The southern African RQF plan has been in development for one and a half years, following decades of preliminary work in several Afircan countries. The 2011 development intolves a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Qualifications Portal, concept documents, implementation strategy, and regional guidelines for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).
A two-day meeting in mid 2011 was attended by nine member states; Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A SADC Qualifications Portal first phase has already been developed, led by SAQA and five participating member states: Namibia, Seychelles, Mauritius, Zambia and Tanzania. The portal is still in its pilot stage, with support from Microsoft South Africa.
The next phase is to facilitate other African countries, that are not yet part of the pilot, to use the portal, and to populate the portal with qualifications offered by institutions in all member states, and the equivalent relevance and value of qualifications.
The SADC region is “moving towards recognition of key elements of a regional qualifications framework, and will submit the plan for approval at a SADC Education Ministers’ meeting later in2011.”
The TCCA meeting agreed on including relevant stakeholders in the RQF during the implementation phase.
Study confirms need for regional framework
A study of SADC qualifications frameworks and quality assurance measures, by Augustines Utlwang of the Botswana Examinations Research and Testing Division, finds that national and regional ways of assuring quality of qualifications “has become a major area of concern.
“Quality assurance is necessary locally because of the presence of a variety of assessments and qualifications that need to be harmonised with education systems.
“Regionally, mobility of human resources, need for credit transfer and consideration for the recognition of prior learning, have created demand for national and regional qualifications authorities.”
The Arusha Convention and subsequent protocols translated wishes of these countries into realistic and pragmatic changes. The envisaged cooperation followed a sector approach.
The new initiative in quality assurance in SADC became all embracing. It sought to harness all qualifications nationally and regionally in terms of harmonization, articulation, benchmarking, standards, outcomes and quality assurance. These tasks seemed insurmountable considering the many informal and unrecognized qualifications in each of the member states. Many of the essential qualifications that exist locally are not even recorded.
The Committee started its work by trying to record all the school and vocational qualifications that are currently recognised throughout the region. This move was meant to act as a harmonisation process. Harmonisation is a process of working together, accepting differences without discord with a view to reconciliating them. Harmonised qualifications are usually compared and accepted in all the countries in the region regardless of the differences in them. Such qualifications are regarded as being mutually intelligible and used as such.
The TCCA recommended establishment of National Qualifications Authorities (NQAs) in each of the member states. These would be anchored by an umbrella body, the Regional Qualification Authority (RQA).
Issues include credit transfer, accountability, improvement in the quality of education, aligning learning with employer demands, and multi-disciplinary practice, like occupational health, safety, environment and quality management.
Franz E Gertz identifies several weak points for Namibia before an NQA was instituted there:
• no nationally agreed nomenclature for qualifications
• no validation for courses developed, delivered and certified
• no source of public information on recognized qualifications
• no structured involvement of stakeholders in course development.
SADC qualifications benchmarking
A number of SADC committees were established to undertake various assignments. One of these committees was the Technical Committee on Certification and Accreditation which was established in 1997. Its terms of reference were that it should develop and recommend policy guidelines, instruments, structures and procedures for facilitating harmonisation, equating, standardization of accreditation and certification. It has managed to:
• Compile and publish a comparative analysis report on qualifications at all levels of education and training in the SADC region.
• Exchange information on external assessment and moderation schemes in the SADC region and develop new guidelines for determining best practice at regional and inter-country level.
• Initiate steps towards the development of national qualification frameworks in member countries.
• Review and finalise the draft strategic plan for the TCCA for the period 2001 to 2004, including facilitation of the development and implementation of the NQFs, harmonisation into shaping the development of the regional qualifications framework (RQF), agreements on entrance requirements to higher education and training, and review and strengthening of national assessment and accreditation structures, systems and procedures.
• Develop project proposals on strengthening National Assessments and Accreditation structures, systems and procedures.
• Develop the concept paper and guidelines for the setting-up of the Southern African Development Community Qualifications Framework (SADCQF). This draft document was finalized in Maseru and tabled at the Council of Ministers. Its approval starts the implementation of the recommendation to set up the SADCQF.
