A new report published by (European University Association) EUA presents the outcomes of a two-year pilot project designed to support the development of quality assurance (QA) in African higher education.
The project, entitled Europe-Africa Quality Connect: Building Institutional Capacity through Partnership (QA Connect), was carried out by a consortium led by EUA and the Association of African Universities (AAU)*. It was designed to assess the feasibility of using EUA’s Institutional Evaluation Programme (IEP) methodology in African universities. The IEP is an independent service of EUA that is designed to support participating institutions in the continuing development of their strategic management and internal quality culture. Since the IEP was established, it has carried out over 300 evaluations in Europe and worldwide.
As in other parts of the world, the growth in higher education participation (and the number of institutions) in Africa over the last 50 years has highlighted the need to develop formal QA processes. QA agencies started to emerge in Africa in the 1990s and cooperation at the regional level has been developing in recent years. In 2009, the AAU set up the first pan-African network for QA which has been an important step for QA development in Africa. While QA is developing rapidly, it still remains in a formative stage in many countries. QA agencies are still relatively scarce (the report cites that 19 African states out of 55 have a national QA agency) and more efforts are still required to develop a shared understanding of QA and practices across the continent. Furthermore, the African Union has indentified QA cooperation as a key element in its ‘Harmonisation of African Higher Education Strategy’.
Within this context, the QA Connect project set out not only to test the suitability of the IEP methodology in different universities and national contexts in Africa, but also to promote dialogue on QA developments between Europe and Africa. Quality assurance was one of several priority topics identified by a previous EUA-AAU-led project ‘Access to Success: Fostering Trust and Exchange between Europe and Africa’ (2008-2010), a project which resulted in a White Paper on university cooperation principles for Africa and Europe. QA Connect, while targeting capacity development in African universities, was also based on the principle of mutual exchange between quality assurance actors in Europe and Africa, and was used to inform EUA’s work in supporting the internationalisation of QA in Europe.
The QA Connect methodology consisted of a call for participation and selection by AAU of five universities, offering a balance in terms of geography, size of institution, and their relationship to the government. The evaluation visits were conducted by a team of European and African experts, and were preceded by a training workshop for the experts and a preparatory workshop for the institutions being evaluated. Following the publication of the evaluation reports for each of the five universities on the project website, the strengths and weaknesses of the exercise were discussed at a workshop bringing together the institutions and a wide range of HE stakeholders.
The results of the project confirm the need to conduct institutional evaluations in Africa, in the context of the changing HE landscape across the continent. The report recommends that a programme similar to the IEP and managed by the AAU would be useful in preparing universities for their national exercises and would strengthen the role of universities in managing quality, thus raising overall quality levels. These evaluations would therefore complement national QA processes and activities. The development of an Africa-wide pool of experts for implementing such a programme would also help to gather and pool comprehensive knowledge on QA and governance of African universities, and thus develop expertise in institutional development. It would also be important to continue to promote dialogue on QA and exchange of practices between Africa and Europe and other parts of the world – which were valuable aspects for the African and European partners involved in the project.
The report also concludes that AAU is committed to looking for additional funding to lead and continue such an evaluation programme, and will look to work with regional and national bodies across Africa to assist in alleviating the differences in QA that exist across the continent. EUA and AAU will continue their dialogue and partnership around this and other topics.