Ensuring access to quality higher education and regional collaboration to internationalise higher education in Southern Africa

Improving the quality of higher education through the promotion of quality assurance/accreditation of higher education institutions and programmes, and the recognition of academic qualifications among member states is a key task that governments and other stakeholders need to address. New skills are needed for relevance on the job market with a vital role for ICT in building up 21st-century skills, broadening access to education and personalizing the learning experience to adapt teaching to the unique needs of each learner. UNESCO believes that free access to information is a fundamental human right and therefore universal access to high quality education is a key priority.

Regional interventions

UNESCO's regional frameworks on higher education include promoting higher education reforms that would increase access and equity to higher education. In the nine countries covered by UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA), there has been commendable progress in increasing the enrolment into tertiary institutions through increasing the number of institutions and gender policies, which have allowed increased participation of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related programmes. However, persisting challenges include low participation rates, gender imbalance in access to higher education and in STEM related programs, low research output, limited staff capacities and academic brain drain, limited funding for higher education, weak data management systems, dilapidated ICT infrastructures in many countries. Limited institutional collaboration is also pertinent issue, and such competitiveness can lead to a decline in the sense of academic community (UNESCO; 2009). The curricula, research agenda, and active management need to be more relevant to both the economy and sustainable development issues in the region.

A regional workshop on Higher Education in Southern Africa, held in 2015 confirmed the above issues. To address these challenges, there is need for more investment in higher education, incentivising and capacity building of researchers and lecturers; improve access and equity by developing flexible learning and teaching programmes, and improved collaboration amongst higher educational institutions in the region.

UNESCO aims at supporting Southern African countries in expanding access to quality higher education, particularly using the platform offered by SADC and within the framework of the UNESCO-SADC joint programmes, including the UNESCO Chairs network. In June 2017 UNESCO ROSA in collaboration with SADC organised a high-level meeting on higher education to among others; review the importance of investment in higher education and STEM, and raise the awareness on the provisions of the 2014 Addis Convention and the underscore the role of STEM. It was an occasion to identify on-going actions taken by Member States in the region toward ratification of the Addis Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and Other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in African States and to share experiences on the introduction of harmonization, accreditation and quality assurance measures in Higher Education systems. Implementing the provisions of the Convention would bring benefits, which include the employability of graduates, the internationalization of higher education study programmes, and the mobility of students, teachers, researchers and labour across the region. In addition, a Regional Consultation Meeting for Anglophone Africa hosted and co-organised jointly with South Africa Qualification Authority (SAQA) is planned to take place in Johannesburg in May 2018.

UNESCO ROSA also pursues capacity building in quality assurance, particularly in light of cross border provision. In this light, UNESCO-Shenzhen Municipality Government Funds-in-Trust Project (2017-2019) supports three countries in the region - Malawi, Namibia, and Zambia to strengthen Quality Assurance in Higher education in line with the Addis Convention. Specifically, UNESCO is strengthening quality assurance and recognition of tools and mechanisms in Higher Education in the 3 countries. The project targets Ministries of Higher Education and addresses the following two components: (1) institutional capacity building of recently established QA agencies; and (2) consolidation of the existing Quality Assurance Networks in Africa, the African quality Assurance Network (AfriQAN) and the East African Quality Assurance Network (EAQAN).

UNESCO ROSA also supports the identification of initiatives that promote effective use of ICT in post-secondary teaching, learning and research. Through the Korea funded project on ICTs in Education, UNESCO is supporting the development of the Zimbabwe Policy on ICT in Higher Education. The project is also supporting the capacity development of Higher and Tertiary Education institutions (13 teacher training colleges and 4 universities) utilizing diverse methodologies for lifelong learning through various trainings on Open and Distance Learning (ODL).

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