Rhodes University discusses enabling intra-Africa academic mobility with the EU

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[CREDIT: RapidEye]
[CREDIT: RapidEye]

As Rhodes University increasingly engages with intra-Africa mobility programmes, issues regarding the equivalency of qualifications, credit transfers and joint degrees are becoming more prevalent. A hybrid workshop was recently hosted at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), where relevant institutional leads at Rhodes University had the opportunity to share experiences with European Union (EU) colleagues through identifying gaps and sharing lessons from implementing such programmes.

Professor Nelson Odume, who is currently coordinating the African Water Resources Mobility Network (AWaRMN), a five-year EU-funded programme (Grant Agreement No. 2019-1973/004-001), shared details about the programme. AWaRMN consists of the following partner institutions: Rhodes University, South Africa; Federal University of Technology (FUTMINNA), Nigeria; National Higher School of Hydraulics (ENSH), Algeria; Makerere University, Uganda; University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN), Democratic Republic of Congo; and Delft University of Technology, Netherlands. The programme includes degree-seeking and credit-seeking student mobility as well as staff mobility. AWaRMN aims to:

  • Increase the number of highly qualified graduates and staff in the African water sector through transdisciplinary teaching, research and practice;
  • Facilitate intra-Africa mobility in the field of water to promote knowledge exchange, multiculturalism and internationalisation;
  • Develop and harmonise programmes and curricula among partner institutions;
  • Build, strengthen and sustain research capabilities in the field of water among partner institutions;
  • Advance water innovation and technologies for environmentally-responsible social-economic development in Africa; and
  • Strengthen African water research through the ARUA Water Centre of Excellence.

The workshop focused on credit-seeking mobility and alignment with the various South African policies and frameworks, including the Policy Frameworks on internationalisation of Higher Education in South Africa – South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

Ms Orla Quinlan, Director of Internationalisation at Rhodes University, shared national experience from her engagement with South African institutional members of the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) and confirmed that, currently, there is no ready-made framework guidance for credit transfers between higher education institutions in Africa. 

“In the interim, we are guided by National and Institutional frameworks, but the details on credit transfers between institutions have to be worked out on a case-by-case basis,” she explained.

Having worked with Professor Cliff Jones, Head of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University, Ms Quinlan shared specific lessons from the EU- funded Collaborative Training in Fisheries and Aquaculture in East, Central and Southern Africa (COTRA) programme, where they considered attributing credits to each course to each university involved in the programme. One credit was awarded per ten notional hours of work. This groundwork then enabled the recognition of credits to be transferred between the institutions involved in this specific intra-Africa academic mobility programme.

Director of Institutional, Research, Planning & Quality Promotion at Rhodes University, Dr Remy Nnadozie, shared feedback from the recent Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education, including the proposed Southern African Development Community (SADC) credit accumulation and transfer system; Agenda 2063: continental education strategy for Africa for intra-African mobility and the Pan-African quality assurance and accreditation framework.

While the SAQA evaluation is usually at qualification level, Dr Nnadozie explained, “It remains the responsibility of learning-related institutions, employers and professional bodies to take decisions concerning the recognition of prior learning, admission, employment and licensing and registration, as applicable.”

The SAQA evaluation is required as part of a pool of information for institutional decision-making as Rhodes University rules are applied. Dr Nnadozie emphasised, “While competency levels as required for the admission/entry criteria of respective qualifications should never be compromised, the outlook should be about building bridges of intellectual collaboration, mobility and individual development.” 

Professor Sioux McKenna from the Centre for Postgraduate Studies (CPGS) at Rhodes University shared her experience working with specific joint degrees. One with Vrije Universiteit (VU) Brussels and another with VU in Amsterdam. Prof McKenna outlined the processes, the benefits and challenges from the supervisor and students’ perspectives of undertaking a joint degree and strongly recommended the opportunities afforded by the joint degree process.

Finally, Mr David Corsier, the Studies and Analysis Manager for EURYDICE network, which sits within the European Education and Culture Executive Agency, shared lessons from the Bologna process, which was launched in 1999, when 29 countries signed the Bologna Declaration to create an open, inclusive European Higher Education Area (EHEA). As of 2020, EHEA comprised 50 countries and eight prominent higher education stakeholder organisations representing 38 million students.

“At the outset of developing the Bologna system, the task appeared just as daunting as the prospect of harmonising African qualifications seems to us now, but 20 years later, huge strides have been made,” Mr Corsier stated. He commented how impressed he was at the consistency with which the Rhodes University presenters had placed finding solutions to assist the students at the centre of all the discussions.

Following this introductory workshop, the plan is to draft a Rhodes University institutional protocol for recognition of international qualifications, guidance for joint degrees and a process to determine intra-Africa credit transfers. This draft will be shared with the relevant Rhodes University academics and then with African university partners in a follow-up workshop hosted by AWaRMN before the end of July 2022.