The political transition in South Africa in 1994 brought a number of direction-setting changes to the policy landscape and implementation systems of all areas of social provision, including higher education. Within the new national framework for South African higher education that was put in place by government, quality assurance was postulated as a policy instrument which, together with planning and funding, was intended to steer the system towards improved quality in all its component elements. Quality education for all was part of a package of social and educational goals and objectives that was set for the system in the post-1994 dispensation. Right from the start, issues of quality were thus linked with broader socio-political reform objectives within higher education and beyond.
The HEQC developed its quality assurance system in a context that took international trends and practices into account while seeking to address national objectives and local needs. In addition to the usual challenges faced by quality assurance agencies, the HEQC had to contend with the inherited legacies of racial exclusion in higher education and the volatility associated with multiple mergers, incorporations and re-designations. Most challenging of all was the legislative requirement to undertake simultaneously both institutional audit and programme accreditation functions, which are philosophically and operationally quite different and equally demanding. These together with quality promotion and capacity development added up to a very large and intensive agenda of work for the HEQC. The approach to quality and quality assurance within an emerging democratic dispensation gave the usual tensions in quality assurance between accountability and improvement the added edge of forging at the same time a connection between quality and equity. It is only against the complex demands of this context that the strategic choices of the HEQC and the constraints under which it has operated can be understood.
In preparing this self-evaluation, the HEQC has taken into account its mandated responsibilities, its mission and objectives as well as its own understandings of quality. It has also used the good practice parameters for quality assurance agencies set out in the INQAAHE Guidelines of Good Practice (2007).
This self-evaluation report is organised into eight sections. Section 1 provides the history of the HEQC since its launch in 2001; section 2 analyses the main characteristics of the South African higher education system; section 3 provides an account of the legislative and regulatory mechanisms within which the HEQC operates; section 4 focuses on the HEQC’s governance and operational structures; section 5 looks at the mission and values of the HEQC and explains its understanding of quality assurance, section 6 looks at the core functions of the HEQC and provides an evaluative analytical account of each quality assurance sub-system; section 7 provides an account of how the HEQC manages public information, and section 8 provides an overall conclusion to the self-evaluation. This document also has 9 appendices that provide further information about and evidence for issues raised in the body of the report.