Formal training for dedicated quality assurance officers and more support for senior staff are needed if quality assurance systems in African universities are to achieve maximum impact, according to discussions at the ninth annual forum of the East African Higher Education Quality Assurance Network (EAQAN) held in Uganda last week.
The meeting heard that among the challenges facing quality assurance
systems in higher education institutions in East Africa was a high
turnover of quality assurance officers, understaffing, inadequate staff
capacity, and a negative attitude by university staff towards quality
Quality assurance functions were conducted in almost all universities by staff who do so on top of other duties, and most of them are not trained in the area.
According to Dr Bruno Dada, deputy vice-chancellor of the Catholic University of South Sudan, staff members at his university and others in his country (South Sudan has five public universities and five licensed private universities) have not received training in quality assurance principles.
“I would like to put in a special request that the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) takes a lead in training quality assurance officers in all our universities in South Sudan,” he said.
“The interaction with the quality assurance officers here has enabled me to see the need for quality assurance directors in all our campuses,” he added.
His call for adequate staffing was echoed by a delegate from Tanzania who called for more staff in quality assurance units as well as more training and research on quality assurance matters.
Dr Andrew Kibet Kipkosgei, director of quality assurance at the University of Kabianga in Kenya, suggested that they develop a curriculum for quality assurance officers so that training and capacity building is done on a continuous basis.
The meeting heard that the Kenya Universities Quality Assurance Network (KUQAN), which has 87 institutional members, has initiated a process to come up with standardised quality assurance tools and instruments for all Kenyan universities and to develop modules for quality assurance practitioners leading to quality assurance certification.
Support from management
Participants said universities’ top management should also support quality assurance and ensure the institutions have a pool of well-trained quality assurance personnel. It was suggested that each country could select a university to train quality assurance staff specifically so that they receive formal training and have a career path.
Professor Mike Kuria, deputy executive secretary of IUCEA, suggested that university quality assurance directors needed to receive greater support in the face of quality control measures which were not always popular because they could lead to the closure of institutions or units.
“In the last few years universities have been closed and some programmes that were not measuring up were dropped, but even if it gives bad publicity to the university, it ought to be done,” he said.
Conference participants agreed that although quality assurance mechanisms were expensive, there is need to review the current systems and ensure the practice makes an impact on institutions and the various stakeholders.
“The aim is to have acceptable quality assurance based on the various stakeholders’ expectations and relevance to education, as well as how education is impacting on communities,” said Dr Cosam Chawanga Joseph, chief principal for quality assurance at IUCEA.
“The procedures and process must be continuous and ongoing,” said Dada. “At the Catholic University of South Sudan they have been advised to check on everything that contributes to quality services and products such as the facilities, staffing, programmes, resources, philosophy, mission, vision, leadership and governance.”
Continuous monitoring and evaluation of quality assurance systems was also under the spotlight.
After 10 years since its formation, EAQAN will need to evaluate its impact and efforts. “We have been practising quality assurance for a long time – almost 10 years – and we have to evaluate our efforts and impact to see if we are moving in the right direction,” said Joseph.
EAQAN President Dr Rita Makumbi said a model for monitoring quality assurance in higher education institutions in the region would require an institutional policy that guides implementation at different levels, including regional, national, college, faculty and departmental levels, and that takes account of people and available budgets.
In all countries that subscribe to EAQAN, quality assurance is done slightly differently and for slightly different purposes. For instance, many Burundian HEIs have adopted quality assurance as a management system to plan, evaluate and improve academic and administrative governance.
“In the case of Burundi, it is a response to the demands of the country’s highest authorities to provide quality education,” said Dr Sylvie Hatungimana, National Commission for Higher Education in Burundi.
Self-assessment, she said, should allow the institution to make a comprehensive assessment of its situation, involving the entire community (teachers, administrative staff and students). This was done in conjunction with external evaluations conducted by a team of experts.
Outside of the universities, however, in most countries quality assurance still lacks an institutional home. “I suggest that EAQAN should be part and parcel of the IUCEA – that is where it should be housed with an office and a one-stop centre,” said Professor Michael Mawa, quality assurance director at Nkumba University in Uganda.
Dr Maria Goretti Kaahwa, curriculum specialist and quality assurance director at Kyambogo University in Uganda told University World News that quality assurance helps universities give students what they were promised. “We need to work together and see that standards are going up. Quality assurance is quite new but confronting it together will have a bigger impact,” she said.
“We all agree that monitoring is very important and I suggest that we should be monitored by our country chapters. If they monitor, they will take corrective measures. It will help us know of the best way forward,” she said.