In terms of the Higher Education Act (no. 101 of 1997) and the Higher Education Amendment Act (no. 39 of 2008), the Council on Higher Education (CHE) is responsible for quality assurance for higher education, and for implementation of the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF).
The HEQF, in turn, assigns to the CHE the responsibility for developing standards for all higher education qualifications. The standards
must have legitimacy, credibility and a common, well-understood meaning, and they must provide benchmarks to guide the development, implementation and quality assurance of programmes leading to qualifications. (Department of Education, 2007.)
There are two important points here that should inform standards development. The first is the set of characteristics that ought to influence the process as it unfolds, if it is to be regarded by all interested parties as being beneficial to the higher education sector. The second is the emphasis on standards as a developmental guide for programme design and delivery, rather than as rigid instruments for regulating compliance. It is within this context that the CHE proceeds with its mandate.
Standards development in the context of quality assurance
The role of the CHE as the Quality Council for higher education means that its responsibility for standards should proceed alongside its other statutory responsibilities in the areas of quality assurance, including the accreditation and re-accreditation of programmes, institutional reviews, and national reviews. The coexistence of all these responsibilities in the same body puts the CHE in a privileged position to advance the objectives of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) within the higher education system. The model for standards presented here takes cognisance of some of the complexities and difficulties experienced in the implementation of the HEQF in relation, for example, to the programme accreditation aspect of the quality assurance function.
Planning by the CHE for higher education standards goes back a number of years, at least to the publication in July 2004 by the erstwhile Department of Education of a draft HEQF for public comment. A brief summary of the research conducted in this field is contained in Appendix A. Over the last few years, there has been limited progress in giving effect to the role of standards development, due largely to a need for confirmation of the allocation of dedicated funding and to clarification of the organizational structure and core functions of a Standards Directorate to ensure alignment with the Council's mandate, as provided for by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the HEQF. The issues of funding, structure and functions have since been addressed, and the CHE is ready to proceed with its standards development mandate.