The '1997 Education White Paper' on higher education identified funding, planning and quality assurance as the three key levers for steering the reconstruction and transformation of South African higher education and the creation of a new higher education landscape that is progressively characterised by equitable, high quality and sustainable institutions that are well governed, led and managed and responsive to the personpower and knowledge needs of economic growth and social development and the consolidation of democracy.
The 'Higher Education Act of 1997' allocated the responsibility for the conceptualisation and implementation of the steering mechanism of quality assurance to the Council on Higher Education (CHE), and specifically to a permanent committee of the CHE, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). The HEQC was to undertake the accreditation of learning programmes of public and private higher education institutions, institutional audits of all higher education providers and quality promotion.
It soon became clear that great potential synergy existed between the quality assurance function of the CHE and other core functions such as advising the Minister on all matters related to higher education, monitoring and evaluating whether, how, to what extent and with what consequences the vision, policy goals and objectives for higher education are being realised and reporting to parliament on the state of South African higher education. For example, knowledge, information and experience derived from quality assurance activities could usefully be utilised in the advisory function and systematic reflection on and analysis of quality assurance activities could become an integral component of the monitoring and evaluation function. As a result the CHE has structured its overall operations and those of its different directorates to ensure that this synergy is indeed realised to benefit the effective steering of higher education, the development of higher education and the achievement of policy goals.
This report on The State of Private Higher Education in South Africa, which also inaugurates a new publication series of the CHE, the Higher Education Monitor, is a good example of this synergy. The baseline data analysed in the report was generated by the process of re-accreditation of private providers that was carried out by the Accreditation and Coordination Directorate of the HEQC between May and December 2002. The analytical and empirical questions that were posed in working with data were informed by such policy goals such as the achievement of greater responsiveness of higher education to societal needs and the creation of a single articulated higher education system; issues which are studied and monitored by the Advice and Monitoring Directorate of the CHE. The content and structure of the report was decided upon jointly by the personnel of the Accreditation and the Monitoring directorates, who were concerned not only with the implications of the results of analysis for policy at the national systemic level but also to use the results to reflect specifically on the appropriateness of quality assurance policies and internal HEQC procedures and their efficacy with regard to national policy objectives.
The Higher Education Monitor series, of which this report on The State of Private Higher Education in South Africa is the first output, has the principal purpose of communicating and disseminating to institutions and key stakeholders, such as government, business, academics, administrators, workers and students, evidence-based reports that analyse different aspects of South African higher education.
The CHE takes seriously its responsibility to monitor and evaluate the achievement of policy goals, and to build understanding of the directions in which the system and institutions are moving in relation to existing policy goals, and the reasons why. However, monitoring and evaluation is not an end in itself but a necessary condition for giving effect to an additional very important CHE responsibility, namely contributing to the effective steering of higher education. This steering is a multilayered task, which is intellectual, conceptual and practical.
Through the reports that were produced as part of its Higher Education Monitor series, the CHE hopes to provoke thoughtful and critical debate among key higher education constituencies around key issues but especially around what should be done and how it should be done. The reports are also intended to flag issues that need further investigation and/or discussion. In this way, the CHE hopes also to stimulate research and the production of knowledge and interpretive frameworks that could contribute to better theorisation of higher education, more rigorous analysis of higher education complexities and more effective strategies for change and progress. A monopoly of wisdom on goals, priorities, key policy drivers and effective strategies does not rest with any single actor and can only benefit from open, informed and critical debate among the key higher education stakeholders.
The CHE is acutely aware that the release of reports and the Higher Education Monitor series do not in themselves guarantee the creation of a public space for critical intellectual engagement and where necessary the revision of policy and practice. In this regard we are committed to creating mechanisms for communication and debate that go beyond simply the publication of reports.
Each report that is part of the Higher Education Monitor series will for a specified period have an e-mail address for feedback. During this period we will also create chat rooms on our website for interested actors to enter into debate among themselves and with the CHE. Finally, where possible we will also establish CHE Forums, a number of which have already been held for debate on particular reports.
Prof. Saleem Badat
Chief Executive Officer, CHE
Pretoria, June 2003