Rispa Odongo, Former Chair of the Technical Working Group for the Development of the ASG-QA

The Africa Union (AU) and the European Union have come together to support higher education (HE) sector in Africa, focusing on harmonisation, quality and accreditation with special attention to regional collaboration and harmonisation in Quality Assurance. The Harmonisation of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation Initiative (HAQAA) has driven this since 2015.

Main Objectives of HAQAA

The HAQAA Initiative was established to support the development of a harmonised quality assurance and accreditation system at institutional, national, regional and Pan-African continental level. It is funded by the European Union Commission, in the context of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership. More specifically, the objective of the HAQAA1 initiative – the first phase (2015-2018) – was to support the Pan-African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Framework (PAQAF) – endorsed by the African Union. The activities carried out under HAQAA1 Initiative were considered to contribute to the different facets of PAQAF.

The Initiative was meant to:

  1. Simultaneously reinforce national quality assurance agencies/bodies and higher education institutional quality culture;
  2. Plant the seeds for aligning different existing regional quality assurance initiatives with PAQAF, and help to prop up new regional initiatives and quality assurance networks; and
  3. Give all regions (Northern, Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa) and countries common tools with which to both relate and build their quality assurance systems, while respecting diverse needs or contexts.

The achievements of HAQAA1

Broadly, the following broad achievements have been realised by the HAQAA Initiative in its first phase:

  1. Training senior staff of national quality assurance agencies (QAAs) from 41 African countries, through workshops organised at continental level under the topic “Developing a Common Understanding for QA in Africa”;
  2. Further implementation of an external quality rating mechanism (AQRM) to guide assessment of higher education institutions (HEIs), which was applied in volunteer universities in each region of the continent;
  3. Development of African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ASG-QA) in higher education institutions and quality assurance agencies; and
  4. Development of a methodology for external assessment of quality assurance agencies (QAAs), which was used for external assessment of four mature QAAs and consultancies for four QAAs in the process of establishment.

How the ASG-QA is influencing QA and QA training in Africa

I would like to remind the public that the ASG-QA;

  1. Is one of the tools of PAQAF;
  2. A set of overriding non descriptive, flexible standards and guidelines for internal and external quality assurance in higher education;
  3. Provides a baseline for the development of good quality assurance systems and practices in HE in Africa, at both HEI level and QAA levels, through self-assessment and external review;
  4. Provides a unified framework applicable to all quality assurance processes, allowing for an enhancement-led approach for institutional and educational quality; and
  5. Fosters a shared quality culture and facilitates cross-border recognition of quality assurance and accreditation.

The ASG-QA is presented in 3 parts:

Part A: Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) – Standards and Guidelines for Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) at the level of higher education institutions, which incorporates standards and guidelines for open and distance learning (ODL) modes of delivery. They cover areas that are considered essential for attainment of provision of quality higher education, focusing mainly on:

  1. Institutional governance, policies and processes that promote quality higher education;
  2. Teaching and learning environment;
  3. Research and innovation; and
  4. Collaboration and community engagement.

Part B: External Quality Assurance (EQA) – Describes the methodologies (or standards) used by QAAs for external quality assurance (EQA) of higher education institutions. EQA ensures that higher education institutions subject themselves to periodic external assessment for purposes of accountability and quality enhancement. EQA takes into account the standards and guidelines in Part A (IQA) to ensure that:

  1. IQA examined is relevant to and efficient for the concerned higher education institution; and
  2. there is consistency between internal quality assurance by institutions themselves and external quality assurance by QAAs.

Part C: Internal Quality Assurance for QAA – Is for internal quality assurance of QAAs through self-assessment of its policies, practices, procedures and activities and/or for external review by another relevant body or peer organisation.

It covers:

  1. Policies, processes and activities of the QAA;
  2. Legal status;
  3. Vision and mission;
  4. Financial and human resources;
  5. Independence; and
  6. Criteria and processes used by the QAA.

Purpose of ASG-QA

The broad objectives of the standards and guidelines are to support HEIs and QAAs in Africa in implementing good practices for QA – develop adequate IQA mechanisms. Specifically, they are intended to:

  1. Provide a common framework and understanding of QA among stakeholders, at continental, regional, and national levels;
  2. Develop mutual trust and hence facilitate recognition and mobility of students and human resources across borders;
  3. Ensure quality improvement/enhancement through self-assessment, external review and continuous monitoring and evaluation (M&E);
  4. Promote transparency and accountability by providing appropriate information to the public;
  5. Promote a sustainable quality culture in HEIs, alongside the AQRM;
  6. Support the production of relevant teaching and learning resources as well as students’ assessment instruments; and
  7. Promote international competitiveness of Africa’s higher education system.

