'Students have a right to quality'
Q: What is the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC)?
The HEQC is a permanent sub-committee of the Council on Higher Education (CHE), accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa) in 2001.
What does the HEQC do?
The HEQC is the Education and Training Quality Assurance Body (ETQA) for higher education.
This means that it is responsible for:
- promoting quality assurance in higher education
- auditing the quality assurance mechanisms of higher education institutions
- accrediting programmes in both public and private institutions of higher education.
What are the key criteria used for accreditation?
We look at a whole range of things, the most critical being:
- Need for the programme: Does the programme contribute to regional/national goals and does it provide prospects of employment upon completion?
- Capacity: does the institution have sufficient infrastructure to offer the programme? (for example, library holdings, laboratories, computers etc.). Are the academics sufficiently qualified and experienced to teach this programme?
- Quality of programme content: This includes examining the level of the programme assessment procedures employed by the institution, the quality of examinations, tests and assignments and whether there are external moderation practices in place.
How long does the process of accreditation take, from the time the private provider applies to registering the institution with the HEQC?
The process can take anything from four to six months. Some people complain that this is too long, but we want students to get quality education.
Once a private provider is accredited, how long is this accreditation valid for?
All accreditation granted at this time are regarded as interim accreditation, granted for three to five years depending on whether it is full accreditation or conditional. A permanent procedure will be put in place in the next year.
What do you see as the main challenges facing private providers in higher education?
The private provider sector is fairly young and inexperienced. They need to begin to think of education beyond money issues and see it also to be about quality. They need to provide quality higher education to students. That will also help them attract more students. They also need to link their students with the world of work.
How does the HEQC assist private providers to improve the quality of their service?
We help them build capacity. For example, last year during our evaluations we realised that vocational education was not properly done and this year we are planning workshops on vocational education.
Conditionally accredited providers are allowed to enroll students. What happens if this institution fails to make the necessary improvements and has accreditation withdrawn? Where do the students go then?
Students are transferred to nearby institutions and the deaccredited institution must repay them. The Department of Education (DoE) represents the interests of the students and can force institutions to repay.
Are there any plans to try to establish higher education institutions in provinces like the Northern Cape and Limpopo, which do not have any accredited private providers?
Private providers operate in areas where there’s an economic hub. They make money and will go where the money is. They have a challenge to be responsive to other regions. We can only encourage them to go there.
What is the HEQC’s relationship with the DoE and Saqa?
Saqa is the overall body for accreditation. It monitors all quality assurers.
Saqa registers all qualifications and ensures that there is quality assurance for all qualifications. We work within the framework of quality assurance established by Saqa.
What is the relationship between the HEQC and quality assurers for the Sector Education Training Authority (Setas)?
From 1 April 2003 the CHE will be the only body that the DoE will recognise for the accreditation of higher education
We will draw on the expertise that there is in the Setas and professional councils and have partnerships with them to ensure the quality of all higher education qualifications.
Dr Prem Naidoo is the director of programme accreditation and coordination at the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC)