Putting tertiary education to the quality test

Over the last two decades the global economy has seen a transition from traditional labour economies towards a more knowledge based economy. With this shift has come a greater need for higher education and a societal demand for quality and accountability. To remain relevant, higher education institutions have to adapt to the changing environment, the growing number of students and the diversity of student needs. Above all else, they need to ensure that students are able to succeed within their structures and are equipped for the 21st century.

In South Africa student success is a particularly salient issue. The numbers show that while more students have access to higher education (28% increase in the period 2004 to 2012), many fall short within the first year of enrolment, often losing time and money in the process. There continues to be a racially slanted imbalance in student performance and graduation rates. To address the country’s national needs including social justice and economic development, tertiary institutions need to accelerate ameliorative support for their students to advance their success both at a tertiary level and in the working world.

It was with these imperatives in mind that the initial phase of the Council on Higher Education’s (CHE) Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) was launched in South Africa in February 2014. QEP effectively replaces the former system of individual institutional audits introduced in 2004 and turns the tables from quality assurance to quality enhancement without lessening institutional accountability. QEP looks to establishing benchmarks and guidelines for good practice that will raise the bar for the overall quality of higher education in South Africa in its quest for achieving global competitiveness.

The four key focus areas of the QEP initial phase are entirely student based and look to enhancing academics as teachers; enhancing student support and development; enhancing the learning environment; and enhancing course and programme enrolment management.

One of the benefits of QEP is that is takes into account the diversity of tertiary institutions in South Africa and with it, the diversity of students’ needs. Institutions like the Institute of Logistics and Supply Chain Management (ILSCM) under the Open Learning Group (OLG) have been able to establish benchmarks and best practice that specifically suit their students’ needs and the logistics and supply chain management industry as a whole, such as flexibility and distance learning programme delivery.

Strategically based on the QEP process, ILSCM is now establishing a code of best practice with regards to student needs which will allow it to remain responsive both to its students and the industry as a whole.