Quality assurance efforts in Africa bolstered by HAQAA3

The implementation of the recently approved third phase of the Harmonisation of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation (HAQAA3) initiative has started, following a meeting at the beginning of July to help drive the five-year project.

The HAQAA3 initiative focuses on four major objectives: improving the quality of higher education; establishing the Pan-African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency (PAQAA); developing an African Credit Transfer Scheme (ACTS) and building a culture of data gathering, utilisation and preservation for policies on the African higher education system.

HAQAA3 builds on the work done during two previous phases, HAQAA1 from 2015 to 2018, and HAQAA2 from 2019 to 2022.

The project’s implementation team comprises the lead, OBREAL Global, which facilitates dialogue and South-South-North collaboration, the Association of African Universities (AAU) as the co-lead; and other partners, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, or ENQA.

The All African Students Union has been on the advisory board of HAQAA1 and 2 and is now integrated as a strategic partner in HAQAA3. The student representatives will be trained to capacitate them to participate in quality assurance processes, among other issues.

Building a skilled workforce

In a joint response to questions by University World News, Professor Olusola Oyewole, the secretary-general of the AAU, and Elizabeth Colucci, the director of international projects, OBREAL Global, said HAQAA3 is one of the components of the Youth Mobility Flagship announced in the Global Gateway Investment package, which is a European Union investment package focused on, among other items, a green transition, sustainable growth and job creation as well as building strengthening health systems.

Under the Youth Mobility Flagship there are other important initiatives the EU is involved in to bolster harmonisation in African education, including the intra-African student mobility programme, and the second round of the African Continental Qualifications Framework project, or ACQF.

Oyewole and Colucci said the overall objective of HAQAA3 is to provide African countries with the skilled workers, managers and administrators they need to foster sustainable development, encourage trade and investment as well as to enhance citizenship and democratic values.

The HAQAA3 initiative, like HAQAA1 and HAQAA2, is supported by the European Union Commission as a service contract. The third phase was approved in May 2023.

“The first strategic partners steering committee meeting of the project took place at the beginning of July in Windhoek, Namibia, during the AAU-organised Conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities,” they said.

Credit transfer system

The two officials said the development and implementation of the African Credit Transfer System will support mobility and transferability of knowledge and learning across African regions and institutions. This will be co-led by the AAU and OBREAL Global and entails piloting the credit system in 10 African countries at 100 universities.

“A proposal has been tabled for how to calculate an African credit and credit ranges per education cycle, but most countries do not yet even have their own credit systems and, hence, work must be done from the bottom up to understand what credit systems imply, why they are beneficial and why, subsequently, we need a credit transfer system at African continental level.

“Current regional systems, like those of the SADC [Southern African Development Community], will be a building block. There will be policy campaigns in HAQAA3, in addition to a concrete pilot for ACTS at university level, training on credit systems, and linkages to the Intra-Africa Mobility Scheme,” they said.

Oyewole and Colucci said other expected deliverables include producing a report on academic credits in Africa; 100 universities piloting the ACTS in selected degree programmes and the inauguration of 100 ACTS Ambassadors to be integrated into the HAQAA Ambassadors Network.

Also under the initiative, there is a plan to expand an expert pool of African quality assurance, or QA, evaluators; the training of 140 higher education professionals at universities in regional integration in higher education, and especially in managing internal quality assurance and in applying continental tools and frameworks as well as sensitising vice-chancellors in quality management, among others.

Accreditation agency

The two experts told University World News it is important to note that a Technical Working Group under HAQAA2 proposed a progressive approach to the establishment of the PAQAA and the adoption of certain functions over time.

Among others, PAQAA objectives include increasing the transparency of quality assurance and accreditation in Africa by promoting the African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ASG-QA) in higher education and its application in external and internal quality assurance; reinforcing cooperation between national quality assurance and accreditation agencies, as well as regional quality assurance networks, promoting alignment between qualifications frameworks (national, regional) in Africa and globally; and facilitating higher education mobility between African Union member states, through the promotion and application of common frameworks and tools for recognition of degrees and credits.

“Under HAQAA3, the PAQAA unit will be established at the AAU... [and] the operational modalities of the PAQAA will be determined, during which the African Union Commission will be able to take a decision about the eventual location of this organisation,” they said.

“The objectives of the HAQAA initiative are also for each university to be able to conduct their internal quality assurance programmes.

“This is the reason for the development of the African Quality Rating Mechanisms (AQRM) by the AAU and the African Union Commission. The AQRM tool is now available online and in printed book format for use by all universities in Africa. Mechanisms for self-verification by a unit appointed within each university have been developed.”

They said lessons drawn so far from the university surveys are that it is costly to organise external verifications for the AQRM systems in the many institutions across Africa.

It has also been found that the AQRM is not useful if carried out once as the benefits emerge when an institution is able to organise an internal system of applying the AQRM to its processes every three to four months and monitor its progress over all the criteria established.

In conclusion, they said all the above initiatives are aimed at supporting the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 2016-25).

This news report was updated on 1 August.