No substitute for quality higher education in growth equation

EMELDA Musonda.

INSTITUTIONS of higher education hold one of the most important roles in shaping the future of society.Research indicates that a strong system of higher education is a significant contributor to the country’s economic strength, social well-being and subsequently enhances ability to compete in the global marketplace.
It is therefore obvious that, if Zambia is to grow economically and transition to a developed country, there is need for quality assurance in the provision of higher education.
It is only through quality tertiary education that we can produce quality human capital that is needed to spur economic growth and development.
Today, human capital is estimated to be the most critical factor of production compared to a century ago.
This is because global wealth is concentrated less and less in factories, land, tools and machinery but, more than ever before, in the knowledge, skills, and resourcefulness of people which are increasingly critical to the world economy.
Given that quality human capital can only be developed through high quality education institutions or systems, the need to set high standards and adhere to them cannot be overemphasised.
In the recent years the country has experienced an increase in the number of tertiary institutions.
As good as this development may seem, it has come with its own challenges as many of these institutions are failing to adhere to acceptable standards.
Not too long ago the Higher Education Authority (HEA) deregistered Alliance International University for offering substandard education.
Authority director general Stephen Simukanga told the media that the university was deregistered for failure to formally appoint key institutional officers, among other deficiencies.
“There was no evidence of staff recruitment appointments or recruitment documentation,” he said.
The university is also said to have failed to provide evidence of subscription to electronic journals and progression regulations for online learning.
Prof Simukanga further cited lack of documents or establishment showing learner support under its academic programmes.
The university, which offers open and distance learning, also failed to avail assessment systems and reports to the Authority during the audit.
The sad reality is that, this could just be the tip of the iceberg signalling the need for more thorough inspections.
If tertiary institutions cannot provide basic necessities such as human resource critical for knowledge transfer, how then can they be expected to produce quality graduates capable of making a meaningful contribution to the country’s development agenda?
How can a university operate without subscribing to electronic journals which are needed to enhance students’ learning experience through research?
Worse still, how can a high learning institution assess its effectiveness in imparting knowledge without an assessment system in place?
Sadly such are the inadequacies shaping the quality of graduates from some of our tertiary institutions.
It is, however, heartening that the Higher Education Authority (HEA), an organisation mandated to ensure quality assurance in tertiary education, is not sitting idly.
Besides cracking the whip on those found wanting, the authority with the support of UNESCO-Shenzhen Municipality Government Funds-in-Trust Project has embarked on training stakeholders on quality assurance concepts, approaches and trends in higher education.
Last week HEA held a two-day workshop to strengthen internal quality assurance in higher education institutions and subsequently ensure that qualifications awarded in Zambia meet international standards.
“Our mission (as HEA) is to ensure that our graduates have internationally recognised qualifications, hence the importance of ensuring that there is quality learning programmes,” acting director general, Dr Vitalicy Chifwepa said during the workshop.
The workshop also focused on enhancing the capacity of stakeholders to develop robust quality assurance systems as a basis for continuous quality improvement in their institutions.
This is indeed the way to go. We need to raise the bar for our higher learning institutions and the training conducted by HEA is a step in that direction.
The workshop was the first activity, under the recently launched continental project “Strengthening Quality Assurance and Recognition Tools and Mechanisms in Higher Education in Africa”.
The project, which is also being implemented in other parts of Africa, is aimed at building Institutional capacity of recently established quality assurance agencies.
In Zambia, HEA is the country focal point and project lead working with Zambia Qualification Authority (ZAQA), Technical Education Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA), Teaching Council of Zambia (TCZ), private and public higher education institutions, Health Professionals Council of Zambia (HPCZ), and Government representatives.
Given that the success of a project lies more in its effective implementation, it is hoped that HEA and all stakeholders will work tirelessly to achieve the set goals.
Needless to say, there is no substitute for quality higher education in the development equation.
As a country which has a long way to go in its development journey, there is certainly need to invest heavily in a quality higher education system.
This also entails putting in place stringent quality control measures to regulate new entrants as well as already established higher learning institutions for continued adherence to set standards.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.

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