HEQC: Programme Audit Framework

Executive Summary


Purpose of Document



  1. This document sets out for consultation and comment proposals for an audit system for the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). The proposals seek to give effect to the statutory quality assurance responsibility to audit the quality assurance mechanisms of higher education providers, assigned to the HEQC by the Higher Education Act of 1997. The proposals outline an audit system for universities, technikons, agricultural colleges, and registered and accredited private providers the qualifications of which fall under the jurisdiction of the HEQC. The proposals for audit also recommend a meaningful connection with the statutory accreditation responsibility of the HEQC, motivated by the intention to create a coherent and integrated approach to quality assurance that encompasses both statutory responsibilities.




Objectives of the HEQC audit



  1. To enable a higher education institution to assure itself, stakeholders and the HEQC that its policies, systems and processes for the development, maintenance and enhancement of quality in all its educational offerings are functioning effectively.

  2. To enable providers and the HEQC to identify areas of strength and excellence as well as areas in need of focused attention for improvement in the short, medium and long term.

  3. To provide a critical information source for the HEQC that will enable the institution to acquire self-accreditation status for a six-year period. This will allow the institution to take responsibility for the evaluation and accreditation of its own existing programmes in all fields not covered by a professional council or Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA).

  4. To provide for consistency in quality assurance across the higher education sector and generate a national picture of the role of quality assurance in the transformation of higher education. It will also enable the HEQC to make a judgement on the overall status of quality assurance in higher education and monitor system level improvement.




Principles of the HEQC audit



  1. The primary responsibility for quality and quality assurance rests with the higher education providers. Providers are required to establish and sustain effective institutional quality assurance systems and processes that will yield reliable information for internal planning, and improvement and external audit.

  2. The external audit system of the HEQC will validate the effectiveness of internal quality assurance arrangements, especially as they pertain to development, enhancement and monitoring of quality in teaching and learning, research and service learning programmes. Evidence for the validation will come primarily from the self-evaluation report and reports from institutionally managed evaluations.

  3. The audit will provide the institution, its stakeholders and the HEQC with reliable information on whether and how the institution is assuring quality in its educational programmes. Relevant information from the audit will be available in the public domain.

  4. The audit will allow the institution to account to relevant stakeholders on how effectively it is achieving its mission through the assurance of the quality of its education and training programmes, and how it is adhering to its own plans for continuous quality improvement. At the same time, the audit will enable the institution to set development targets for quality improvement on the basis of what it has already achieved.

  5. The audit information on the effectiveness of internal quality assurance systems offers the institution the possibility of achieving self-accreditation status for a period of six years, enabling it to re-accredit all existing programmes not covered by any professional council or SETA ETQA. The HEQC will grant this status on the basis of audit outcomes and other quality related information. This will reduce the scope and intensity of HEQC scrutiny and provide for relative institutional autonomy and self-regulation in certain programme areas.

  6. The achievement of self-accreditation status could become a target of quality assurance capacity development initiatives for the provider and the HEQC as well as of organisations like the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors' Association (SAUVCA), the Committee of Technikon Principals (CTP), the Alliance of Private Providers of Education, Training and Development (APPETD), the Association of Principals of Agricultural Colleges (APAC) and others.




Scope and focus of the HEQC audit



  1. The audit will address the broad institutional arrangements for effective teaching and learning, research and service learning programmes. Issues of governance, management, finances and other institutional operations will be looked at only in relation to their impact on these areas. The HEQC will, where appropriate, draw on Department of Education (DoE) reports and other sources of information on general institutional management issues.

  2. The following areas will be targeted for attention:

    • Institutional quality assurance:

      1. Policies, systems, structures, resources and activities to support and enhance the quality of teaching and learning.

      2. Policies, systems, structures, resources and activities to support and enhance the quality of research (if pertinent to institutional mission).

      3. Policies, systems, structures, resources and activities to support and enhance the quality of service learning programmes including co-operative education programmes (if pertinent to institutional mission).

      4. The integration of quality assurance with institutional planning and resource allocation.

      5. Stakeholder and/or expert surveys on the quality of provision.

      6. Benchmarking standards and good practice in respect of effective quality systems (against institutional, national and international benchmarks).


    • In relation to teaching and learning, the following will be addressed:

      • Staff development policies, plans and activities.

      • Student access and development - policies, plans and activities.

      • Programme development and review - Internal quality assurance arrangements for:

        1. New programmes.

        2. Updating and monitoring of existing programmes.


      • Student assessment, throughput and completion rates.






Criteria for HEQC audit judgments



  1. The HEQC will take the institution's own specification of mission and objectives as a starting point for both the self-evaluation report and the external audit. It is assumed that institutional missions have taken national imperatives into account as articulated in the Higher Education Act, the National Plan for Higher Education, the Human Resource Development Strategy and other policy frameworks.

  2. The HEQC will operate within the minimum standards requirements for general institutional efficiency set by the DoE and institutional governance structures.

  3. The HEQC criteria for the areas of focus in relation to effective teaching and learning, research and service learning will be finalised in consultation with providers in time to be used during pilot audits in 2003.

  4. The HEQC will also take into account institutionally set requirements and guidelines for effective teaching and learning, research and service learning.




Consequences of the HEQC audit



  1. The purpose of audit is linked strongly to producing evidence-based information to be used by the institution for planning, implementing and monitoring quality development and improvement. Such information will be used by the HEQC to make a judgment on the effectiveness of the institution's internal quality systems for teaching and learning, research and service learning programmes, and make recommendations for improvement.

  2. The HEQC does not allocate any funds to institutions or programmes, nor does it make any direct input into decision-making on funding and financing higher education. HEQC audit outcomes, therefore, are not directly linked to funding. Funding for public institutions is the responsibility of the DoE, and for private providers the responsibility of their owners or governors.

  3. A positive audit judgement could contribute to a decision by the Accreditation Committee of the HEQC to grant self-accreditation status to the institution for a six-year period. This status will enable the institution under specified conditions, to re-accredit existing programmes in all areas not covered by a professional council or SETA ETQA.

  4. There will be no ranking of higher education institutions.




Methodology of the HEQC audit



  1. The audit cycle will be six years.

  2. Audit steps will include:

    • Self-evaluation by the institution in two parts:

      1. A descriptive component on what quality assurance is in place and with what objectives.

      2. An analytical component, which makes a judgment on the effectiveness of that which is in place.


    • External review by experts based on the self-evaluation report as well as information from institutionally managed programme evaluations.

    • Written report with recommendations for the institution.

    • Appropriate public report.

    • Monitoring and follow up including an institutional report to the HEQC in the middle of the audit cycle and a possible visit by HEQC staff.





The HEQC audit process



  1. Detailed suggestions in the document encompass pre-audit preparations, timeframes, reporting procedures, audit panels, orientation and training of panel members, documentation and other relevant issues.