1. What is the difference between registration and accreditation?
Registration is the process or act of granting a higher education institution authority to operate as a higher education institution. For a programme, registration means the institution which is applying for the registration of the programme is permitted to offer that programme. In order for a higher education institution (HEI) to qualify for registration, it must meet the minimum standards for registration set by the Council. It is illegal for any institution to operate as a higher education institution without registering with the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE, hereinafter referred to as the Council). Institutions that are duly registered can continue to offer registered programmes even if they are not accredited for as long as they are working on attaining the accredited status.
Accreditation, on the other hand, is the process or act of recognising that a higher education institution, or a programme offered by such an institution, meets all formal requirements of academic excellence in terms of the physical, human, financial, teaching and learning resources; management and operational procedures and an acceptable standard of academic life focusing on teaching, research, community service and expert service in line with Section 28 of the NCHE Act. For an institution or programme to be accredited they must each meet national and international quality standards of the factors outlined in Section 28(2) of the NCHE Act.
2. Can an unaccredited institution’s programme be accredited?
No. A programme can only be accredited if it is offered by an independently accredited institution and the programme is of a standard that satisfies accreditation requirements. No matter how good a programme is, if it is offered by an unaccredited institution it cannot be accredited: the institution must be accredited also.
3. Can an institution be accredited without having an accredited programme?
No. An accredited institution must have at least two accredited programmes; no matter how good an institution is, it can’t be accredited if it doesn’t have at least two accredited programmes. An institution that offers or starts with only one programme may be exempt from the two programme requirement if the circumstances warrant.
4. Can institutions that have failed continue offering higher education programmes or do you close them?
Duly registered institutions that have not been accredited are not supposed to close but they are supposed to work towards rectifying the shortfalls identified by a team of independent reviewers, within the time given in their institutional improvement plan. When an institution, or its programme, fails to get accredited, the Council provides the institution with the details of the identified weakness(es) and the Council asks the institutions to give the Council an improvement plan of how they intend to address the weaknesses. If they fail to do so then the Council may proceed with the deregistration of the institution but the Council’s efforts are geared towards supporting the institution to work on the shortfalls.
The Council monitors the implementation of the remedial actions outlined in their improvement plans and re-assesses the institution, or programme, at the end of the period in the improvement plan. If the institution has addressed the issues, it will get the accreditation but if it fails, the Council decides on how to handle the matter based on whether it has made good progress towards addressing the shortfalls or not. The options available to the Council include extension of the time for the institution to rectify the shortfalls (where the Council feels the institution is making good progress) and deregistration (where the Council feels they are not).
5. How do you carry out accreditation exercises?
When carrying out the accreditation exercise, a team of independent reviewers uses an accreditation framework that rates institutions and programmes on factors such as infrastructure, curricula, human resources and others that are critical to the quality of teaching and learning in higher education institutions.
6. Who are the reviewers?
The reviewers are experienced experts who are hired by the Council based on matching their areas of expertise to the programmes the institutions being evaluated are offering. These experts come from other higher education institutions both locally and from outside the country. Therefore, this is a peer review process. The choice of independent reviewers is guided by the programmes being offered by the institution being registered or accredited and efforts are made to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest.
7. What value do the qualifications issued by unaccredited institutions have?
Where the qualifications were issued while the institutions and their programmes were accredited (by Credentials Evaluation Committee or any other government body before the Council came into being) then the qualifications from the accredited programmes are recognised as the institutions and the programmes would be considered to have been accredited at the time they were offering the qualifications.
The results of the Council’s accreditation exercise do not apply retrospectively: qualifications issued from accredited programmes by the institutions from the time they were accredited to the time the Council made a decision not to accredit the institutions or programmes in question because they did not meet the requirements of the Council’s accreditation framework are still recognised. However, qualifications issued by the institutions which have not been accredited from the time the Council made the decision not to accredit the institutions will not be recognised. The qualifications will only be recognised if issued after the institutions have been accredited. Qualifications from programmes that were never accredited in the first place will not be recognised.
The Council maintains a list of all registered and accredited institutions and programmes in the country and repeated failure to meet standards could lead to deregistration.
8. Is accreditation permanent or does it have a validity period?
Accreditation is not permanent. Once an institution and its programmes are accredited, they are supposed to keep on being evaluated for accreditation every programme cycle. As an example, a four-year programme will be evaluated for accreditation every four years. During that evaluation, both the programme and the institution could lose the accreditation if the reviewers identify shortfalls in either of them.
9. Is accreditation mandatory or can institutions opt out?
Section 27(2) of the NCHE Act makes it a requirement that the Council evaluates higher education institutions every programme cycle for accreditation. When read together with Section 36(3) of the NCHE Act, it is clear that accreditation is mandatory for all higher education institutions, be they public or private.
10. What is the value of accreditation?
First of all, it is a legal requirement that higher education institutions are accredited to ensure that the standards of higher education in the country are comparable to standards in the region and internationally. On top of that, the accreditation exercise ensures that higher education institutions maintain the standards of their programmes because they are evaluated every programme cycle. That gives assurance to employers, students and sponsors that the qualifications issued by a higher education institution are of an acceptable standards.