Standards Development

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Standards Development View

The development of standards is not a reaction to a specific problem. It is, rather, a necessary aspect of implementation of the HEQF, through the establishment of a benchmark for the award of each qualification type. The aim is to enhance public perceptions about consistency between similar qualifications offered by different institutions and in different fields of study. The purpose of a standard is to state an agreed purpose of a qualification type and the graduate attributes that are evidence of the purpose being attained. The standard states what a programme leading to the qualification type intends to achieve and how we can establish that it has been achieved. This would show fitness for purpose.

The approach of the CHE to standards development is an approach that is regarded as appropriate for higher education, and for its sub-framework. Different sub-frameworks may require somewhat different approaches to standards.

There is a distinction. Standards aim to provide institutions with nationally-established benchmarks for qualifications, that may be used for internal quality assurance as well as external comparison. For HEQC quality assurance, standards will be part of the criteria used in the process. For example, a standard provides the specific qualification-type context in which accreditation Criterion 1 will be applied to institutional programmes

Standards do not intend to increase the amount of regulation of higher education. As statements of what a qualification must achieve, standards should be part of, and inform, the normal processes of programme design, accreditation and review. They will require institutions to meet expectations of quality determined by peers. The standard should be owned by its investors, including the academic community in the field.

A key aspect of institutional differentiation is the selection of qualifications that each institution offers. The standards will focus on qualification types, but will not attempt to influence the design and development of programmes that lead to the qualification. The institution’s mission, goals, context and priorities will largely influence the range of qualification types that it will offer. If the qualification type has an agreed standard, and the institution’s programme meets that standard, it could be approved as part of its range of offerings. Differentiation, on the basis of qualification-type combinations, would be clear, but this would not be determined by the standards themselves.

No. Whatever the mode of tuition, there needs to be comparability between what the qualifications achieve. The institution selects the mode of tuition (or combination of modes), and accounts for its compatibility with the qualification.

Standards assume that different qualification types, and the pathways and fields of study for which they are awarded, have different approaches to the integration of WIL. The starting point for a standard of a qualification is its purpose and how graduate achievements reflect that purpose. Where WIL is fundamental to the purpose and achievements, this will be addressed in the standard, but the standard will not prescribe the ratio of institution-based/work-based learning or the methods by which WIL is to be assessed.

The Framework aims to clarify the distinction between qualification standards and other kinds of standards, such as teaching, learning and research standards, performance standards, institutional quality assurance standards, etc. Most other standards are related to the level of programmes, rather than qualification types. The distinction between qualification standards and other kinds will be addressed in a glossary of terms.

As described above, qualification standards focus on the relationship between purpose and graduate achievements and attributes. They are, in a way, the genus of which each programme with its qualification is a species. Standards are categorically different from the design of specific programmes. While they do not prescribe the curriculum or content of a programme leading to the qualification, programme development will necessarily take them into account, as benchmarks of what the programme ought to achieve.

It is important to distinguish between standards developed for qualification types, and qualifications (based on the qualification types) awarded by institutions. While, in terms of the NQF Act, SAQA will register higher education qualifications only on recommendation of the relevant QC (the CHE), the actual relationship between the development of qualification types and the SAQA registration of qualifications requires further unpacking.

The CHE ‘role of developer’ needs clarification. The CHE itself has neither the intention nor the capacity to develop standards on its own. The actual development will be done by expert peer groups drawn from institutions and fields of study or professions, coordinated by the CHE on the basis of a framework approved by the Council.

Students (and the general public) will be able to check that a programme offered by an institution meets the standards of the qualification type that will be awarded. (Standards are, in turn, used by the HEQC as benchmarks according to which criteria are applied to accredit the programme.) The CHE will need to ensure that standards are published in a form that is accessible to students and the public.

Qualification types will be developed in consultation with higher education experts in the area of general qualification design. The application of qualification type standards to fields of study will be done in consultation with experts in the relevant fields. Such expert groups will comprise the communities of practice that will participate in standards development. These groups will be authorised by the CHE to perform the tasks. 

Because they do not determine the curriculum, content, methods of delivery or assessment of programmes, qualification standards should not affect institutional autonomy and academic freedom. They will affect institutional accountability in the sense that qualifications awarded by the institution will need to meet publicly-accessible standards for the qualification type.

Standards inform qualification types, irrespective of the institutional type where they are awarded.

The Framework proposes a gradation from qualification type (for example, a Bachelor’s degree) to a qualification in a particular field of study (for example, a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering). The award of the qualification will need to meet the general standards of that type, irrespective of the field of study. This implies that the CHE will be responsible for ensuring that all awards of a qualification type, irrespective of the field of study, meet the qualification-type standards. As far as particular fields of study are concerned, the curriculum, content and delivery of a programme are the responsibility of the awarding institution. Qualification standards focus on outcomes and attributes that the qualification imparts to the student. The standards are developed by academic communities. The relationship between the award of a qualification and the extent to which it meets a professional body’s requirements for designation is a matter that needs to be resolved between the awarding institution (or the sector as a whole) and the relevant professional body. However, the development of qualification standards in consultation with communities of practice implies that representation from professional bodies will be essential in all cases where the application of generic qualification types to specific fields of study needs to be informed by particular professional requirements. This should help to ensure compatibility between the institution’s qualification and the requirements of the professional body.

In the ‘nested’ approach of the HEQF, NQF level descriptors form the ‘outer and most generic layer of qualification specification’. We have the odd situation that standards are being developed when the ‘outer layer’ has never been officially approved, and is considered inadequate to the task of qualification specification. The level descriptors aim to cover all offerings at a particular

References to qualification pathways and knowledge mixes are intended to assist institutions in matching their qualification offerings with their mission, goals, priorities and contexts. They do not imply any kind of categorisation of institutional types, nor do they in themselves place limitations on the qualifications that an institution may offer, as long as it is able to meet the standards for those qualifications. It is not the function of qualification standards to determine the PQM of an institution, or how it may vary from time to time. An expert community of practice will determine the particular conceptual-contextual blend that a qualification type should have, and institutions should decide (subject to PQM approval) what qualification types they are best able to offer, and in what fields of study.