not stop the Harmonisation of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation (HAQAA) initiative consortium and other higher education players from disseminating them, Dr Violet Makuku, the quality assurance specialist and initiative project officer told University World News last week.

Funded by the European Union from its joint political partnership with the African Union, the HAQAA initiative consortium includes the Association of African Universities, the University of Barcelona, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the European University Association.

The initiative was established to support the development of a harmonised quality assurance and accreditation system at institutional level, national, regional and Pan-African level, according to the initiative’s website.

The African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ASG-QA) were initially designed under the African Union Commission’s Pan African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Framework (PAQAF).

“This harmonisation would enable and enhance more student and staff mobility through recognition of qualifications, certificates and diplomas as well as the formulation of similar promotion criteria for faculty,” said Makuku.

Endorsing harmonisation

The harmonisation can be achieved through the adoption and use of the standards and guidelines by all African higher education institutions, she said.

“What could be a problem is to compel institutions to adopt them. So far, we only need to convince them through education and awareness on why they should adopt and start using them even before they are endorsed and launched,” said Makuku.

Though the guidelines are a set standard for internal and external quality assurance in higher education, they are not prescriptive but provide guidance.

She explained that under PAQAF, there is a proposal to form a continental quality assurance and accreditation agency that will be the overseer of the ASG-QA and the African Quality Rating Mechanism (AQRM) for institutional improvement.

These two are designed to work hand in glove, with the AQRM being used to check how far institutions are adopting, using and adhering to the standards and guidelines. This is one way through which the standards and guidelines can be institutionalised to bring the abovementioned harmonisation, she said.

Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor, AU commissioner for human resources, science and technology, said the guidelines were required as diverse systems of higher education have resulted in a lack of mutual recognition of university degrees, constraining academic integration and the mobility of students across the continent.

“Collective endorsement of harmonisation and mutual recognition presupposes increased attention to quality and quality assurance in higher education,” she said in the ASG-QA introduction.

“The rapid growth in the number of students and higher education institutions, and the increased focus on employability, have made quality and quality assurance central topics. If Africa’s investment in the education of its youth is to reap demographic dividends, quality and quality assurance in higher education and training are essential,” said Agbor.

The guidelines, which took two and half years to develop starting in June 2016 in consultation with higher education agencies, student bodies and other groups, were finalised during the last meeting of the HAQAA Initiative in Dakar, Senegal, in December 2018.

At the Dakar meeting, Makuku said all key higher education stakeholders who include national quality assurance agencies and accreditation bodies were urged to disseminate the guidelines.

Higher education bodies can use the guidelines to peer review (which is meant to monitor and help improve their operations) each other and accredit their institutions, as well as carry out external quality assurance reviews of the institutions. The institutions can also adopt them to build their institutional quality culture and prepare for the five-year cycles of national accreditation, she said.

One of the agreed key roles of the HAQAA Initiative Phase Two would be to disseminate the guidelines widely and educate as well as bring awareness for their absorption, adoption and use by African higher education institutions, said Makuku.

What the standards say

In a nutshell, the common minimum standards say the following:

  • • Each institution should have a mission and vision outlining objectives towards quality assurance;

  • • The governance and management structures should promote robust quality assurance practices showing a clear mandate for staff, clear external communication for public accountability, enabling student decision-making and emphasising academic integrity. Equally important is prudent financial management for quality education;

  • • Recruitment and retention of competent staff must be adhered to for success in executing the legal mandate on quality assurance;

  • • There is a need for adequate and appropriate infrastructure, for example research labs, internet, study material to support teaching, learning and research;

  • • Policies on student recruitment and admission should be fair;

  • • Institutions must have policies to ensure design, development, monitoring and evaluation of quality study programmes;

  • • Institutions must put in place procedures that promote teaching and learning, and assessment principles that are explicit to both students and staff;

  • • Institutional encouragement of innovation in teaching, learning and research should be a norm;

  • • Higher education institutions must ensure students engage communities as part of social responsibility in their learning;

  • • External quality assurance includes a clearly defined complaints and appeal procedure and periodic review of programmes.

The guidelines are in English, French, Arabic and Portuguese, the four main languages used on the African continent.