The Council on Higher Education launches new focus on quality of university teaching and learning
What helps and hinders student success in higher education will come into sharp focus when Vincent Tinto, professor of education at Syracuse University in the United States, visits South Africa. At the invitation of the Council on Higher Education (CHE), he will be in the country from August 19.
Tinto's book, Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action, builds on his world-renowned research, which spans several decades, on student performance. He addresses successful practices from university classrooms to institutional policies and strategic planning.
Given that only about half of the students entering public universities in South Africa actually graduate, increasing our students' success must become a national priority.
One of the hindrances to student success is that many institutions' approach is fragmented, often driven by individual champions or short-term funding opportunities.
"Despite years of effort, institutions have yet to develop a coherent framework to guide their thinking about which actions matter most and how they should be organised and successfully implemented," Tinto said.
"Too often, institutions invest in a laundry list of actions, one disconnected from another. The result is an unco-ordinated patchwork of actions whose sum impact on student retention is less than it could or should be."
A patchwork of actions
In a country such as South Africa, with a student population characterised by great diversity — academic, cultural, language and socioeconomic — an unco-ordinated patchwork of actions cannot address the diverse needs of our students.
Although many examples of successful initiatives at individual institutions exist, large-scale student success will only be possible through systematic and systemic planning and interventions at both institutional and national levels.
Tinto's visit is part of the CHE's "quality enhancement project". The CHE is responsible for quality assurance and promotion in higher education in South Africa. From 2004 to 2011 it conducted in-depth institutional audits of all 23 universities.
The CHE's analysis of the audit reports, coupled with an external evaluation of the CHE's higher education quality committee, led to a decision to focus on promoting quality in teaching and learning rather than immediately embarking on another round of institutional audits. Over the next few years, the CHE's institutional audits directorate will run the quality enhancement project.
More graduates are essential for development
Its focus will be on increasing student success, which it is operationally defining as "enhanced student learning with a view to increasing the number of graduates with attributes that are personally, professionally and socially valuable". More graduates with valuable attributes are essential for all spheres of South Africa's development.
During the course of the project, higher education institutions will be asked to bring their considerable knowledge, wisdom, skill and experience to bear on addressing seemingly intractable problems that hinder student success, as well as identifying promising practices to facilitate student success.
However, the problem of increasing student success is too big, too complex, too urgent and too important for individual institutions to solve on their own. Collaboration within and across institutions will therefore be essential. So, too, will be the need for credible data to provide evidence for what works and what does not.
Outcomes of the quality enhancement project will include benchmarks and codes of good practice, shared tools and resources, policy recommendations, research and communities of practice that work on specific aspects of improving student success. In facilitating the project, the CHE will draw on both national and international expertise, including from the Scottish Quality Assurance Agency, which has 10 years of experience in quality enhancement. The project will be launched early in 2014.
Regional symposia with Professor Vincent Tinto will be held on August 19, 21 and 23 in Durban, Pretoria and Stellenbosch respectively. Registration is closed but the symposia will be recorded.
For further information email [email protected]
Professor Diane Grayson is the director of institutional audits at the Council on Higher Education