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East African Community takes decisive steps towards harmonising HE

After months of delays, plans to create a Common Higher Education Area across five East African states are finally being realised, as authorities move with speed to spell out the next steps to make the plan a reality.

East African CommunityEAC secretary general Libérat Mfumukeko. The project aims to harmonise and enhance the quality of higher education across the EAC. Photo: EAC

The heads of state declared the EAC a common higher education area “in order to harmonise and enhance the quality of education in the region”

The heads of state in the five countries that make up the East African Community – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi – declared the area a common higher education area “in order to harmonise and enhance the quality of education in the region”, according to a communiqué issued by the Inter-University Council of East Africa, the region’s higher education body.

“Operationalisation is on course; mobility of staff and students is already happening”

The harmonisation of the higher education region, which aims to facilitate credit transfer and enable EAC students to enrol at any of the region’s more than 100 universities without sitting an exam, was originally slated to come into force in February, but has been awaiting the endorsement of the region’s heads of state.

The formal declaration, made during the 18th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State of the EAC last month, comes months after IUCEA submitted a request for the endorsement of the CHEA to the heads of state last December.

The arrangement is “in line with the free movement of personnel as enshrined in the EAC Common Market Protocol”, commented IUCEA executive secretary Alexandre Lyambabaje.

In anticipation of the agreement, the IUCEA has developed an East African Qualifications Framework for Higher Education that includes guidelines on credit transfer and benchmarking.

“The declaration made was a culmination of so many achievements that IUCEA has made in the harmonisation of higher education systems in the region, including development of policy documents, regional standards, guidelines, and other operational tools that are already being implemented by universities, national commissions and councils for higher education,” Cosam Chawanga, chief principal of IUCEA’s Quality Assurance and Qualifications Framework, told The PIE News.

IUCEA has now been directed to “operationalise the transformation”, the communiqué said, and has laid out a tentative work plan to do so.

The association will first promote awareness of the plan among higher education stakeholders, through a comprehensive communication strategy as well as regional and national advocacy events.

It will also work on capacity building on specific technical aspects of the common area, targeted at national commissions for higher education, universities and relevant other players, Chawanga said.

“Operationalisation of the Common Higher Education Area is a lifelong process”

And it will carry out a survey to “take stock of the current status” of quality assurance, national qualifications frameworks and mutual qualifications recognition, and credit transfer across the region.

To follow the initiative’s progress, a comprehensive evaluation system will also be developed to monitor these factors, and others such as student and staff mobility programs, at both national and regional levels.

“Operationalisation of the Common Higher Education Area is a lifelong process as opposed to an event with an end,” Chawanga stressed.

A regional policy framework with clear roles and responsibilities for key players involved in promotion compliance to standards and practices will also be drafted.

“The operationalisation is already on course; for example, mobility of academic staff and students is already happening, as well as mutual recognition of qualifications for both academic and professional qualifications,” Chawanga assured.

The declaration made during the summit, he added, marks a formal commitment by heads of state to give new impetus to the common higher education region.

Composed of more than 150 million people, including a large population under the age of 35, the East African Community has more than 100 public and private universities, with higher education witnessing exponential growth in recent years.

This rapid growth has led to increased cross-border mobility of students across the EAC. However, numerous questions have been raised over the quality of programs on offer and the facilities available.

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