10.02.2016 - UNESCO Office in Harare

Concept of Connect-Africa welcomed at Harmonisation of Higher and Tertiary Education Conference in Harare

Harmonization and the mutual recognition of qualifications requires reform and innovation in Higher Education to ensure that the design of academic programmes is responsive to the needs of the current shift in our globalised knowledge-based societies. This also helps to ensure that we build the human capacity to confront the challenges as articulated under the new global development agenda, the 2030 Agenda, and under the AU Vision 2063.

These were part of the sentiments expressed at the opening of the Harmonisation of Higher and Tertiary Education Conference in Harare on 4 February, 2016 by Prof. Hubert Gijzen, Director and Representative for the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa.

Prof. Gijzen noted that systems of Higher Education are diverse in Africa, and also in other regions. He explained that harmonization does not therefore intend to create a uniform or standardised system of higher education but that the primary goal is to create general guidelines in areas such as degree comparability through similar degree cycle and qualifications framework, quality assurance, lifelong learning, or credit transfer system and so on. As such harmonisation has two dimensions: harmonisation of standards, and harmonisation of the structure or architecture of Higher Education systems.

“The ultimate aim of higher education institutions is quality of delivery. This relates to delivering high level, high quality and capable human resource capacity, and to advance the frontiers of knowledge via high quality research, innovation and technology development. I believe that, the higher goal, beyond harmonisation of programmes, is that of quality assurance and quality improvement. Harmonisation presents a key step to get there”, explained Prof Gijzen.

Given challenges faced by Africa, in achieving high quality programmes in each discipline at university level, Prof Gijzen noted that the mobilisation of the power of connectivity and co-operation would be the most realistic approach as opposed to dealing with each challenge in isolation.  In illustrating this approach, Prof Gijzen shared the history of UNESCO Connect Asia, a regional network linking national networks of universities who are connected via broadband internet and video conferencing. Once the infrastructure was established, UNESCO brought partner universities from different countries together to develop high quality joint programmes, using blended learning approaches – so e-learning modules combined with life lectures, seminars, staff and student exchanges etc.   The development of the UNESCO Asia School of Biotechnology, which is supported by some 20 different academic institutions in the region and delivers a very high quality MSc programme is a success story. Modules are contributed by individual universities, in their respective fields of expertise and research. Imagine what happens to quality if you put together, in one specific discipline, the best brains, knowledge and infrastructure of a large number of universities. This is the ‘quality leap argument’. Another example of a UNESCO initiative, now in Africa, is “Waternet”, which is a SADC-wide cooperation between universities offering high quality M.Sc., PhD and joint research programmes to train high calibre water experts for the region. The secretariat is hosted by the University of Zimbabwe. What these examples have in common is the fact that cooperation facilitates a quality leap for the academic programmes of the partner institutions, without each institution needing to invest in the full breadth of expertise and facilities to cover the subject. This he believed was the future for higher education, and Africa could benefit enormously from the concept of ‘Connect Africa’. Prof Gijzen pledged UNESCO’s support in such initiatives noting that it was part of the organisation’s mandate to promote and improve quality education.

The meeting was organised by the University of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE) whose mission is to “To promote quality enhancement and development of higher education in Zimbabwe, and act as a regulator and vanguard agency for high standards in teaching, research and academic qualifications.”

The opening was also graced by the Professor Jonathan Moyo (MP), Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Hon. Dr. G. Gandawa (MP), Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, the Chairperson of ZIMCHE Prof. Chetsanga, The Chief Executive Officer of  ZIMCHE, Prof. Ngara, CEO, ZIMCHE, Vice-Chancellors and Representatives from Higher Education institutions.

Prof Gijzen's speech is available by following this link.

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