Southern African Regional Qualifications Framework issues
Quality Assurance; Initiatives like the NQAs and the RQA are quite new. They will have long-term benefits for the region if they are properly instituted. SADCQF will directly act as a quality assurance body for the region. It will also become the clearing-house for qualifications from other regions. Since it will have all qualifications in the SADC region it will be able to interpret these and decide their equivalences in comparison to those that are from outside the region.
Accreditation; SADCQA will be accepted as the quality assurance body since it will have direct contact with other newly instituted RQA. Countries will benefit from regional standards than from country to country ones. Regional standards will have more credibility than country standards since they will have resulted from the work of many people. Regional qualifications are nearer to answering the global needs of quality education than the local ones. Recognition of qualifications will be based on regional rather than on local standards. This assumes that the SADCQA will automatically become an accreditation body for all qualifications on its framework (SADCQF).
Assumption of equal standards; Formation of SADCQF assumes that all the countries have recorded qualifications in the form of NQFs. The processes of harmonization, articulation and standardisation could leave those countries without NQFs little room to decide the model of NQFs that they want to develop. Those countries that do not have NQFs will have a stiffer resistance from the different sectors of the economy that have to provide qualifications. They may feel that the regional qualifications are being enforced on them. This is because examples given to them will be those from other countries in the region.
Mobility and transfer of skills; SADCQF will provide a platform on which equivalences for all qualifications in the region will be recorded. This will make it easy for people’s qualifications in the region to be understood thus making it easy for them to travel in search of educational and work opportunities. Sharing of skills will be made possible. Countries whose economies are ailing could benefit from those whose economies a vibrant by exporting labour. Some countries could benefit from the transfer of skills.
Improvement in education; Sectors of education will be integrated and improved by exposing them to some form of equivalencies or expectations. The equivalences that will be attached to a diploma will be uniform throughout the region. Any diploma that does not meet the standard stipulated on the SADCQF will not be accepted anywhere in the region. Countries will work towards achieving excellence and that will improve the level of education and place them in better positions to compete globally. Uniformity is an eventuality but some countries could do more than just the required standard thus pushing it to a minimum requirement.
Fast tracking qualification quality
Embracing collective methods that can fast-track development towards quality education and training, could create an intellectual human resource in the SADC region. Such an intellectual environment when fully developed can empower the region to compete on an equal basis with powerful economic blocks like the European Union.
The danger is for countries in the region to concentrate on individual efforts which have no collective value. When much larger and well-organized regions exert their intellectual and economic pressure they can easily reduce any of the countries into a consumer nation with nothing substantial to offer globally. They can also create a situation where all the potential intellectuals are attracted to their regions, thus resulting in a gradual ‘brain drain’ in some weaker countries.
Key concepts in qualifications frameworks are listed below.
Articulation; An articulated system of qualifications has more deliberate and purposeful formal linkages than a harmonized system. An example of articulated qualifications would be, a Baccalaureat from Mozambique and a Technical Certificate from Zambia would carry the weight of level 7 in Malawi. The proposed level 7 on Malawi’s qualifications framework is, of course a Masters Degree.
Benchmarking; Benchmarking involves measuring a lesser-known quantity against a known one. Intelligible and useful judgments can be made from comparing the two measurements. The requirements for completing a diploma in the UK could be compared to those for completing a newly introduced engineering diploma in Botswana. Such a comparison could enable the designers of the engineering course to finish its design and offer it with confidence. Established standards are usually used as benchmarks for newly formulated ones.
Harmonisation; Harmonised qualifications usually assume the same state in which they were after they are harmonised. They are however allowed to reconcileand are mutually intelligible. Harmonisation is usually guided by broad and flexible rules. It is sometimes achieved through benchmarking.
Outcomes; Outcomes refer to expected achievements of those considered to be competent or qualified at a certain level of learning. The statements of outcomes should be specific like ‘Typing 100 words in a minute”. Outcomes Based Education (OBE), emphasises the need to achieve specific objectives. It is against generalising of knowledge. OBE has been discredited in several countries, including recently in South Africa.
