From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

The Mandate of Higher Education Institutions
Apr 6, 2017, 17:00




BY Ing. Prof. Jonas Abioseh Sylvanus Redwood-Sawyerr, CRSL

BENG (USL), MSc (Lond), PhD (Essex), PENG, MIET, CENG, FSLIE


The Mandate of Higher Education Institutions


Global Expectations



The Mandate of Higher Education Institutions and Global Expectations

The mandates of early universities in Africa

The early universities and colleges were largely faith-based such as the North African University of Al Quaraouiyine established in 895 AD in Fes, Morocco, and the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt in 972 AD.  In Sub Saharan Africa, during the 16th century the University of Timbuktu flourished as a centre of learning in Islamic studies in the sub region and beyond.


Fourah Bay College, later a constituent of the University of Sierra Leone was founded in 1827 and the University of Cape Town, South Africa which was established in 1829, becoming a fully-fledged research and teaching institution between 1880-1900 are two of the oldest universities in Sub-Sahara Africa. 


Others in the continent include the American University of Cairo in 1919, Makarere University, Uganda, 1922, University of Ghana, 1948 and the University of Ibadan, Nigeria also in 1948.



Whereas the earliest North African Universities were created around the operations of mosques and madrasas, Fourah Bay College was established by the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) for the training of clergy, catechists and civil servants during the colonial era.  These institutions had clearly defined faith-based mandates which determined their foci and to a large extent the composition of their students.


In his report, Lord Dearing [Dearing, 1997] indicated four main purposes of Higher Education (HE) as:

•to inspire and enable individuals to develop their capabilities to the highest potential levels throughout life, so that they grow intellectually, are well-equipped for work, can contribute effectively to society and achieve personal fulfilment ;

•to increase knowledge and understanding for their own sake and to foster their application to the benefit of the economy and society ;

•to serve the needs of an adaptable, sustainable, knowledge-based economy at local, regional and national levels ;

•to play a major role in shaping a democratic, civilised, inclusive society.

Contextually these attributes of HEIs could be translated to read:

•Providing quality education, life-long learning and employable skills so as to contribute to national development and wealth creation;

•Promoting Research and innovation towards national development

•Providing national and international service that will cater for a dynamic and information-driven society

•Promoting peace, equality, respect for human rights and justice.


Needless to mention that these are attributes that are embedded in many mission and vision statements of universities around the world albeit, modified to meet their peculiarities and cultural inclinations.


The emphasis on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) or its corollary, Science Technology Innovation and Research (STIR) comes with its own level of challenges not least of all funding.


The following are therefore key roles that HEIs are expected to perform if they are to remain relevant and progressive [Dearing, 1997]:

1.Drivers of and incubators of innovation and capacity building in STEM.

2.Generating knowledge through research and innovation to create technologies that will transform national economies from their state of dependency on foreign support, to one         of providing services to promote emerging technologies that will add value to the processing of raw material often prevalent in our countries.

3.Promote the notion of life-long learning and continuing professional development.

4.Explore the diverse needs and location of its clients and providing a variety of choices through outreach programmes or multi-site campuses, contemporary forms of pedagogy (Team-based and problem based learning, online facilities such as the use of massive open online courses - MOOCS) and flexible learning experiences by using new technologies to promote these options especially to unserved communities and disadvantaged groups.

5.Migrate from the traditional teacher-centred learning to a student-centred approach to teaching and learning.

6.Recognizing the explosion, access and diversity of knowledge created by the internet and transforming modes of teaching from the position of custodian of knowledge to one of guidance of students in their search for knowledge so as to develop the culture of critical thinking.

7.Identifying the technical strengths of our institutions and the communities they serve in allocating resources to fund research and programmes offered, that will yield the greatest impact on our societies.

8.Making the issue of matching employers and students expectations paramount in the curriculum we offer.

The overarching mandate of Quality Assurance in HEIs


Universities do not operate within a vacuum and in Africa where resources are often constrained especially in public universities, university administrators face the challenges of establishing relevant programmes that attract students, ensuring a high quality of programmes that will ensure accreditation by both national accreditation bodies, as well as have the potential of being transformed for submission for international accreditation and finally programmes that meet the expectations of students and the job market.


