The Council on Higher Education (CHE) was established by the Higher Education Act of 1997 as an independent statutory body. That Act conferred two major areas of responsibility on the Council. The first was the mandate to advise the Minister of Higher Education and Training (or the Minister of Education at the time) on all matters of higher education in order to further the goals of equity and quality in the system, and to help it respond to economic and social development needs, provide effective and efficient management and contribute to the public good. The second major responsibility was the establishment and management of an external quality assurance system for higher education, to be carried out through its permanent committee, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). The NQF Act of 2005 placed a further responsibility on the CHE, which is now also the Quality Council (QC) for higher education, and as such it must manage its sub-framework of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), that is, the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF).
In the early years of the CHE’s existence, the national context was one of extensive policy development in order to transform the higher education system and develop a single, democratic, equitable, planned, coordinated and expanded higher education system. In 1999 the Minister of Education sought the CHE’s advice on the optimal size and shape of the higher education system, which to some extent informed the development of the National Plan of 2001, and set in motion a range of policy developments that ultimately led to a fundamental restructuring of the system in the mid-2000s through mergers and incorporations. The CHE has since published its research and advice in many areas of importance in higher education, for example, academic policy, governance, private higher education, teaching and learning and the state of provision of particular qualification types. These have been either occasional publications, or volumes of particular series, such as the Higher Education Monitor and Kagisano.
The Higher Education Quality Committee was established in 2001, and in the first years it concentrated on a consultative process of laying the foundations for a national quality assurance system that included programme accreditation, institutional audits and quality promotion. The HEQC’s Founding document was published in 2001 and its key policies and frameworks for implementation were finalised by 2004, a year which also marked the beginning of the implementation of its quality assurance activities. In the last decade, the first cycle of institutional audits was carried out and is now nearing completion; a rigorous system of programme accreditation for both public and private institutions was established and is in full operation; two extensive reviews of particular programmes offered across the system were effected with more in the pipeline; quality promotion and capacity development activities through workshops and print manuals were undertaken and the Higher Education Qualifications Framework was reviewed and an extensive alignment process of all existing programmes was begun.
The CHE and its HEQC is now a mature organisation, active in carrying out its functions in all mandate areas.