Standards; A standard is the weight or measure against which conformity should be made in order to achieve a particular qualification or attainment. It could also refer to statements about expected capabilities. The standard reference qualifications idea assumes that the standards should have outcome levels, show the means of assessment and levels of tolerance and so on.
Quality assurance; Quality assurance refers to methods by which evidence about qualifications are collected, interpreted and used. Traditional ways of testing could be used to recognize a qualification. Quality assurance usually goes beyond just tests to include the curriculum, provision and the recognition of actual performance. It exerts pressure on training providers to maintain the standard at hand and to continue developing quality.
NQF National Qualifications Framework
NQA National Qualifications Authority
OBE Outcome based education
TCCA Technical Committee on Certification and Accreditation
SADC Southern Africa Development Community
SADCQF Southern Africa Development Community Qualifications Framework
Malawian and Zimbabwean vocational ETQFs
Malawi’s vocational education and training qualifications framework (listed first) compares with the similar vocational ETQF in Zimabawe (listed second), on eight levels;
8 Executive Doctoral; 8 Technological Scientist DTech
7 Specialist Masters; 7 Design Technologist MTech
6 Professiona Bachelor; 6 Engineering Technologist BTech
5 Managerial Higher Diploma; 5 Technologist HND
4 Technician Diploma; 4 Technicians National Diploma
3 Artisan Higher Certif; 3 Skilled workers National Certificate
2 Operative Intermediate Certif; 2 Skilled operatives Foundation Certificate
1 Assistant Operative Foundation Certif; 1 Unskilled Operative Pre-vocational Primary
Namibia’s national qualifications framework provides for 8 levels;
8 Doctors, Further Research Qualifications; Tertiary/ Professional Institution
7 Masters Degree Professional Qualifications; Tertiary/ Professional Institutions
6 Honours Degree Professional Qualifications; Tertiary /Private /Professional Institutions
5 Bachelors Degree, Higher Diplomas; Tertiary/ Private
4 Diplomas /Certificates and Higher Certificates; Tertiary/ Colleges/ Private/ Workplace
3 Vocational Training Certificate; Vocational Training Centres/ Workplace/ Private/ Schools
2 Senior Secondary Certificate/ Mix of units; Schools/ Private/ Workplace/ Opening Learning
1 Junior Secondary Certificate/ Mix units; Schools/ Private/ Workplace/ Opening Learning; Upper Primary Grade 7(7years)/ Units of learning in literacy and Adult Education; Schools/ Adult; Basic Education/ National Literacy Programme/ Workplace; Lower Primary Grade 4(4 years)/ Units of learning and Adult Education; Schools/ Adult; Basic Education/ National Literacy Programme/ Workplace.
Guidelines for Development of a National Qualification Framework, were formulated by the TCCA from experiences and researches carried out in the region and abroad;
Undertake stakeholder consultation and consensus building.
Establish leadership to spearhead the process – a task team or steering committee.
Decide between a home-grown and an international qualification framework.
Conceptual an NQF.
Determine who drives the process parastatal, government or industry.
Determine a transitional period.
Collect all standards and qualifications by issuing interim registration.
Decide whether it is outcome based or modular – allow time for conversation.
Determine national priority areas to develop standards.
Secure political commitment through legislative facilitation.
Determine the levels of competence.
Use of existing qualifications as a basis for starting the process or dispense with existing qualifications and develop new ones (this is an extreme choice but nevertheless extreme situation do arise sometimes).
Issues for consideration when starting a qualifications framework include;
structures, systems and procedures
should facilitation be external or internal?
what inputs or exchange of experience are needed?
should the process be needs driven or pressure driven?
The process is time consuming and costly
focus on modes of learning can erode the necessary focus on process and duration
determine which level one starts with: the whole education system, VET, or other areas of coverage.
• SADC TCCA.
• Extracts from a full and referenced paper on SADC qualifications frameworks and quality assurance measures, by Augustines Utlwang (PHOTO) of the Botswana Examinations Research and Testing Division.