The HEQC is committed to a quality-driven higher education system that contributes to socio-economic development, social justice and innovative scholarship in South Africa. To achieve this end, the HEQC will support the development, maintenance and enhancement of the quality of public and private higher education provision in order to enable a range of stakeholders to benefit from effective higher education and training. The central objective of the HEQC is to ensure that providers effectively and efficiently deliver education, training, research and community service which are of high quality and which produce socially useful and enriching knowledge as well as a relevant range of graduate skills and competencies necessary for social and economic progress. The policies and programmes of the HEQC will be guided by the above commitments and objectives. (Founding Document, 2001: 9)
The HEQC first cycle of quality assurance was conceptualised and developed between 2001 and 2004. At that time it was necessary for the national quality assurance system to help overcome the divisions that had characterised higher education under apartheid (historically advantaged and historically disadvantaged higher education institutions (HEIs); English-medium and Afrikaans-medium institutions; universities and technikons) and which had created a range of perceptions, often based on prejudice, about the distribution of quality across the South African higher education system. A further division, although not based on the legacy of apartheid, was that between public and private providers, shaped by their different purposes and roles in relation to the labour market. Given this context, the first cycle focused on providing an integrative foundation for the work of the HEQC: all institutions were subject to the same approach and criteria in order to create a common basis on which to develop a shared understanding and approach to quality. The HEQC system utilised four well-known elements of quality assurance: programme accreditation ensured provider compliance with minimum standards in order to offer learning programmes at higher education level; national reviews focused on existing programmes in a particular area (discipline/qualification) to reinforce the accountability of providers in the relevant academic fields and their alignment with the national regulatory framework; the institutional audit process looked at the effectiveness of an institution's internal quality assurance mechanisms in the three core functions of teaching and learning, research and community engagement with improvement as its main aim. Finally, quality promotion focused on training in quality assurance methods, on the dissemination of information on quality assurance and on supporting the improvement of quality in the core functions. The HEQC added capacity development in addition to quality promotion in recognition of the need to prepare all HEIs to participate in the national quality assurance system. In 2011, at the end of the first cycle, the HEQC will have audited 35 HEIs, accredited close to 5000 new programmes, subjected 85 programmes to national reviews, trained about 550 institutional auditors and over 1500 programme evaluators, and will have organised scores of workshops and training opportunities for HEIs.
After ten years of operation of the HEQC and the completion of the first cycle of quality assurance, it is necessary to evaluate the implementation of the first cycle activities and to use the knowledge and insights gained about the higher education system to conceptualise an approach to quality assurance that will guide the work of the HEQC in a second cycle of quality assurance. This Framework outlines the HEQC approach to the second cycle of quality assurance. First, it focuses on the achievements of quality assurance during the first cycle, taking into account the findings of the external evaluation of the HEQC in 2008. Secondly, it reflects on the knowledge of the higher education system obtained during the first cycle. Thirdly, it focuses on the purpose and objectives of the second cycle of quality assurance: its conceptual underpinnings and its methodological choices, giving particular attention to the area of institutional reviews. Fourthly, it deals with the future of granting institutional self-accreditation status for programmes. Fifthly, it addresses the HEQC's need to review its approach to the quality assurance of private providers. Finally, it concludes with the next steps to be taken to implement the second cycle, including the continued consultation of stakeholders in the development of the HEQC quality processes.