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CHE > Media and Publications > Accreditation and National Reviews > Coordinating Quality Assurance in Higher Education
January, 2001

There are many role players in the quest for top quality higher education in South Africa. Ms Mary Mwaka HEQC Manager: Coordination, shares her experience.
Ms Mary Mwaka

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) was established by the Higher Education Act of 1997, which also made provision for the CHE to establish a permanent sub-committee, the Higher education Quality Committee (HEQC). The HEQC has been accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as the band Education and Training Quality Assuror (ETQA) for higher education. However, there are many other role-players with a stake in higher education, particularly the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA)-based ETQAs and professional councils, and this scenario could easily lead to overlap and duplication in the provision of quality assurance services and accreditation of programmes, resulting in the overburdening and fatiguing of the higher education system.

The HEQC Coordination Mandate

In order to bring about maximum coherence and minimum duplication, SAQA expects the HEQC to co-ordinate and facilitate quality assurance activities in HE within partnership models with other ETQAs. In addition, the Higher Education Act of 1997 provides for the delegation of any quality promotion and quality assurance functions by the HEQC to other appropriate bodies, with the concurrence of the CHE. The HEQC itself has indicated its willingness to engage in co-operative agreements with other ETQAs, and will seek to develop a sensible accountability regime for providers through partnerships with other quality assurance bodies and the co-ordination of the quality assurance activities of multiple agencies in HE.The Quality Co-ordination section of the Accreditation & Co-ordination Directorate has thus been tasked with this responsibility.

Building Lasting Relationships

Towards the end of last year (2002), we embarked on a project of developing a directory of all the role players in higher education. This is not only limited to ETQAs, but also includes non-ETQA professional councils and professional institutes. Our search has so far yielded more than 50 such bodies, which are diverse and quite complex in structure. These include:

  • SETA-based ETQAs,
  • Professional councils and institutes with ETQA status
  • Non-professional/Non-SETA-based ETQAs
  • Statutory professional councils
  • Non-statutory professional councils.

This process has given us a broad overview of who and what type of role players there are in higher education, but has also revealed the complexity in which the system is operating, and the difficulties of establishing relationships with such a diverse and complex mixture groups. The directory is valuable not only to us but also to other groups with a stake in higher education, such as higher education institutions (private and public), ETQAs, SAQA, Department of Education, and students. For me, the emphasis is not just on signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), but on understanding who is out there, what role they are playing in higher education and how we can all work together under these complex circumstances. For this reason, the process of developing and signing of MoUs has been rather slow, but will hopefully be laid on a firm foundation. The directory is currently being verified for correctness and accuracy of information and, and will hopefully be published in hard copy and on the CHE web-site by mid-March 2003.

In the interim, we have continued to hold meetings with representatives from the different bodies to discuss short-term mechanisms of working together, while still developing criteria, systems and processes to be incorporated in our New Accreditation System from 2004. Last year (2002), we held an ETQA forum where we discussed pertinent issues relating to quality assurance in higher education, and we also undertook accreditation visits together with the Engineering Council of South Africa, as part of the process of building these relationships. This year (2003), we shall concentrate on completing the criteria for the different models of co-operation, piloting some of these relationships, and signing of MoUs with the various bodies. Our early analysis indicates disjuncture in the following areas of criteria, peer evaluation, payment of fees, lack of clarity on accreditation versus registration, some professional councils becoming private providers. Our website is updated on an ongoing basis to provide latest information about the development of the HEQC coordination activities.

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