The designation of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) as the Quality Council (QC) for Higher Education by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Act of 2008 (Act No 67 of 2008) has broadened the functions of the CHE. Prior to 2008, in terms of the Higher Education Act (Act No 101 of 1997), as amended, the functions of the CHE covered two main areas:
- Advising the Minister of Higher Education and Training on any aspect of higher education.
- Quality promotion and quality assurance, specifically, the auditing of the quality assurance mechanisms of higher education institutions and the accreditation of higher education programmes.
However, in its new role as a QC, the CHE has to perform an additional set of functions in terms of section 27 of the NQF Act, which include, amongst others, the following:
- Development and management of its sub-framework, i.e. the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF) and advising the Minister of Higher Education and Training on matters relating to the HEQF.
- Development and implementation of policy and criteria for the development, registration and publication of qualifications, i.e. standards setting, including the development of naming conventions for qualifications.
- Ensuring the development of qualifications as are required for the higher education system.
The agenda that flows from the additional functions assigned to the CHE is ambitious and complex given the background context, which is fluid and in a state of flux, as well as the fact that it involves initiating a range of concurrent processes to address what are essentially interlinked issues. The HEQF, which was promulgated as policy in October 2007 is in the process of being reviewed even before it is fully implemented - although new programmes introduced from January 2009 have had to conform to the requirements of the HEQF, the alignment of existing programmes has not yet started. Thus the time-frames for the alignment process, which as indicated below is proposed to begin in January 2011, has to take into account the potential impact of the outcomes of the HEQF review, which is planned to be concluded in mid-2011. Although the latter is likely to impact on a limited number of programmes, in particular, diploma programmes and programmes offered by the Universities of Technology, even without any changes to the HEQF, the degree of adjustment and curriculum development required to ensure alignment will impact differentially on the various types of higher education institutions. Similarly, the initiation of the alignment process cannot await the outcomes of the standards setting process and the development of criteria for naming qualifications, which is in the early stages of conceptualisation.
The implementation of the additional functions should ideally be done sequentially, starting with the review of the HEQF, followed by standards setting and the development of criteria for naming qualifications and ending with the re-alignment of existing programmes and qualifications. The real world, however, is not susceptible to pre-determined sequences in which processes and activities are neatly divided and abstracted from the ebb and flow of daily practice. In line with this, in developing implementation plans for giving effect to the additional functions the CHE has taken into account the necessary complexity in terms of sequencing and potential overlap between the different processes to ensure their overall coherence.
This Communiqué is the first of a series to inform the higher education community of the steps that the CHE is putting in place to implement the additional functions assigned to it as a result of its designation as the Quality Council for Higher Education. It should be noted that this communiqué does not replace and should be read in conjunction with the four Joint Communiqué's relating to the implementation of the HEQF, which previously released by the CHE, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).
The purpose of this Communiqué is two-fold:
- It outlines the process for the review of the HEQF.
- It outlines the proposed implementation plan for the alignment of existing programmes and qualifications in line with the requirements of the HEQF.
The framework and process for standard setting and the development of criteria for the naming of qualifications will be released in early 2011.