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Hurdles ahead for East Africa’s Common Higher Education Area

Variations in quality and curricula adopted by different universities, inadequate financing and the length of time students take to complete degree programs, are some of the challenges that must be addressed to enable smooth actualisation of the East African Community Common Higher Education Area endorsed in May.

East African CommunityStudents at the University of Juba in South Sudan. How to incorporate universities in the country into the East African Community's CHEA was discussed at the Inter-University Council of East Africa forum last month in Zanzibar. Photo: UNMISS/Eric Kanalstein

There is a real need to ensure equal treatment of students across the bloc

Increased investment in advanced information and communication technologies, the role of the private sector in higher education, and catering for students with special educational needs, are also some of the issues identified by delegates at the Inter-University Council of East Africa forum last month in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

IUCEA, the regional body charged with implementing the harmonised higher education plan between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, also heard that universities in Africa’s newest state of South Sudan, the latest addition to the East African Community, needed to be assessed to establish what it would take to incorporate them.

“Operationalisation comes with additional demands and this will require resources for implementation”

There is also a real need to ensure equal treatment of students across the bloc as a validation of fees structure tool has already been developed which will enable universities to calculate the unit cost of programs, the IUCEA forum heard.

“Operationalisation comes with additional demands and this will require resources for implementation hence the need for resource mobilisation including grants to ameliorate tuition”, said Philip Ayoo IUCEA’s principal innovation and outreach officer.

According to Riziki Pembe Juma, Zanzibar’s Minister for Education and Vocational Training, EAC citizens are looking forward to greater and smoother free movement of labour, people and services as a result of declaration of the CHEA.

“We expect that students will soon be able to take courses in one university, accumulate credits, validate those courses in the original university and graduate,” said the minister.

Rationalisation of the labour market being one of the goals for the EAC, a graduate from one partner state should confidently be able to apply, and be considered for a job, in any of the states as the quality of graduates produced within the region will be comparable, she added.

The minister, however, expressed concern over the question of equal treatment of students, saying that as things stood, universities were charging students from partner states higher fees.

“Although all partner states have committed themselves to giving equal treatment to students coming from the community, I am informed that there are still some cases where universities charge students from EAC members fees as if they were foreigners,” Juma noted.

“In the context of the Common Higher Education Area, this challenge needs to be looked into and urgently addressed,” the minister noted.

She however expressed satisfaction that IUCEA had already developed a tool to enable universities to calculate the unit cost of programs, which would ensure higher education institutions to charge the same fees for all students from any of the EAC countries the same as would charge nationals of their respective countries.

Various tools to guide implementation of the CHEA had been developed the minister noted, including an assurance system, a qualifications framework, staff and student mobility policy, as well as benchmarks for academic programs.

“I am informed that there are still some cases where universities charge students from EAC members fees as if they were foreigners”

“What we now really want to see is that all these policies and tools are domesticated by all and effectively used by higher learning institutions,” Juma said.

The annual meeting of the regional higher education body was purely dedicated to the CHEA, with the theme: ‘The role of universities in the operationalisation of the EAC Common Higher Education Area for regional integration’.

It was the first event since the regional community’s 18th ordinary session of heads of states and governments held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in May declared East Africa a Common Higher Education Area.

The IUCEA has been tasked with the role of coordinating the implementation of the CHEA, with national higher education commissions and universities as partners.

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