The past weeks have seen a spate of protests by tertiary education learners over a number of issues top among them being the non-accredited courses.
Though Botho University has amplified the voice of the plight, the matter has been a concern at other private institutions - Boitekanelo College, New Era College, BA ISAGO University as well as Limkokwing University Creative Technology. Learners at the schools have, in the recent past, protested these.
A second year student was forced to seek refuge at Boitekanelo College after the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) told her she could not get her UNISA degree through BA ISAGO since Government wanted to empower local institutions.
The student, who had completed her Diploma in Safety, Health and Environment then landed in an institution where she had to spend two years in order to attain an Occupational Health Safety degree, which she could have attained in a year had she proceeded at BA ISAGO.
To add salt to injury, she found out the course she just enrolled in was not accredited either by the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA), or the mandatory global body, the International Commission for Occupational Health.
This, the embittered learner says, speaks volumes about management of higher education in Botswana, adding that the extra year means wastage of public funds as well as prolonging her days in school.
“We do not know what is going to happen to us. It feels like we are just wasting our time going to school. I have already spent a lot of time in school and now I have to do a course I am not guaranteed will get me a job after completion.
The international accreditation is critical as one cannot get a job without it,” the student grieved. Lately, scenarios like the above have vexed the student community.
The Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigele who recently addressed Parliament on the education crisis said “students’ discontent has revolved mainly around three issues - late payment of living allowances, non-accredited programmes and high prices charged by book shops that operate within campuses”.
He admitted that indeed some of the programmes that the students are enrolled in “are not fully accredited”, attributing this to “transition of past regulations that allowed students to enroll for programmes which could be provisionally accredited, approved but not yet accredited”.
An approved programme is one validated by the subject matter experts following which the ETP is given permission to offer the programme.
Accreditation has three stages, which are full accreditation, under which a study programme has met all minimum requirements, provisional accreditation which meets minimum requirement though there are gaps and lastly, deferred accreditation, which is given to programmes not meeting “most of the minimum requirements” and “identified gaps can't be closed within a year”.
Where do most of local higher learning programmes fall in the accreditation ranks?
At the time Madigele addressed the House, 64 of the 300 programmes offered were accredited. It was not clear whether these are fully or provisionally accredited. As of March 2, 2017, 69 programmes were accredited from a slight increment of 307 now offered by private providers nation-wide.
Former TEC chief speaks
Past immediate Tertiary Education Council (TEC) boss, Dr Patrick Molutsi says though flawed, the previous system was better than nothing. He goes on to punch holes in the newly implemented front-line accreditation model.
“The old system was good as it was meant to not only accredit based on paper but monitoring and being assured that courses are robust. However, there was incapacitation from both ETPs and TEC,” he said.
Molutsi said since it was beginning of a new era in 2005, most institutions were poor with writing reports while on the other hand, TEC was incapacitated in terms of qualified personnel to carry out its functions.
“Ideally no student should graduate before their course is accredited, there should have been measures in place that would compel institutions to accredit,” he said
Though he acknowledges that had the Act been specific on time frames for accreditation the quality of our education could be better, he said from 2005 to date quality graduates have been produced.
He said before then fly-by- night institutions swindled Batswana of their monies offering unregulated programmes.
Molutsi was however quick to point out that the new system adopted by BQA was not saintly.
“This system involves using papers to accredit students. Institutions can just ‘employ’ someone for the purpose of accreditation and that will cause problems,” he said.
Nonetheless, the system is badly flawed. Of the 17 programmes submitted to BQA on March 2, 2017, only two were accredited. Madigele confirmed this in a recent interview.
“It’s a serious indictment on the regulations. We need to tighten accountability on the part of the regulator,” he said.
He said in the meanwhile they are working round the clock to ensure that programmes offered by higher learning institutions are fully accredited, as the TEC Act allowed room for courses to run on an approval status.
Programmes approval alone is not sufficient
“The shortfall of this arrangement has been that many programmes were run on approval basis, and it took long to ratify this,” added Madigele. He explained that upon the realisation that there were no enforceable regulations to speed up the process, BQA was formed in 2013 and tasked with this mandate.
For a programme to be accredited, it ought to have met certain requirements.
For instance, the course content must be of good standard, there must be proper infrastructure, for example laboratories, bookstore and others needed for delivery as well as qualified human capital.
