In recent years Malawi has seen an increase in the number of students graduating from secondary schools and ready to attain higher education which has in turn resulted into the mushrooming of private institutions of higher learning.
The number of privately owned institutions of higher learning has increased with those registered with the National Council for Higher Education now over 20, as the public Universities and Colleges have been unable to absorb all the numbers of potential students due mostly to lack of space in lecture rooms as well as hostels.
This rise in the number of institutions of higher learning in the country has raised a very important question of quality in terms of education being offered in these Universities and Colleges as well as infrastructure among others. Frankly, as observed by many in the education sector as well as from the general public, the quality of education being offered by most of these institutions has left a lot to be desired.
This is why the government of Malawi through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology established the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) through Act of Parliament No. 15 of 2011 to be a regulator of higher education in Malawi.
The vision of the NCHE is to champion quality higher education in Malawi and its mission is to promote and coordinate relevant, accessible, equitable and sustainable quality higher education in Malawi.
In fulfilling its mission of ensuring Malawians are accessing quality higher education, NCHE organized the first ever national conference on quality assurance in institutions of higher learning from August 7 to August 10, 2017 at Sunbird Nkopola Lodge in Mangochi. The Council also organized the conference noting that quality higher education is a prerequisite for the attainment of sustainable development goals even as noted by the United Nations.
The theme of the conference, ‘Improving Higher Education Standards through Quality Assurance Management Systems’ was timely, as it tried to reinforce capacity of key stakeholders in quality assurance in higher education to ensure compliance in operating above minimum standards put in place by NCHE and approved by the Minister of Education Science and Technology.
The conference drew participants from higher education institutions both public and private, professional bodies, as well as NCHE.
International experts in quality assurance in higher education from countries like Kenya, South Africa and Zambia as well as local experts facilitated the conference.
Speaking at the conference, Chairperson of NCHE Dr. Stanley Khaila said NCHE is doing everything possible to ensure quality assurance in institutions of higher learning both public and private.
“The National Council for Higher Education is doing everything possible to make sure that the quality of higher education in Malawi is improving despite numerous challenges.
“Since the Council started operating in 2014 a great deal of good work has been done in a bid to improve quality in higher education amidst resistance in some quarters,” Dr. Khaila said.
The NCHE Chairperson noted that the resistance is hopefully going to end because many Malawians are now realizing the need for a regulatory body in the higher education sector.
“To us at the Council this resistance is normal and we hope sooner or later we shall all be able to understand why Malawi needs a regulator for higher education more especially now that we are advocating for increased access to higher education which results into mushrooming of higher education institutions,” he said.
Dr. Khaila added that it is imperative to deliberately put in place measures so that the higher education institutions should not compromise quality. And as such one way of ensuring quality in higher education is having a vibrant regulator which monitors, coordinates and champions quality in both public and private higher education institutions.
In her opening address, NCHE acting Chief Executive Officer Mrs. Martha Mondiwa, noted that the quality assurance conference was long overdue.
“Managers of quality assurance processes in higher education institutions were in need of training in quality assurance. During assessments for registration of programmes and accreditation, it was further observed that many private higher education managers lacked a good understanding of the higher education sector let alone of quality assurance processes hence the conference is a step towards changing such a trend,” she said.
Guest of honour at the conference, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Honourable Bright Msaka noted the unparalleled impact that education has on the existence and development of any nation.
According to Honourable Msaka, the success of Malawi as a nation depends upon people who have undergone quality education especially in higher education.
“If any nation aspires for quality infrastructure, quality administration, quality justice systems, quality public services, a sound economy, and a wholesome environment, such a nation must invest in the quality of those that ensure the existence of that quality. And those are the citizens of that nation.
“If you compromise the quality of the performers, you will surely compromise the resultant performance,” he said.
According to the Minister the conference was exceedingly important as we aspire for a Malawi resting on the shoulders of quality and successful citizens.
“I do not consider quality higher education as an end in itself. I consider quality higher education as a means to achieving a successful and globally competitive Malawi. I consider quality higher education as a vehicle by which this nation will be transported towards the attainment of our national aspirations,” said the Minister.
The Minister commended NCHE for starting the journey of quality higher education, which is the journey to national competitiveness.
“In starting this journey, you are directly addressing the national anxiety that advised your creation. As was the case prior to 2011, the year of your creation, to this day, Malawi is anxious about the apparent dwindling in the quality of education at all levels, including in our public and private universities.
“As was the case prior to 2011, to this day, Malawi wishes to re-assert its international competitiveness. These are mandates of your existence,” he said.
The Minister commended the World Bank for conducting studies that have confirmed Malawi’s anxieties on education noting the Bank’s belief in the potential of this country is evidenced by the generous support for the holding of the conference.
He said Government is deeply grateful for the Bank’s support and hopes that the Bank will walk with Malawi on the road of quality education; on the road of national competitiveness; and on the road of national success.