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CHE > Media and Publications > Documents Interest > A New Academic Policy for Programmes and Qualifications in Higher Education
December, 2001


In 1997 the 'White Paper' described the inherited academic policies and qualifications structures for higher education thus:

  • Separate and parallel qualification structures for universities, technikons and colleges have hindered articulation and transfer between institutions and programmes, both horizontally and vertically. The impermeability of multi-year degree and diploma programmes is a further obstacle to mobility and progression. This is clearly untenable in the light of the new National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the programme-based approach to higher education, which is premised on enhancing horizontal and vertical mobility through flexible entry and exit qualifications (White Paper, 1997: 2.65).

The White Paper went on to propose a single qualifications framework for higher education:

  • The Ministry endorses the principle that a single qualifications framework should be developed for all higher education qualifications in line with the NQF. In principle, the framework should comprise a laddered set of qualifications at higher education certificate, diploma and degree levels, including intermediate exit qualifications within multi-year qualifications. In addition, all higher education programmes, national or institutional, should be registered on the NQF, minimally at the exit level of whole qualifications (White Paper, 1997: 2.66).

Since then, higher education institutions have had to operate in a difficult, transitional policy context, for on the one hand they have had to comply with the new academic policy requirements laid down by SAQA for the interim registration of qualifications on the NQF, whilst on the other, the approval and accreditation of new programmes has had to be conducted on the basis of the existing pre-1994 academic policies. At the same time, SAQA’s Standards Generating Bodies have begun to design new higher education qualifications in circumstances that amount to an academic policy vacuum, and without the guidance of a unified qualifications framework for higher education. A new academic policy for South African higher education is therefore long overdue.

Background to the Development of this Policy Report

The Council on Higher Education established an Academic Policy Task Team (APTT) in 2000 in order to provide advice to the Minister of Education on the processes of registration and accreditation of higher education qualifications and programmes in the context of the NQF. The Academic Policy Task Team is broadly representative of the key role-players in the higher education sector and has earnestly sought to consult with the different role-players throughout its work.

Overview of the Report

The report consists of eight chapters and five appendices. Chapters do not need to be read sequentially. Chapter 1 outlines the purpose and the scope of the report. Chapters 2 and 3 provide the background and context for the report as required by the conventions of scholarship. However, those readers who wish to get to the heart of the report are advised to proceed from Chapter 1 directly to Chapters 4, 5 and 6. Chapter 4 is preceded by a ‘Reader’s Guide to the Higher Education Qualifications Framework’ to facilitate a quick reading and understanding of the report’s central proposals. Chapter 7 is a commentary on some of the implementation challenges currently facing higher education practitioners. This chapter can also be omitted by those readers wanting only the central proposals. A time frame for the implementation of the New Academic Policy is suggested at the end of Chapter 8. The appendices address a number of specific concerns and include a list of acronyms and a glossary of terms.

In summary:

Chapter 1 outlines the purpose and scope of the report.

Chapter 2 describes the inherited pre-1994 academic policies and critiques them as causing unnecessary fragmentation and lack of coordination in the higher education system and as being out of step with current realities.

Chapter 3 describes the global and national contexts that have shaped the development of this document and to which the New Academic Policy attempts to respond.

Chapter 4 provides a description and rationale for a new qualifications framework for South African higher education.

Chapter 5 provides a set of pilot level descriptors for the NQF. These were developed collaboratively with input from SAUVCA, the CTP and SAQA.

Chapter 6 provides detailed qualification descriptors for each of the qualifications recognized on the higher education qualifications framework. It also provides principles for the consistent naming of higher education qualifications and maps out systematically the articulation possibilities between them.

Chapter 7 does not describe policy per se, but is rather a commentary on a range of curriculum development issues and challenges that are related to the implementation of the new academic policy and to the new higher education policy context in general.

Chapter 8 outlines an implementation time frame for the new academic policy.


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