HEQC: Programme Accreditation Framework

Executive Summary


Purpose of Document



  1. This document sets out for consultation and comment, proposals for an accreditation system for the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). The proposals seek to give effect to the statutory quality assurance responsibility for the accreditation of the programmes of higher education institutions, assigned to the HEQC by the Higher Education Act of 1997 as well as by the Education and Training Quality Assurer (ETQA) regulations of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). The proposals outline an accreditation system for new and existing programmes offered by universities, technikons, agricultural colleges, registered and accredited private providers and other providers whose qualifications and programmes fall under the jurisdiction of the HEQC. The proposals for accreditation also indicate the relationship of the HEQC with other ETQAs in higher education. They further recommend a meaningful connection with the statutory audit responsibility of the HEQC, motivated by the intention to create a coherent and integrated approach to quality assurance in higher education.




Objectives of HEQC accreditation model



  1. To identify and grant recognition status to programmes that can satisfy the HEQC's minimum standards for provision, or demonstrate their potential to do so in a stipulated period of time.

  2. To protect students from poor quality programmes through accreditation and re accreditation arrangements that build on reports from self-evaluation and external evaluation activities, including HEQC audits, and other relevant sources of information.

  3. To encourage and support providers to institutionalise a culture of self-managed evaluation that builds on and surpasses minimum standards.

  4. To utilise all available quality assurance capacity and experience in a co-operative approach to accreditation.




Key elements in the model



  1. The model is based on a clear distinction between new and existing programmes and professional and non professional programmes.

  2. The HEQC and/or partner ETQA will require new programmes to undergo a three step process that includes a candidacy phase, a mid term check and a final accreditation phase. Site visits could occur in any or more than one phase of the process.

  3. Accreditation for a new programme is a recognition status granted for a stipulated period of time depending on the duration of the programme, after a three step evaluation process indicates that the programme meets or exceeds minimum thresholds of educational quality. The third phase (finalisation of accreditation) must be completed within one year of the first cohort of learners graduating from a new programme.

  4. Existing programmes will be re accredited in the following way.

    • Non professional programmes

      • By provider if granted self accreditation status for a six year period by the HEQC, depending on the effectiveness of internal quality assurance mechanisms demonstrated during an audit visit, and other quality assurance related information.

      • By the HEQC if self accreditation status is not achieved by the provider.


    • Professional programmes

      • By the HEQC in partnership with other relevant ETQAs in a range of co operation modalities.






Principles of accreditation



  1. The model presumes strong accountability and requires the observance of minimum standards and requirements before

    • The provider can begin to offer a programme.

    • The programme has final accreditation status.


  2. The stipulation of minimum standards is intended to protect students from poor quality programmes, safeguard the credibility of qualifications and facilitate articulation between programmes and providers.

  3. External expert evaluations form a fundamental component of the accountability requirements of the model.

  4. The achievement of self accreditation status by a provider on the basis of the demonstration of effective internal quality assurance systems will lessen HEQC scrutiny for existing programmes where no other ETQA is involved, and place quality assurance responsibility for the re accreditation of existing programmes with the institution itself.

  5. Co operation with other ETQAs in the case of professional and work-related programmes will be based on a range of partnership models, depending on the nature of the provider and the level of the programme or qualification.




Criteria for HEQC accreditation judgements



  1. The HEQC will make judgements based on minimum standards set at different levels:

    • General provider standards (e.g. infrastructural capacity) will be linked to the institutional efficiency requirements of the Department of Education (DoE) and the institution's own governance structures.

    • General programme standards relating to, for example, compliance with the level descriptors in the proposed New Academic Policy (NAP).

    • Specific programme standards relating to standards registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and/or the requirements of relevant ETQAs.


  2. A more detailed specification of criteria and standards will be finalised in consultation with providers in time to be used for the new accreditation system in 2003.




Consequences of accreditation judgements



  1. A range of decisions with positive and negative consequences for the provider are possible, depending on the outcomes of the evaluation processes used by the HEQC.

    • Candidature status for a new programme enabling the provider to begin offering the programme to the first cohort of students.

    • Conditional accreditation for a stipulated period of time with the requirement for the provider to attend to specified problem areas.

    • Full accreditation for a stipulated period of time.

    • Withdrawal of accreditation.

    • Re accreditation of existing programmes for an additional period of time by the HEQC or the provider itself depending on the nature of the programme.





Accreditation process



  1. Proposals in the document encompass details of various aspects of the accreditation process, including provider requirements for each phase of the three step accreditation process for new programmes, decision making and timeframes, appeals procedures and other relevant issues.