Impact of the ASG-QA during the Drafting Process and Benchmarking

To achieve the above expectations of ASG-QA, benchmarking and consultations among stakeholders were used during the drafting process (2016-2017) for purposes of acceptability within the higher education sector. These included: (a) establishment of a Technical Working Group (TWG) as part of HAQAA Initiative, with membership representing the five (5) regions of the Continent, with skills in the four AU languages – English, French, Arabic and Portuguese; (b) the ASG-QA were based on the standards and guidelines for higher education already in use in African countries, with noted high level of similarities; (c) consultations with regional quality assurance networks or associations such as, the Inter University Council of East Africa (IUCEA), the Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ANQAHE), and the African and Malagache Council for Higher Education (CAMES) in Francophone countries; (d) ASG-QA were benchmarked with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) and other international standards and guidelines.

Impact through the Consultation and Dissemination Process

To further ensure acceptability and dissemination and adoption of ASG-QA, specific consultations were made with strategic bodies, namely: (a) the Advisory Board of HAQAA and the AUC; (b) Vice Chancellors of HEIs at their 14th AAU General Conference 5-8 June 2017 in Accra, Ghana; (b) An Online Consultation conducted between June and August 2017 during which the draft ASG-QA was disseminated to major stakeholders in Africa – HEIs, QAAs, student organisations, ministries and governing bodies of higher education in Africa – for their input and comments (received 310 respondents from 40 countries), the feedback was very positive with higher education institutions responding that they were already implementing most of the ASG-QA; (c) Critical feedback was received from participants in the HAQAA Training Course – staff of QAAs from 41 African countries; (d) The draft ASG-QA was also presented at the 9thInternational Conference and Workshops on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa (ICQAHEA), Accra Ghana, 18-22 September 2017; (e) the Final HAQAA Stakeholder Consultation Workshop held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 16-17 November, 2017, which included HEIs, National QAAs, Ministries of HE, Regional QA Associations, University Associations, TUN     ING Africa, UNESCO, Africa Student Associations and sample of national student unions, regional and continental governments (AUC, SADC, ECOWAS, EAC, ECCAS; (f) The ASG-QA was finally presented to the HAQAA Advisory Board at its 5th Meeting held on 21st-22nd March 2018 in Maputo, Mozambique. All these strategies ensured that HEIs and QAAs would revise their standards and guidelines where necessary for purposes of provision of improved quality higher education.

Currently the ASG-QA: (a) have been finalised and can be used as a working document in African higher education; (b) have been officially endorsed by the African Union in early 2019; (c) are available in the four AU languages, namely: English, French, Arabic and Portuguese, and can be accessed at: https://haqaa.aau.org; (d) mapping with AQRM has been done to ensure that the two documents are complementary and mutually supportive of each other; and (e) Part B and Part C (for QAAs) have been piloted at four each of  existing QAAs, and as consultancy in countries that are in the process of  establishing a QAA.

Remaining challenges of implementation

The ASG-QA will serve as the guiding framework in facilitating establishment of QAAs in countries where they do not exist, and also to ensure adoption of best practices in existing QAAs and quality culture in HEIs. The remaining challenges include:

  • Political endorsement of all the HAQAA documents, including ASG-QA, at the highest AU level is necessary for their adoption and use in the continent;
  • National QAAs/bodies need to advocate for use of ASG-QA to ensure their implementation,
  • The AUC needs to promote adoption and the implementation of ASG-QA in universities and at QAAs;
  • The establishment of a Coordinating Body at continental level (AU) – whose working relationships/collaborations with national QAAs, national and regional QA networks must be made very clear for purposes of smooth implementation;
  • The development of a Register of HEIs and QAAs that have been externally reviewed using the ASG-QA and found to uphold the standards could be a task of this coordinating body.

However, the core challenges to achieving the objectives of PAQAF revolve around:

  1. Inadequate resources for increasing demand for higher education, and consequently judicious management of the available limited resources:
  2. Internal and regional conflicts, poor governance, and injudicious use of resources;
  3. Ensuring proper succession so that the quality culture that has been developed continues to be enhanced; and
  4. Alignment of AQRM with ASG-QA Part A for complementarity.

In Summary it is hoped that the HAQAA2 initiative, the PAQAF and the ASG-QA will ensure development of sustainable quality culture in higher education in Africa for a competitive continental higher education.

Dr. Rispa Odongo


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