Higher Education Authority (HEA) says it will next year implement a national classification system that will place existing universities into tiers depending on capabilities in teaching, research and public service.
HEA Standards, Research and Institutional Audits Manager Orleans Mfune said the plan is part of the reorganisation of the higher education sector, and it will be based on the Higher Education Act No. 4 of 2013 and Statutory No. 23 of 2016.
“The classification is coming against the backdrop of increased participation by various actors in the higher education sector over the past two decades,” said Dr Mfune in a statement issued today.
Dr Mfune observed that the over 50 universities existing in Zambia led to a weakly coordinated higher eduction sector, with universities operating in an institutional vacuum, where any university could offer any level of education, sometimes without considerable attention to its capabilities.
“The negative consequences of this situation are quite evident and have manifested in various forms, including of public dissatisfaction with the quality of graduates and low research activity in universities,” he said.
As a quality control measure, the forthcoming national classification system categorises universities into four tiers.
“Each tier is distinguished by the level of education that can be provided by institutions in that class based on their teaching, learning and research capabilities. In this way, the system creates roles for Universities classified at different tiers. For example, Tier 1 institutions are research-oriented institutions that will be given the role of offering higher research degrees such as doctorates,” Dr Mfune explained.
He said the reason for giving doctoral awarding powers to some institutions is that doctoral researchers can best be natured in an environment where there is an existing research culture, experienced senior scholars and the necessary infrastructure to support production of quality doctoral graduates.
“Institutions in tier 1 will be allowed to offer degree programmes up to doctoral level based on the fact that they have demonstrated this essential attribute.
Similarly, institutions that demonstrate enough capacity to offer postgraduate education at Master’s degree level will be placed in tier 2. The other two classes, tier 3 and tier 4, will be restricted to taught programmes at bachelor’s degree and postgraduate diploma levels respectively,” he said.
Dr Mfune added that the national classification system is, however, not a ranking system.
“It does not seek to create a league table of high and low flying institutions such as that of the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Rather, it groups universities with similar capacity into similar classes and assigns them roles on the basis of their capacity.
At the core of the classification is the idea that Universities should only offer a level of education for which they have the necessary capacity. In this regard, Universities can be high performers within the tier in which they are classified,” he said.
The Authority considers the classification system as one of the many necessary steps that must be taken address challenges faced by the higher education system.
It will help the learner and the public to have information on the ability of a university to satisfy the minimum quality standards in the provision of higher education.
The classification system will also allow universities to enter or stay in the higher education sector within an appropriate tier that best represents their capacity while offering them an opportunity to invest in quality assurance systems to enable them move to the next tier or to maintain their stay in a tier.
There has been a rise in the number of universities in the country due to the 1992 legal reforms in higher education that allowed non-state actors to participate in the provision of university education.
Before 1992, Zambia only had two universities, namely the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University.