Quality assurance and harmonisation of higher education in Zimbabwe: Part Four…harmonisation benefits

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LasT week’s article talked of the need to have a harmonised regional framework on education which would cascade to country-level. This included accreditation which would result in certification of standards of quality. Here we continue…
A unified education framework is also indispensable to this process.
It is a pity that at the moment Zimbabwe has not yet established a national qualification framework (NQF).
In fact it is regrettable that even though it pioneered the development of NQF in the region, it is still to develop one when in fact the rest of the SADC region is done with their NQFs.
It is the fervent hope of these writers that ZIMCHE expedites the development of such a framework so that it can be used as a point of reference for the harmonisation of higher education in the country.
Once in place, Zimbabwe universities can draw areas of commonalities between them and sister institutions.
The idea is to promote understanding and visibility concerning possibilities for individual progress through life chances and market opportunities.
The idea is also to promote an understanding of how to access higher and different levels of education and training over a lifetime as well as plan for children’s educational progress.
It is to contribute to capacity development; promote the comparability and transferability of qualifications and skills.
It is to enhance employer confidence in staff recruitment and training; to facilitate educational and labour market mobility; as well as facilitate curriculum design and development with the aid of credit descriptors as they exist within the NQF.
The ultimate purpose is to respond to the requirements for sustainable development by enabling the recognition of (formal and informal) learning in lifelong and life-wide settings by providing possibilities for people of all ages and circumstances to access appropriate education and training and fulfil their personal, social and economic potential.
Harmonisation also draws from the participation of all key stakeholders in shaping higher education curricula.
These key stakeholders include the employment sector in general, industries, professional bodies, policy makers, communities, partners in development, well-meaning civic institutions and the student polity itself.
They all have expectations from the education system. As such they must have a say in the key curriculum processes such as content selection, skills development, methodology selection as well as selection of evaluation procedures.
A unified curriculum in the country is highly recommended to achieve the desired goal of the nation’s and region’s communities.
Once the curriculum has been harmonised, the role of quality assurance comes into force.
The importance of internal quality assurance structures which work with external quality assurance agencies needs no overstating here.
Both internal and external quality assurance mechanisms need to be harmonised so that they work in unison to ensure that the entire education system is tailor-made to transform the people’s lives in line with the national vision in which national development goals are embedded.
Foreseeable challenges
The implementation of the harmonisation idea is, however, not a walk in the park. It is certainly fraught with challenges.
The major hitch is overcoming attitudes of stasis or negative conservatism especially on the part of policymakers.
Political buy-in is key to anything that involves changing attitudes at national level.
The capacity to transform lethargic political will is not a small task.
Even where political will is provided developing countries may not be able to fund the process.
This chapter has already acknowledged that there have been efforts by policymakers in the region to think of ways to harmonise higher education systems to allow for a more fluid flow of students and scholars but these efforts have often run up against powerful nation-specific priorities.
Resistance can also come from institutions themselves. Either way, steps should be taken in order to increase student readiness. Barriers to language and communication must be overcome and there should be serious efforts to reduce constraints that are very ‘territorial’ in nature.
Admittedly, students involved in mobility programmes may be faced with adjustment problems, particularly with respect to instructional practices, curriculum incomparability and cultural diversity.
Then there is the language problem; differences in languages post a great barrier for inward and outward mobility of students at the macro level.
‘Territorial’ constraint, whereby each country hopes to safeguard the uniqueness of their educational programmes may ultimately constrain the implementation of regional harmonisation efforts.
In conclusion, familiarisation with the idea and concept of harmonisation, as opposed to standardisation, of higher education system in Zimbabwe and the SADC is indeed an initial but critical step towards the implementation of a meaningful and effective harmonisation of higher education system in the region.
While managers of a higher education institutions and academics are not ignorant of the idea of harmonisation, they tend to talk of it with reference to the Bologna Process in Europe instead of as indigenous owners of the process.
Other stakeholders (particularly students), however, are not very familiar with how this concept could be realised in the context of our region which is culturally and politically diverse.
The task of creating a common higher education space is insurmountable in view of the vast differences in the structure and performance of the various higher education systems and institutions in the country.
Admittedly, we need to harmonise the internal structure of the higher education systems in the first instance before attempting a region-wide initiative.
More importantly, the determination to realise this idea of harmonising higher education should permeate and be readily accepted by the local and regional community which calls for concerted conscientisation.
Policymakers are expected to take the lead while ZIMCHE and our universities should champion the implementation process.
Equally important, national prejudices and suspicions need to be put aside if we are to realise regional aspirations and goals.

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