The identification of a programme for a national review follows a strict process. The National Reviews Committee (NRC) recommends possible areas of national reviews to the HEQC. In choosing the area, the NRC takes in to account factors like the proliferation of the programme or scarcity thereof; identified areas of national need or even concerns raised by higher education stakeholders. A proposal setting out the reasons for an intended national review of the programme is prepared by the Directorate for National Reviews. The proposal writing itself follows a formal process and must demonstrate the substantive reasons for the review. Once the proposal has been approved by the different stakeholders and the NRC, it is presented to the HEQC for approval. The HEQC has the final decision regarding a national review.
Standards Development View
This is a formal process. A proposal setting out the reasons for a possible national review is presented to the HEQC for approval by the National Reviews Committee. The proposal demonstrates consultation with peers, stakeholders and other relevant experts in the programme area; knowledge of local and international literature in the proposed area; knowledge of the programme offered across the national higher education sector and the comments and suggestions of an established reference group consisting of programme experts and other relevant stakeholders. The proposal emanating from this process is presented to the HEQC for approval.
Once the HEQC has approved the proposal for a national review of a programme, the Directorate begins the process by inviting programme experts to develop and finalise the minimum criteria and standards for the impending review. These criteria and standards will be drawn from the Criteria for Programme Accreditation of the HEQC. These criteria will apply to all institutions offering the programme and determine the accreditation status of the programme.
The self-evaluation report (SER) is the most important document in the national review process. It is the core document prepared by each participating institution according to the mutually established criteria and minimum standards. The SER allows each Department to prepare a critical appraisal of the programme with a view to improve it. This is an opportunity for Departments to identify areas of good practice, areas for improvement and other interventions to enhance the quality of the programme.
The site-visit is an integral aspect of the national review of a programme. This part of the review corresponds to the actual evaluation of the programme. It is conducted by an expert peer-review panel. The peer-review panel evaluates the SER and appendices and through a collection of oral and documentary evidence during the site-visit makes an informed judgement regarding the re-accreditation status of the programme. The re-accreditation status of the programme is determined by the extent to which the programme meets the established criteria and minimum standards.
The CHE selects a review-panel to conduct a site-visit on its behalf. The chairperson of the panel is the official conduit between the panel and the institution. The typical panel consists of three or four people, one of whom serves as chairperson. In constituting the panel, the CHE ensures the acceptability and suitability thereof by communicating its composition to the institution. An institution has the right to object to the composition of the panel and must communicate its reasoned objection to the HEQC. It should be noted that the HEQC will only consider demonstrable conflict of interest as a valid ground for objection. At the site-visit, each member of the panel is assigned tasks related to the review. It is the duty of the chair to allocate tasks that are commensurate with the panel’s expertise. At the end of the site-visit, the panel discusses and agrees on the key elements of the site-visit report. At all times, the panel has to note, that the review is an evidence-based exercise and that their role is to ensure that all evidence used to reach a judgement respect this fundamental injunction.
Before the review-panel disbands, the chairperson ensures that the review-panel members do not leave without handing in their CHE Reviewer Report. The chairperson also ensures that the institution’s site-visit coordinator provides all required documentation related to the site-visit to the CHE representative. The report emanating from the site-visit must reach the CHE within 7 working days of the site-visit. The CHE scrutinizes the report for accuracy and offers suggestions (where applicable). Upon receipt of the report, the HEQC and the National Reviews Directorate assume responsibility for all further processing thereof.
The National Reviews Committee (NRC) is a specialist committee that supports the HEQC in the area of programme reviews. It consists of eight to ten members in majority drawn from the public higher education sector. The chairperson of the NRC is a member of the HEQC. Each member is appointed for a period of 4 years and can be renewed once. Some of the salient tasks of the NRC include scrutiny of draft panel reports and making recommendations in respect of re-accreditation to the HEQC; evaluating draft reports for consistency and tone before they are sent to higher education institutions for comment; reviewing progress reports and informing the HEQC regarding all further engagements with an institution.
The national review of a programme is an evidence-based exercise. The outcomes of the process are determined in a holistic manner and not in a technicist way by calculating the sum total of outcomes against individual criteria. The following classification is used for the re-accreditation outcomes of a programme:
- commend indicates continuation of accreditation and recognition of examples of good practice and innovation in relation to several accreditation criteria;
- meets minimum standards shows continuation of accreditation and indicates that minimum standards as specified under the different criterion are met;
- needs improvement shows that the programme will be accredited with conditions as it fails to meet the minimum standards which can either be remedied within a 6-month period or where critical minimum standards relating to programme design or teaching and learning are not met, the programme will be placed on notice for withdrawal of accreditation;
- does not meet minimum standards shows that the programme does not meet the minimum standards required to ensure the fitness of the programme and indicates withdrawal of accreditation.
The national review of a programme forms part of the CHE’s quality assurance functions. One of the principles of the HEQC addresses the location of responsibility for and quality of the programme. The HEQC is adamant that the responsibility for the programme and institutional quality rests primarily with the higher education institution itself. The production of an SER at the time of a review where institutions have the opportunity to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the programme demonstrates that institutions are responsible for maintaining the quality of programmes.
The HEQC makes re-accreditation decisions based on the review panel’s draft reports and recommendations from the National Reviews Committee. The relevant report with its accreditation outcome is released to each institution. In the event of an institution disagreeing with the re-accreditation outcome, it has 21 working days within which to make representation to the HEQC. The institution has to base its representation on the findings of the report and may clarify its position relative to the HEQC report and re-accreditation outcome. Additional information will only be allowed to support claims already made.
The HEQC follows the process and procedure as set out in the Framework for the National Review of Programmes. According to the Framework, the CHE will appoint a reviewer to review the report in question and the re-accreditation decision in the light of the institutional representation. The National Reviews Committee will consider the reviewers recommendation and makes its recommendation to the HEQC. The HEQC has the final say and will take into consideration all relevant documentation and make its decision. This decision will then be communicated to the institution. The decision of the HEQC is final and binding on the institution.
An Improvement Plan is a document produced by an institution after the national review process. Only institutions whose programme were accredited with conditions or are placed on notice of withdrawal are required to produce an Improvement Plan. A programme that fails to meet minimum standards and thus retain its accreditation status is required to meet the stipulated conditions within a specified timeframe. Institutions offering such programmes are required to report to the HEQC on the status of improvement in the programme. All improvement plans received by the HEQC are subject to evaluation. The HEQC assumes full responsibility for monitoring the fulfilment of all stipulated conditions before full accreditation can be granted.
This report emanates from the national review of a programme. This report provides a detailed overview of the programme across the South African higher education landscape. Whilst the report provides an in-depth analysis of the programme, it does not name and shame institutions.