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Opinion - NCHE assumes leading role in regional quality assurance

2022-05-06  Prof Jairos Kangira

Opinion - NCHE assumes leading role in regional quality assurance

To all intents and purposes, the 5th Southern African Quality Assurance Network (SAQAN) conference that the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) hosted virtually in Namibia last week was a resounding success. 

SAQAN was founded in 2015. 

SAQAN is a voluntary and non-profit organisation which consists of quality assurance agencies, higher education institutions and professional bodies in the Sothern African Development Community (SADC) region.

It was impressive to note that the SAQAN conference attracted participants from fifteen countries in Africa, America, Asia and Europe, most of who attended the conference online. 

Among the participating institutions were 35 higher education institutions, 12 quality assurance agencies and five professional bodies working in the field of quality assurance. 

Amongst these, there were seventeen private higher education institutions.

 The growing participation of private higher education institutions in the SAQAN activities is noteworthy and affirms the notion that education is a fundamental right for the public that is provided by both public and private players.  The increased participation by private institutions emphasises the inclusive nature of the design of the quality assurance mechanisms and the need for the harmonisation of associated tools and techniques to be all-embracing.   

Run under the theme “Quality assurance in higher education in times of disruptions”, the conference interrogated various methods that were used to deliver higher education without compromising on quality during contemporary disruptions. 

It is apparent that higher education has been disrupted by Covid-19, associated with economic hardships and wars.  The Network provides a platform that higher education institutions use to foster collaboration and linkages to be able to survive the current and future hardships.  

In particular, this conference presented a platform to share global, continental and national experiences, best practices and approaches toward promoting the culture of quality assurance in higher education amid disruptions.

This conference was used to enhance SAQAN’s role as a leader in quality assurance within the Southern African sub-region and to support the development of quality assurance through capacity building in higher education institutions.  In addition, the other goal was to create a repository for shared knowledge and resources in quality assurance within the sub-region; and to develop an engaged and active community of practice in quality assurance in the SADC region. Addressing the conference participants Sylvia Demas, NCHE Deputy Executive Director: Operations and SAQAN Executive Secretary, had this to say: “As we jointly sharpen and work towards harmonisation of our quality assurance mechanisms, we should do so in a manner that furthers the overall aim of higher education, which is knowledge generation and exploitation for the benefit of our citizens.”

In essence, Namibia is playing a leading role in the sub-regions’ higher education quality assurance. It now hosts the SAQAN Secretariat, which was transferred from the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) to NCHE in early 2020. 

It must be appreciated that to assist the Executive Secretary of the Network, NCHE has allocated financial resources and seconded three staff members to attend to the day-to-day operations of the SAQAN, in addition to their regular work. 

As per Article 2 of the SAQAN Constitution, which provides for the registration of the Network in the hosting country, SAQAN was registered with the Business and Intellectual Property Authority (BIPA) of Namibia as a non-profit association incorporated under section 21 of the Companies Act (Act No. 28 of 2004). 

Retrospectively, the SAQAN 4th conference was hosted by the Lesotho Council on Higher Education in 2018.  

It was attended by 120 participants from 12 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.  A total of thirty papers were presented in the plenary and parallel sessions of the conference. 

Originally, the 5th conference was supposed to be hosted by the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE) in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges experienced by ZIMCHE, Namibia’s NCHE, volunteered to host the virtual conference in 2022. For the purpose of internationalisation of higher education and benchmarking, SAQAN has several collaborations with other institutions. 

It has a Memorandum of Understanding with IIEP-UNESCO and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for collaboration in capacity building in quality assurance of higher education in the Southern African region.  There also exists a Memorandum of Understanding between SAQAN and the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA). 

Furthermore, SAQAN is a member of the African Quality Assurance Network (AfriQAN). 

Equally important to the Network is a Memorandum of Understanding it has with the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE).

The existence of SAQAN is vital to the region as it presents a critical platform for building unity to tackle issues of quality assurance in higher education. 

This is in line with Jarvis (2014) who argues that “Despite continuing cross national variation in the composition and operating modalities of the higher education sector there are discernible trends in regulatory approaches to quality assurance”.  It is therefore imperative that each country in SADC has a responsibility to grow the Network membership base and live to the principles of SAQAN as enshrined in its Constitution.  The Secretariat will have to work hard to ensure that SAQAN remains a well-coordinated entity and accountable to its members. Most outstandingly, the 5th SAQAN conference was attended by Dr Maria Luisa Lopes Chicote, President of the African Quality Assurance Network (AfriQAN) and Dr Deb Adair, President of the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE).

2022-05-06  Prof Jairos Kangira

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