There are also a number of factors that impact on the growth, relevance and popularity of programmes offered by universities such as:

i.      Staff quality and mix

ii.      Research and publication

iii.    National and International accreditation and ranking of programmes

iv.     Employability of graduates

v.      Funding

vi.     Relevance and flexibility of curriculum

vii.    Political interference and intervention


The establishment of universities in many African countries, has become in many instances a matter of national pride and in many cases a post-colonial endeavour to re-shape the focus of education to be more reflective of national goals and aspirations as well as cultural enhancement. Very few universities existed in Africa prior to independence as mentioned earlier.


In more recent observation regional/ethnic identity has become one of the drivers for the establishment of universities in African countries often times without the proper planning and national budgeting for its sustainable operations and quality assurance. Political expediency has also featured as a strong pre-cursor for the choice of location of universities in the continent. 

With the state of the economies and the competing demands of healthcare, infrastructure and national security, such actions are often counterproductive to the overall national agenda as standards are compromised with the attendant effect on quality delivery.


As universities endeavour to establish their relevance and competitive edge, efforts are made at aligning their academic and professional programmes to international standards and external scrutiny in a bid to achieving world-wide recognition thereby creating a platform for attracting quality teachers and students.


There are a number of such accrediting institutions with a variety of foci and areas of jurisdiction.Some are discipline specific while others have a broad portfolio of programmes that can be considered within their mandate.  However, ensuring Quality Assurance of programmes across national boundaries raises challenges of ensuring international standards, provision of adequate resources to support programmes offered, the qualification and experience of staff and the competition of nationals with international students for spaces offered in these universities, once their international status is known.

Quality Assurance can be defined as a process of ensuring that a university's programme meets pre-determined standards (or benchmarks) of performance in fulfilling the purposes and objectives  for which it was created as determined by its Vision and Mission Statements. 


Academic quality assurance is concerned with the core higher education activities of teaching, research and scholarship and is fundamental to assuring and continually improving student outcomes and experience, and maintaining academic standards and academic integrity [Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Authority, Australia, 2014].

Africa's initiatives towards QA


While the pace of establishing QA units and directorates is gathering speed in many universities, the continental body, the African Union is also working with the European Union in facilitating this process across Africa.  There are on-going conferences and workshops organised by the EU-AU partners geared towards improving the knowledge of key officers on the process of QA to serve at the national, regional and international levels.  The Africa-EU Strategic Partnership under the aegis of the partnership of the AU and EU have selected 'harmonisation, quality and accreditation' as the primary action line of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy in the continent, where special attention is given to regional collaboration and harmonisation of QA measures in Africa [Makoni, 2016].


The major goals agreed upon in the African Union Strategy for Harmonisation are:-


Bridge the gap between disparate educational systems in Africa

Promote Intra-Africa academic mobility

Advance joint curriculum development

Strengthen institutional partnerships among African HEIs to ensure global competitiveness

Facilitate the recognition of qualifications and

Promote the development of effective quality assurance mechanisms.


Another initiative that prepares the groundwork for harmonisation is the Tuning Africa Project. This is a process of developing curricula through the identification of learning outcomes and competences. 


It is also a jointly implemented activity by the EU and the AU. The Tuning/Harmonisation initiative involves 109 institutions from 42 African Countries in eight subject areas and together with the Intra-Africa academic mobility programme complement the AU Harmonization Strategy. Tuning creates the basis for developing an African Credit Transfer System [Woldetensae, 2015].


Contributing to the debate on harmonisation of higher degree programmes, Hoosen at al draw from the position of the AU and its policy on integration and networking [Hoosen at al, 2009] by stating:


Harmonization refers to the agreement, synchronization, and coordination of higher education provision in Africa. Harmonization is not synonymous with standardization, creating uniformity, or achieving identical higher education systems. Whilst developing and agreeing to minimum standards and ensuring equivalence and comparability of qualifications between and within countries are important elements of this process, a primary focus is to enhance quality across the sector and facilitate processes that lead higher education systems to be able to inter-operate more effectively to the benefit of development on the continent.


The third initiative in addressing Quality Assurance in the continent is the African Quality Rating Mechanism. 

It fosters comparability in higher education programmes and facilitate academic mobility. It also compares the performance of African HEIs using common criteria.  It is however not a ranking mechanism but provides an indication of how close to the QA criteria the programmes of an HEI are [Woldetensae, 2015].

In her paper Jane Knight [2013] argues that of more significance is the development of regional level frameworks for academic credit systems, quality assurance, and qualifications frameworks as these reforms are based on a closer alignment of systems and policies.


