On 20 March 2021, the first cohort of 18 students from the post-graduate diploma in Quality Assurance in Higher Education attended their graduation ceremony at the University of Makeni in Sierra Leone. The newly graduated officers include academic and administrative staff working at universities which are part of the Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone (AQHEd-SL) network and at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) – the Sierra Leone quality assurance external monitoring body.
The ceremony represents a milestone for Sierra Leone. The role of the quality assurance officers will be central in ensuring the country moves towards national outcome-based education – the student-centred approach at the heart of the AQHEd-SL partnership aiming to create a more responsive and capable national workforce.
The post-graduate diploma was developed as part of the AQHEd-SL partnership, with the aim of teaching academic and administrative staff how to monitor and evaluate the implementation of newly revised curricula, a key aspect of the project. These curricula – which include new syllabi, lesson plans, curriculum mapping templates and new teaching, learning and assessment methods – were developed to better align university degrees with employers’ needs.
Joseph Hoffman, speaking for the SPHEIR team, noted: "We appreciate how much those who have received their postgraduate diploma in quality assurance have personally and professionally achieved. But their achievement also says so much about the commitment and dedication of Sierra Leone’s higher education institutions in moving collaboratively towards national outcome-based education, and their determination that quality assurance plays a key role in achieving that goal. Many countries in Africa and beyond can learn from the experience of the Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone team."
The post-graduate diploma was initially devised and taught by the AQHEd-SL project partners with input from Sierra Leone and international experts. The quality assurance officers who completed the diploma helped train new students alongside Sierra Leone experts – a testament to the capacity built through AQHEd-SL. The project has now begun training a further 16 quality assurance officers who will join their newly qualified colleagues in their various institutions by September.
The fact that the staff trained are already academic or administrative staff working in the partner universities and the TEC means that they are able to understand the challenges of their institutions and are in the best positions to act.
Antoinette Turay from the University of Sierra Leone, said: “At Fourah Bay College [University of Sierra Leone] we have so many challenges – the registration process, admissions process, all the processes, policies were not well in place, even though they are there but they are not effective. With this knowledge I have gained in Quality Assurance we can now tackle those challenges together and also offer solutions since we have been taught how to settle challenges and how to respond to them accurately. We can do this now with the knowledge we have gained.”
The commitment of the staff to higher education reform, even before official recognition of their qualifications, has been remarkable. AQHEd-SL Project Director, Mr Samuel Weekes, congratulated the new graduates and highlighted that they have been working hard to change the culture of their institutions from the moment they began their training: “We visited institutions and we found that they have been having an impact, making changes such as improving on admissions and examination processes, and bringing quality to the forefront of the institutions.”
During recent institutional visits, the Vice-Chancellors, Principals and Registrars of the partner institutions have expressed their commitment to continuing AQHEd-SL’s work in quality assurance beyond the life of the project.
Moses Conteh, a recent graduate from the University of Makeni commented: “I think it is not just for my own gain, but it is for the good of the university and the good of the country as well. As we all know there is urgent need in order to ensure quality in our educational institutions, and if you see the rapid growth of UNIMAK [University of Makeni] today, it is because we know very well the essence of quality assurance: making sure we deliver the right services, the right teaching, the right curriculum in order for them [our students] to go out and be able to get a job or create jobs for themselves. So, in a nutshell, I believe it is of relevance not only for me as someone who has received the award today, but also to the institution as a whole.”
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The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and is managed on behalf of FCDO by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International.