Ensuring Access to Quality Higher Education

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 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.

Open Educational Resources (OER), which are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license, provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building. Especially in developing countries, OERs help improve education, because there are many students that may not be able to afford textbooks, classrooms may be limited, and teacher-training programs may be lacking. All of UNESCO’s OER activities reflect the belief that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. 

UNESCO's regional frameworks on higher education includes 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, there has been commendable progress in increasing the enrolment into tertiary institutions through increasing the number of institutions and also gender policies which have also allowed increased participation of girls in STEM related programs.

Still  attention needs to be drawn to challenges that include: still 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 both to the economy and sustainable development issues. The 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 into higher education, motivation (incentivising) and capacity building of researchers and lecturers, improve access and equity by developing flexible learning and teaching programmes, and also improved collaboration amongst 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, and including the UNESCO Chairs network. UNESCO ROSA also pursues capacity building in quality assurance, particularly in light of the challenges of cross border provision.

Technology has a vital role to play 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. The office supports the identification of initiatives that promote more effective use of ICT in post-secondary teaching, learning and research.Target groups and partners are Governments, universities, research Institutions, University associations, research networks, UNESCO Chairs, development partners.

 In concurrence with UNESCO priorities in Higher Education, namely the internationalization of higher education, as well as policy support, the regional office has been supporting the process of the establishment of a quality assurance network for Southern Africa since its inception on the initiative by  the  Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE).

The benefits from the work of the network will not only contribute to the harmonization of quality assurance, it will also provide elements of a basis for policy development in the region, as well as supporting the internationalization of higher education beyond the southern African region, well within the goals and objectives of the Arusha convention

Back to top