While Europe is far advanced in this exercise and has established the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) comprising countries that use common templates in assessing Quality as well as a European credit transfer scheme, (ECTS), African governments will be developing a model that is 'fit-for-purpose' that meets the Africa-specific needs while building on the existing global models of regional collaboration.

The key activities being undertaken are:

i.      the development of the Pan-African QA and Accreditation Framework (PANAQF);

ii.      enhancing regional collaboration in QA and regional networks;

iii.     capacity building for both internal and external QA at the institutional, national and regional levels;

iv.     promoting good practices/sharing experiences between Europe, Africa and other world regions and

v.     linking together and building upon regional initiatives for political priorities.

Student mobility and regional initiatives

The political and demographic changes in the world, not least of all Africa and more particularly our sub-region, due quite often to national and cross-border conflicts, have emphasized the need for developing frameworks that will facilitate student mobility across borders and regions.The process initiated by the EU and Africa in its African Quality Rating Mechanism (AQRM), and Intra African Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) Academic Mobility Scheme, while laudable needs to be expedited and implemented across the various geographies of the continent.


While the Asian states constituted 53% of all students studying abroad with for example India being the UKs second largest source of international postgraduate students (after China), a recent British Council report projects that by 2024, Nigeria will exceed India.

[University of Oxford, 2015].There is also an increasing focus on sub-regional student mobility.  In Asia for example, ASEAN states have formed the Common Space of HE to encourage cross-border student mobility and academic integration and stem the migration of domestic students to western countries. 


It can be seen that these initiatives draw from the European initiative engendered by the Bologna Process and the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).


Bridging the employment expectation divide


Many universities are constantly faced with the challenge of producing a curriculum that fully addresses the dichotomy of meeting the academic needs of students wishing to pursue postgraduate programmes after graduation, and ensuring an immediacy of productive employment after graduation. 

While technical colleges are focussed on the latter, universities provide a much wider and often broad-based education aimed at providing graduates with a foundation that can be built upon both in industry and in research institutions.  Unfortunately the job market often complains of the practical inadequacy of university graduates and the need for further training before they can contribute to the productive output of their employers.  While some employers require rather ambitious qualities of graduates including project management, proficiency in industry-focused software applications and advanced design skills, the fact still remains that the university needs to revisit its approach to training graduates and work more closely with employers both at the Government level and the private sector.

Global impact issues


In an article 'Making a case for an internationalised curriculum,' in the University News of .24th February 2017, Allen Schaidle, (2017)suggests that HEIs should target not at developing a unified curriculum but harmonisation of graduate attributes and competencies that resonate with international criteria for employment and further studies.


He argues that the process of internationalising the curriculum does not entail a standard catalogue of courses or concepts.Rather, the process and final product incorporates assorted events, emphasising internationalisation and graduates attributes that are useful in a globalised society.


Global problems such as climate change, global warming, water management and cross border resources management, sustainable production and consumption, energy security and the implications of a nation's ecological footprint and its impact on the sustainability of natural resources have emphasised and underscored the need for a global perspective and focus in the training of graduates to meet the new definitions of an international graduate

Accreditation bodies generally refer to the acquisition of minimum academic standards of programmes offered by the institutions being examined and a check list of competencies and attributes that graduates should have gained on completion of the courses under observation for the award of a degree, diploma or certificate. These are internationally agreed requirements as can be seen for example in the graduate attributes specified in the Washington, Sydney and Dublin Accord for engineers, engineering technologists and technicians respectively.


University ranking has introduced another global dimension for comparing programmes offered by HEIs world-wide.  Not all of the institutions publishing ranking are academic in nature.  Two of the most referenced academic ranking institutions are the Times HE World ranking and the Quacquarelli Symonds QS.


The publications of these two bodies are much sought after and now provide a reference point for students wishing to apply for study and peer institutions to gauge their performance both nationally and internationally, in what essentially is an academic league table.

The QS Universities Ranking

The Global QS Ranking criteria comprise the following

1.     Academic reputation (40%)

2.     Employer reputation (10%)

3.     Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)

4.     Citations per faculty (20%)

5 & 6.  International faculty ratio (5%) & international student ratio (5%)


The 2017 ranking has introduced another parameter, Employability, to address the conversation on the job readiness of graduates and the employer satisfaction factor.The following is the breakdown of the scores ascribed to this ranking index.

