The Higher Education Act of 1997 assigns responsibility for quality assurance in higher education in South Africa to the Council on Higher Education (CHE). This responsibility is discharged through its permanent sub-committee, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). The mandate of the HEQC includes quality promotion, institutional audit and programme accreditation. As part of the task of building an effective national quality assurance system, the HEQC has also included capacity development and training as a critical component of its programme of activities.
In addition to the requirements of the Higher Education Act, the HEQC’s quality assurance mandate is carried out within the framework of the Regulations for Education and Training Quality Assurers (ETQAs) of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which has overall responsibility for overseeing standard setting and quality assurance in support of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
Programme accreditation is a form of quality assurance which is practised in many countries and is usually associated with purposes of accountability and improvement in programme quality. In common with higher education systems in many parts of the world, South African higher education faces multiple stakeholder demands for greater responsiveness to societal needs through enhanced student access and mobility, through research and innovation that address social and economic development, and through engagement with local, regional and international communities of interest. Stakeholders also require that higher education institutions are able to provide the public with comprehensive information on the manner in which they maintain the quality and standards of their core academic activities, and to demonstrate sustained improvement in this regard.
The HEQC’s approach to programme accreditation is strongly shaped by the complex challenges facing higher education institutions in an era of radical restructuring within South African higher education. The programme accreditation system seeks to be responsive to the objectives of higher education transformation as reflected in various policy and legislative documents that have been published since 1994. Ensuring that improved and sustainable quality is part of the transformation objectives of higher education institutions is, therefore, a fundamental premise of the HEQC’s approach to quality assurance in general and to programme accreditation in particular.
In line with the vision of the White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education of a single, coordinated higher education system, this document sets out a common programme accreditation policy framework for universities, universities of technology, agricultural colleges, private providers and other providers whose programmes and qualifications fall under the jurisdiction of the HEQC. The specific needs and circumstances of various sectors within higher education will be taken into account within the parameters of the common policy framework.
The main focus in the HEQC’s programme accreditation system will be on the evaluation of new programmes, which will be carried out by the HEQC itself, or through partnerships with other statutory ETQAs in higher education on the basis of memoranda of understanding (MoUs). This is intended to ensure that only programmes that meet the necessary quality requirements are able to enter the higher education system. Existing programmes will be re-accredited through different arrangements, including HEQC national reviews and self-accreditation by the institutions themselves, provided the HEQC’s quality requirements are met.
The objectives, criteria and procedures for programme accreditation have been developed on the basis of extensive comparative research and pilot tests, and in consultation with key stakeholders in the higher education community.1 The implementation of programme accreditation will be closely monitored and appropriate adjustments made where necessary. Policy issues in higher education which are still evolving will also be taken into account.
Dr Mala Singh
Higher Education Quality Committee, Council on Higher Education
- This document should be read in conjunction with the HEQC’s Criteria for Programme Accreditation, 2004