However, there have been instances where students complained of equipment
“These are gross violations. Structures such as the National SRC Union must report these issues in order to assist BQA do surveillance and close monitoring,” he advised.
Moreover, BQA must do mystery shopping more often to curb instances where institutions would want to appear in good light during audits.
The Botswana Association of Private Tertiary Education Providers (BAPTEP) has said members have submitted the necessary documents to BQA for accreditation. However, processes have been slow due to BQA’s lack of capacity.
“Finger-pointing by institutions, or anyone and apportioning blame won’t help the situation because students are aggrieved,
I understand their (students’) situation,” Madigele said. In this mess, private tertiary education providers are the biggest winners. The law has not been tight, in the process programmes have run without full accreditation yet they continued to rake in millions in tuition fees from Government.
A glimpse into the current Act
It has since come to the fore that the genesis of today’s trouble was incepted with the TEC Act of 1999, under which Education and Training Providers (ETPs) were given latitude, hence they did not feel pressure to fully accredit programmes.
“Any private institution being the holder of a certificate of registration issued in accordance with this Act, may apply to the Council for accreditation provided that the certificate has been held for at least one year or such other period as the Council may in a particular case determine,” this was explained by Madigele.
Another condition that gave private tertiary institutions the freedom not to robustly push for full-accredition of programmes is that the Act goes to say accreditation may be applied for when the approved programme has not been suspended or revoked.
As long as revocation and suspension did not occur, nothing compelled institutions to strive for accreditation.
“The danger in this arrangement is that chances are very low that programme standards could be improved. Nothing is pushing them to upgrade facilities because they are not compelled or the regulations not strict on them to move to the next level, which is accreditation” a learner who preferred anonymity said.
We did nothing wrong
BAPTEP president, Rushen Kishun told Mmegi that they are not bothered by the ongoing complaints and riots made by students, as they know they (education providers) are within the parameters of the law.
“There is confusion between accreditation and approval of courses. When a course is approved, it can be offered and the students will graduate with recognised qualifications. The students are confusing the old regulations with the new ones,” he said.
Kishun denied that they took advantage of the TEC Act loopholes to just approve, but not fully accredit courses. He said whoever did that would be dealt with by BQA. This is against the fact that they were not compelled by law to accredit their offering, which the students have been complaining about at various institutions over the past years.
Kishun, who is also BA ISAGO president, said the strikes are more to do with living and equipment allowances than accreditation of programmes, giving quantity survey students at his institution as an example of those complaining about equipment.
In terms of the Accreditation of Private Tertiary Institutions Regulations regulation 4 (1) of 2008, which governed higher education institutions before the establishment of BQA, a programme specified in the application for accreditation must have been offered for at least one academic year, and have been the subject of an internal process approved by the Council through the issue of a certificate of registration. This is the process that resulted in a situation where a programme could be approved to run and enroll students before it is accredited.
BQA now overriding the system
BQA chief executive officer Abel Modungwa told Mmegi that “we are caught up in a situation where there is transition, but the system is impatient”.
By system he means parents and students.
Since the riots, a number of institutions have come forth to accredit programmes. Before, he said, the process was slow and not satisfactory.
“Well strikes would have put pressure to make both BQA and institutions to put more effort and speed up things. But we had new strategies in place to quicken the process. For instance, we wrote to tertiary institutions twice,” Modungwa said.
He conceded that his office is not capacitated enough to deal with the volumes of submissions from institutions, hence they recently engaged subject matter experts to process accreditations.
“We have had instances where submissions took long to be proceeded,” he said.
To reinforce monitoring processes, BQA has vowed to embark on frequent unscheduled audits to curb instances where some institutions are reported to “stage-manage” during scheduled visits.
A Memorandum of Agreement is on the cards between the regulator and the National SRC and the Student Union to jointly fight such incidents.
However, institutions have taken stringent measures against student leaders who expose such wrongdoings in the past.
“We have a Learner Protection Policy which will come into effect as part of the new regulations. This will be customised to each institution and will help protect learners from being victimised. It will also ensure that students do not suffer anyhow in case their programme is discontinued,” he said.
On the topical issue of commericalisation of education, Modungwa said as long as quality assurance standards are maintained ,there is nothing wrong.
“I think generally standards are maintained but there are areas where they are not upheld,” he said without elaborating.