New law provides for slew of changes in university system

A new higher education law approved in December 2022 in Mozambique establishes and extends the power of the National Council for the Assessment of Higher Education Quality (in Portuguese, the Conselho Nacional de Avaliação da Qualidade or CNAQ) to undertake quality assurance in the country’s higher education.

The agency – established in 2007 – will henceforth be responsible for the “assessment and accreditation of distance-learning courses and programmes” in Mozambique’s higher education.

It has also been charged with registering higher education qualifications within the country’s national qualifications framework.

It has the authority to standardise curricula and programmes offered by higher education institutions with the goal of “facilitating academic mobility”, the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Daniel Nivagara, told the Mozambican parliament in December 2022.

Under the reforms, which amend the Mozambique 2009 higher education law, higher education institutions must refrain from offering courses and programmes without prior accreditation by the competent entity, strengthening CNAQ’S mission which has been to “promote the evaluation and accreditation of courses, programmes and HEIs [higher education institutions] through quality-assurance mechanisms”.

The law gives more authority to the CNAQ to insist on changes to the composition of registered universities’ faculty, their educational methods and the conversion of services and teaching to utilise digital teaching technologies.

The new law also obliges all registered higher education institutions to set up a students’ association. Henceforth, the CNAQ can also insist that higher education institutions have sporting facilities and services to help pregnant women, staff and students.

The law also authorises the merger of two or more institutions of higher education, although such initiatives would have to be approved by the minister of science, technology and higher education.

The new higher education law officially recognises online teaching as a legitimate means of delivering higher education. And it establishes the principle of secularism in higher education institutions across the country, so that they cannot take into account a student’s religion when making admissions decisions.

Concerns over centralisation

According to Nivagara, a member of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front, or FRELIMO, the revision of the higher education law must now move from theory to practice.

As for its recognition of the use of remote teaching, the minister told University World News at the Mozambique parliament: “The affirmation of the hybrid model does not supplant the essential modalities of teaching ... Nevertheless, the hybrid model has established itself in such a way that it is necessary to accept it.”

It is essential to make higher education institutions “aware of the need to invest in pedagogically appropriate technological infrastructures, in the training of teachers, students and technical-administrative staff, so that these are standardised ... and controlled, in the quality they offer”, he said.

This push on online teaching standards has been encouraged by an awareness that internet access and quality in Mozambique varies widely, especially in the provinces and districts outside the capital, Maputo, despite the government’s efforts to expand digital coverage.

Some concerns have been raised by this increase in authority for the CNAQ, however.

Opposition MP Silvério Ronguane, of the Mozambique Democratic Movement is concerned about the centralisation of government power over national higher education, warning that the law could restrict development in universities, because it says the ministry must approve a major change in the courses that are offered by higher education institutions.

This would include, for instance, a university wishing to switch an emphasis on teaching social sciences to oil and gas engineering courses.

Ronguane, an academic and vice-rector of the University Sao Tomas of Mozambique said: “If an institution intends to introduce petroleum engineering courses, the ministry that oversees the area does not have qualified technicians ... so it will be aided by technicians from other competing universities, who will possibly give a contrary opinion in order to avoid competition.”

Another opposition MP, Maria Angelina Enoque, of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) said the law’s text needed to be carefully assessed “as the country currently lacks the infrastructure to adopt online education”.

What do students hope for?

RENAMO was also concerned that the new law ignores concerns about corruption in higher education.

Enoque argued that the government needed to ensure that academics have sufficiently large salaries to avoid the temptation of bribery, and better training, including on ethical issues.

RENAMO has also stressed that legislative change does not bring progress if there is insufficient commitment from government officials and education managers to improve education systems.

One worry cited by an official at the Association of Private Higher Education Institutions, (Associação das Instituições de Ensino Superior Privadas – AIESP) was the need to carefully recruit CNAQ staff: “There is a need for a judicious and careful choice,” he said, noting that, in the past, “the choice of people without competences and capacity to assess quality in higher education has been noticed”.

Nélio Zunguza general coordinator of the association of senior university students in Mozambique (Associação dos Estudantes Finalistas Universitários de Moçambique, or AEFUM), who helped draft the law, told University World News that the reform should meet student needs.

He welcomed, for instance, the requirement for universities to establish student associations. This means that student union officials will, henceforth, be able to take time off from their studies to undertake their work and return to their courses later, without discrimination.

Zunguza said: “There was a tendency to marginalise student movements, especially in private education, but, fortunately, our proposal to recognise the student movement was accepted.

“What happened was that we had colleagues who were part of the student movement and who, for that reason, suffered harassment at their universities, missed tests defending student movement causes ...”

He also welcomed the compromise solution recognised by the law that flexible hybrid systems can be used. After consultation, the government understood “that the country does not yet have the infrastructural conditions to assume teaching as a whole as online, hence the hybrid was suggested”, he said.

Looking ahead, he said: “We raised the issue of infrastructure and were informed of a plan – still to be materialised – of a programme called, ‘one student, one computer’, which will be carried out and we are comforted. However, connectivity must be guaranteed.”

That said, Zunguza said higher education agencies needed to be careful to deliver quality inspections of hybrid teaching models, so that new systems do not jeopardise teaching quality.

He promised that his students’ association will focus closely on teaching quality verification as the law is rolled out: “Every innovation has its challenges,” calling on the ministry to be flexible if need be.

One challenge identified by students is the need for teacher training to ensure that hybrid teaching works, something that the ministry has said it will pursue.

Elcidio Bachita, a senior economics lecturer at the Universidade São Tomas de Moçambique, said the law was an important milestone, adapting Mozambique’s higher education system to fit current educational dynamics and international standards, boosting development in scientific, socio-economic, technological, political and cultural fields.

The promotion of online education will allow Mozambicans living far from physical higher education centres to learn, he said: “More Mozambicans, as well as citizens of other nationalities, will be able to have a higher education without, however, having to go to universities [physically].

“The teaching material can be accessed virtually, the professors will be able to teach classes from home or even abroad,” he said.

He also welcomed the encouragement of higher education mergers, arguing that this will give the larger resulting institutions “greater reliability and credibility [being] able to improve the quality of teaching” and boost cost-effectiveness for students: “The law will also reduce the proliferation of higher education institutions in Mozambique,” he said.

The hybrid model, said Bachita, will force higher education institutions to focus on the quality of teaching, forcing decisions on what courses and services “require the physical presence of students, such as medicine, mechanical engineering, agronomy, among others, which cannot be delivered online.”

It will also push the computerisation of universities and higher education institutes, as well as improving Mozambique’s teaching quality which, he argued, has been declining sharply in recent years.