Quality Assurance issues are important for all African Higher Education Institutions in view of the fact that the quality of many African higher education institutions has been adversely affected in recent years by harsh economic, social, political and even conflict situations on the continent.
It is evident that mechanisms for assuring quality must be revived or put in place in the various institutions to enable them take a critical self analysis of their programmes and institutional capacity, and to make significant contributions to the global educational enterprise and the world of work.
The Association of African Universities (AAU) is facilitating this process by promoting the establishment of national and regional quality assurance systems on the continent. Why quality assurance for higher education in Africa?
Quality higher education has now been found to be important to national development. Indeed, the World Bank had recognized higher education as a critical element of development in which developing countries must build in earnest, if they are to make progress in a world that feeds on knowledge and breeds on competition.
It was therefore noted that African countries and other least developed countries could use knowledge to narrow their income gap with developed world economies.
A UNESCO task force on higher education in Developing countries had corroborated this, noting that higher education is essential to developing countries, if they are to prosper in a world economy where knowledge has become a vital area of advantage.
This Latter report indicated that “the quality of knowledge generated within higher education institutions and its availability to the wider economy is becoming increasingly critical to national competitiveness.
In addition, Bloom et al., (2005) provided evidences to show the positive impact that tertiary education can have on economic growth and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Unfortunately, for many African countries, higher education had witnessed a long period of relative neglect and stagnation. Unfortunately, the neglect has resulted in a gross decline in the quality of higher education in Africa.
This decline came up at a time when higher education was experiencing escalating enrolments, declining resources, academic brain-drain among others.
The World Bank (1994) noted that fiscal constraints, faced by many countries, coupled with increasing demand, has led to overcrowding, deteriorating infrastructure, lack of resources for non-salary expenditures, such as textbooks and laboratory equipment, and a decline in the quality of teaching and research activities, in many countries.
There is a current effort at revitalizing higher education in Africa. One of the first initiative is to arrest the deterioration that has gone on for many years.
The process of doing this will involve Quality Assurance. “Quality” as a concept has been variously recognized to mean “fitness for purpose’; ‘transformation from one state to another with value-added’; ‘attainment of a flawless product’’; “excellence’; ‘attainment of exceptionally high standards’ among others.
Quality assurance in higher education , which is recognized as the “planned and systematic review process of an institution or programme to determine that acceptable standards of education, scholarship, teaching , administration and infrastructure are being maintained and enhanced, was therefore identified as an issue that needs urgent attention for the revitalization of higher education in Africa.