1.     Employer reputation (30%),This indicates the institution producing the best graduates in the field.

2.     Alumni outcomes - 20%

3.     Employer partnership - 25%

4.     Employer-student connection - 15% (presence on campus)

5.     Graduate Employment Rate - 10%


This records the percentage of graduates in full employment within 12 months of graduation.The scores indicate the difference between each institution's employment rate and the national average

Times HE Ranking []


The process applied by this institution is very detailed and comprehensive comprising the following major components:

Teaching (the learning environment): 30%

Research (volume, income and reputation): 30%

Citations (research influence): 30%

International outlook (staff, students, research): 7.5%

Industry income (knowledge transfer): 2.5%


While these rankings have provided fodder for controversy and debate, they nonetheless provide opportunities for HEIs for introspection and discussion towards improving their ranking. The disparity in facilities for teaching and research in our universities is a significant factor in the low positions many African universities find themselves. One of the factors responsible is under-funding especially in public universities. Administrators and academics in HEIs who wish to be competitive are constantly seeking projects that will assist their research and publication as well as improve their teaching environment.  Universities are compelled to seek innovative ways in raising funds to sustain their programmes and ensure their quality if they are to be competitive. Some HEIs have established corporate units within their institutions to undertake paid consultancies subject to a cost sharing formula with the executing staff. 

Research partnerships with academics in the North to attract funding and ensure publication in so-called high impact journals have become a common trend.Of concern though is the international politics of the classification of high impact journals and the practice of citation.


We must therefore create greater visibility of our home-grown journals and actively consider the options of online publication and open access for at least older versions of our journals to show-case our researchers and the breakthroughs in the continent.




In concluding I wish to make a brief reference to the African Union's Agenda 2063 which provides a road map for Africa's renaissance but however restrict my emphasis to education.

Article 14 states:


Africa's human capital will be fully developed as its most precious resource, through sustained investments based on universal early childhood development and basic education, and sustained investments in higher education, science, technology, research and innovation, and the elimination of gender disparities at all levels of education. Access to post-graduate education will be expanded and strengthened to ensure world-class infrastructure for learning and research and support scientific reforms that underpin the transformation of the continent.

Article 72 c


Catalyse education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, to build knowledge, human capital, capabilities and skills to drive innovations and for the African continent:


The following are proposed as the pathway to achieving that goal:

o      Expand universal access to quality early childhood, primary and secondary education;

o      Expand and consolidate gender parity in education;

o      Strengthen technical and vocational education and training through scaled up investments, establishment of a pool of high-quality Technical Vocational Education and Training -TVET centres across Africa, foster greater links with industry and alignment to labour markets, with a view to improve the skills profile, employability and entrepreneurship of especially youth and women, and closing the skills gap across the continent;

o     Build and expand an African knowledge society through transformation and investments in universities, science, technology, research and innovation; and through the harmonization of education standards and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications;

o   Establish an African Accreditation Agency to develop and monitor educational quality standards, with a view to expanding student and academic mobility across the continent;

o    Strengthen the Pan African University, build the Pan African Virtual University, and elevate Africa's role in global research, technology development and transfer, innovation and knowledge production; and

o    Harness universities and their networks and other options to enable high quality university education.




While Universities' mandates have been modified over the centuries to reflect emerging trends and demands of the sector as entrenched in their mission and vision statements as well as analysed in their Strategic Plans, the overriding focus in the recent decades has been to provide programmes that will produce job-ready graduates that are internationally competitive as well as having a strong foundation to embark on postgraduate studies where desirable.

1. With the almost prohibitive fees charged for overseas education, African Universities must revisit their mission and funding framework and strategies, to provide internationally accredited programmes, thereby affording their citizens the opportunity to obtain degrees locally, or within their sub-regions, and compete with their counterparts world-wide in response to the culture of globalisation.  The end result of such renaissance may be the creation of a reverse brain drain to Africa by international scholars thereby regaining the continent's former accolade of the cradle of civilisation.

2. Governments in partnership with university administrations and businesses, should devise innovative approaches to funding their programmes and establishing a healthy balance in producing job-ready graduates and those with a desire to pursue a career in academia.

3. The various structures that have emerged in creating an African HE Area to promote academic integration and enhance cross-border mobility of staff and students by the AU must be owned by African governments and made an integral part of their education policy and implemented by HEIs across the continent in fulfilling their new mandates.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.