Private HE sector should do more to better education quality

The Higher Education Council (HEC) in Rwanda has said that poor leadership and management of private universities continues to affect the quality of their education and it has called on this sector to do more to reverse the trend.

In a higher education system where the majority of universities are private – an estimated 29 out of a total of 31 – the HEC, as the sector’s quality watchdog, has been keeping a close watch on institutions to ensure that they adhere to minimum standards.

The latest call on the sector to up its game follows a meeting on 18 August between officials from the council and representatives of private higher learning institutions operating in Rwanda.

Following an inspection of private institutions, the council revealed its findings in a presentation titled ‘Key issues identified in higher learning institutions in Rwanda’.

According to the inspection’s findings, the majority of the country’s private institutions are failing to implement systems and services required by the Higher Education Council.

For instance, some universities lack key academic policies about the admission of eligible students who are allowed to study in fields offered at private institutions that are not related to their secondary school preparation – in other words, there are no career linkages.

In addition, they also admit students with no equivalence, or equivalent local qualification to the foreign certificates or qualifications they obtained elsewhere.

For students to enrol in any university in Rwanda, they should possess at least two principal passes from secondary school – which means they have to pass their two main subjects – and enrol in a related programme at university.

Other loopholes highlighted in the presentation include the lack of policies on quality assurance, general academic regulations and examination rules, among others.

The Higher Education Council also said that private universities lacked enough and qualified human resources at both academic and administrative level, leaving those who are qualified overloaded and unable to perform well.

In some cases, the council said, the degree courses are offered by lecturers holding bachelor degrees, while there are several vacant positions.

On several occasions, the council said, it found out that universities have failed to implement one of their obligations, which is to conduct impactful research and those who did so failed to implement the research findings to address the problems of surrounding communities.

Some universities lacked budgetary allocations for research and others lacked basic infrastructure such as equipped labs, workshops and libraries, as well as internet facilities to help students and academic staff, according to the council.

Quality is a ‘long chain’

“The main issue for private universities is poor management and the misuse of funds. You cannot expect quality students if you have poor management and you don’t pay academic and teaching staff. The journey towards quality education is a long chain,” said Dr Rose Mukankomeje, the director general of the Higher Education Council.

She said that universities should have a clear plan of how they spend their respective budgets, including timely payment of academic and administrative staff, acquiring academic materials and improving infrastructure among other matters.

She said that her council has to be tough on the universities’ management and leadership and will keep working hard to ensure they deliver the quality needed in the labour market.

“You cannot manage a university as a small shop,” she said. “We want universities to have strong leadership and who understand the task ahead of them and strive for good governance,” she added.

According to Dr Mazarati Jean Baptiste, the legal representative from the Institut d’Enseignement Supérieur de Ruhengeri or INES (Institute of Applied Sciences), a private university in the Musanze district in Rwanda’s northern province, quality is a journey and there is a need for more concerted efforts to achieve it.

He stressed the need for the Higher Education Council to advocate for government support for private universities to get modern infrastructure.

“For instance, we need to have modern laboratories, notwithstanding that we are private universities. We are training people who will serve the public, [but] teaching materials are too expensive and it should not be the burden of universities only,” he said.

At least eight universities, all private, have closed doors over the past seven years over ‘poor management’ that led to the failure to fulfil the requirements.

The most recent to be closed were the Christian University of Rwanda that operated in Kigali, the Kigali Institute of Management and the University of Kibungo that operated in Ngoma district in the eastern province.

Others closed during the past five years include Sinhgad Technical Education Society-Rwanda in Kicukiro; Rusizi International University; Nile Source Polytechnic of Applied Arts in Huye District; Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Open University of Tanzania, that operated in Ngoma District.