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Achieving quality assurance in higher education

MUBANGA Lumpa.

Analysis: MUBANGA LUMPA
ON THURSDAY April 18, 2019, Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo launched the University of Zambia Quality Assurance Framework at the University of Zambia main campus.
Speaking during the launch, Professor Luo commended UNZA for coming up with the framework as it will contribute to the promotion of quality higher education in Zambia. And UNZA vice-chancellor Professor Luke Mumba stated that UNZA considers quality in teaching and learning, research and community services as essential in its quest to accomplish its aspiration of joining the top universities in Africa and to emerge as a world-class university.
Professor Mumba added that the UNZA Quality Assurance Framework has, therefore, been developed to serve as a guide in linking the many operational and developmental processes in the university functions in order for the university to realise its vision and mission, which are to be a “provider of world-class services in higher education and knowledge production” and “to provide relevant higher education, through teaching, research and community service”.
The Quality Assurance Framework is a policy document for UNZA which provides guidelines and mechanism for the promotion and enhancement of quality in all functions of the university which include quality in teaching and learning, research, community engagement, academic support and administrative services in line with its vision, mission, goals, objectives and strategies.
UNZA has since its inception in 1966 been the largest public university. However, in 2013 Government repealed and replaced the University Act of 1999 with the Higher Education Act of 2013.
The Act was established to provide effective quality assurance in service delivery by higher education institutions as well as open up space for private higher education providers.
As a result, there are many public and private universities currently operating in Zambia, all providing learning programmes through full time, open and distance learning or a combination of both.
Therefore, to ensure quality assurance and quality promotion in higher education in Zambia, Government came up with substantive legislation to ensure the goal of quality education in the country is achieved.
For instance, the Higher Education Act came into effect in March 2013. The Act provides for the establishment of the Higher Education Authority, a grant-aided institution which was established under the Higher Education Act No. 4 of 2013 to ensure quality of delivery of services by higher education institutions (HEIs). The main functions of the Higher Education Authority are to set standards, provide quality assurance and also advisory and regulatory services to all higher education institutions registered in Zambia.
Further the Government actualised the Zambia Qualification Authority Act in 2011. The Act established the Zambia Qualification Authority and provides for its mandate, which include, among others, to develop and implement the Zambia Qualification Framework (ZQF).
The main objectives of the framework are to create a single integrated national framework for learning achievement, to provide for mobility and progression within education, training and career paths. Further, the Act aims to enhance the quality of education and training in order to promote education, training and employment opportunities.
At the global level, UNESCO has also established a number of regional recognition conventions in higher education to promote quality assurance which are ratified by over 100 countries and are legally binding instruments by member states.
At regional level, Zambia is also a signatory to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Education, which emphasises the importance of harmonising regional education systems and maintaining acceptable standards at all educational levels.
The Higher Education Quality Management Initiative for Southern Africa (HEQMISA) was formulated in 2002 to enhance the ability of SADC institutions of higher education to play a leading role in the development of SADC countries. It also established the Southern African Higher Education Quality Assurance Agency (SAHEQAA), whose objective is to assist institutions of higher learning in southern Africa to establish internal quality assurance processes by means of institutional self-audit with the aim of promoting continuous quality improvement.
Therefore, the launch of the quality assurance framework at UNZA is timely particularly at such a time when the country is witnessing an unprecedented increase in the number of local and foreign higher education institutions which have also been triggered by the recent increase in the demand for higher education in the country.
However, despite this phenomenal increase in the number of higher learning institutions in Zambia, quality in teaching, learning and research have remained a challenge and a concern among many stakeholders in the higher education sector.
Thus, for UNZA as a pioneer of university education in Zambia, the quality assurance framework should be seen as a basis for the promotion, monitoring, and evaluation of quality in the university, its institutional performances, curricula reforms in order to respond to market demands, university-industry linkage, improved management, promoting high quality research, community engagement and ICT-based monitoring mechanisms.
Therefore, other higher learning institutions in Zambia should also get a cue from UNZA by also developing their quality assurance frameworks in order to achieve high standards in our higher education and effectively contribute to the production of knowledge for the development of our country and the global knowledge economy.
The author is a social commentator and blogger.

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