By Sam van Heerden
Ensuring access to quality higher education is central to growing and strengthening South Africa's democratic project. This week, Rhodes University hosts a panel from the Council on Higher Education (CHE), which is conducting institutional audits of all public and private universities in the country.
The Chairperson of the CHE's Institutional Audit panel, Professor Usuf Chikte, explained that this panel and the CHE are legislated by the Higher Education Act to ensure a quality higher education system in South Africa. It ensures that South African universities such as Rhodes University meet national standards and policy requirements.
"Institutional audits are required by the Higher Education Act," explained Vice-Chancellor Professor Sizwe Mabizela. "They do these audits to ensure that universities provide the support students need, that the quality of our offerings is appropriate and that students' overall experience is taken care of."
Over the past year, Rhodes University has compiled an institutional self-evaluation report (SER) on its quality assurance system, policies, protocols, and practices. The Institutional Audit panel visiting Rhodes University was established by the CHE's only permanent committee, the Higher Education Quality Committee. This week they will meet with various stakeholders at the University from across the board, including Faculty Deans, Directors, and students, to verify and cross-check this self-evaluation report.
"It is an important process of reflecting on what we do," said Prof Mabizela. "To ensure that our systems are robust and able to deliver the kind of quality and transformative education that we promise students. They also look at how what we do in our teaching and learning, research, community engagement, and other activities align with our vision and mission as an institution."
Dr Remy Nnadozie, the Director of the Institutional Research, Planning & Quality Promotion division (IRPQP), explained that Rhodes University views quality according to two perspectives. The first, quality enhancement, concerns the actual implementation of quality through the academic faculties and departments.
The second aspect is quality promotion, which is managed by the IRPQP at Rhodes University. This centres on ensuring that the National Qualification Framework (NQF) standards are met for new academic programmes, and that the quality standards required by relevant professional bodies are met in academic programmes run by Rhodes University, such as accounting, pharmacy, psychology, and law programmes.
"The Institutional Audit panel will assess how the University's academic programmes align with the regulatory standards in terms of the quality of education, governance, management, academic infrastructure, resources, labour relations, and the lived experience of students both inside and outside the classroom," said Dr Nnadozie.
The CHE also wants to ensure that higher education institutions themselves have robust internal processes for monitoring and guaranteeing quality education. "The CHE has limited resources, so they do not want to have to frequently audit institutions," explained Prof Mabizela. "If a university has established, well-functioning and mature quality assurance systems, then the CHE can say, 'get on it with', and can invest a bit more time and energy to support institutions still struggling with their quality assurance systems. It's an important part of ensuring that what we do is of appropriate quality and that we have the capacity and capability to monitor ourselves."
To start the week off, Rhodes University hosted the CHE Institutional Audit panel members for dinner on Sunday night, where they were joined by some Rhodes University, academic staff who will be taking part in the auditing process during the week. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Professor Peter Clayton, thanked the attendees for putting their week aside in 'the interest of the quality of Rhodes University'.
"Thank you for being our hosts this week," said Professor Chikte of CHE. "When doing this kind of work, it's these little moments that make the difference in terms of giving a human face to the people we are dealing with."
The CHE panel will be at Rhodes University until Thursday, 22 September.