STAFF WRITER OTHUSITSE TLHOBOGANG takes a closer look at the issues bedevilling the courses accreditation crisis at tertiary education level.
Botswana’s education system is reeling from a wave of protests from tertiary students who are unhappy at suddenly realising that some of the courses they are doing are not accredited. Students that are supposed to apply for tertiary placement are also at odds about which school to apply to lest they fall prey to doing programmes that are not accredited. Some of the institutions that have been severely affected include Botho University, University of Botswana and Baisago University. All this seems to have resulted because of the new Botswana Qualification Authority regulations which came into effect in January 2017. Prior to this regulation the BQA was using the 2008 Tertiary education Council regulations. The 2008 regulations allowed for the approval of the programme first, in a Pilot System that allowed for a later review to confirm its appropriateness. Normally the process would take about 12 months for the programme to be accredited in these old regulations. After this period then it is either the programme is given a full accreditation, provisional accreditation, deferred or it is rejected. The full accreditation means that the programme has met all the necessary requirements and is allowed to run. A provisional accreditation would be given when some aspects of the requirements still need to be worked on but the programme is allowed to run while the institution has to work on the other aspects. Deferred status means that the programme has not met the requirements and after a batch of students in the programme finishes the programme is then discontinued meaning no student will be allowed to enrol for it anymore. The qualification for those finished is however recognised as the programme was approved in the first place. When a programme is awarded a rejected status it is then stopped immediately. However the new regulation which is called the Front Loading System requires full accreditation from the onset. This means programmes need to be accredited at its commencement. This is still a new regulation that came into effect in January 2017.
It looks like these regulations have been the cause of the confusion and mix-up among the students who then resorted to protests. Rightfully so the students fear for what might happen after they finish school. They are fearful that they may be pursuing programmes whose qualifications will not be recognised. Their main concern is that when they request explanation on the matter school authorities take time to provide information. It has since come to the attention of this publication that some students are so disgruntled that they are ready to dump the institutions for those that offer accredited courses. Just this week students from Botho University petitioned the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research and Technology Dr Alfred Madigele in protest of the unresolved situation at their institution. BU Student Representative Council president Kabelo Dikatholo said they petitioned the minister so that he can help them in solving the issue fast. Among issues in the petition is the sour relationship between the SRC and Botho management that the students say is aggravating the matter. Dikatholo says the school management seems to be hostile towards the SRC when they try to clarification on the matter at hand. He pointed out that the suspensions of some SRC members is clear example of the hostility. Dikatholo explained that all they need is explanation on the accredited course at the school. He went on to explain that they want the issue to be resolved as it is negatively affecting on students’ education progress. The students are however concerned about how the relevant authorities are reluctant to help them. “It looks like the authorities are more focused on the crises caused by the strike and are working towards covering up for the institutions. I am saying this because when we request for information about the accredited courses we are told it is confidential information. Even Botswana Qualification Authority takes time to help us. We have long requested for this information but even at the point we do not have anything. What we were given is only the list of approved programmes not accredited ones,” said Dikatholo. What seems to be worrying students is that some institutions tend to take too long to regularise their programmes after they have been approved. Since some programmes might be given provisional accreditation the students voice concerns that the institutions then side back and not work on the provisions given. According to the students, all they want is to see the list of the accredited programmes and they are denied that.
From the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research and Technology side this unfortunate turn of events could have been easily averted. The minister, Dr Alfred Madigele, believes that all this has been a big misunderstanding. Dr Madigele is of a view that the fiasco could have easily been easily avoided if more was done to sensitise the students and the community at large about the new regulations. “What I have picked up is I do not think the students have a thorough understanding of the accreditation process. Perhaps information to the students has been misleading or inadequate causing a big misunderstanding,” said Madigele. The minister said since the new regulations which effected in January 2017 allows transition for institutions to regularise their programmes, the programmes that are currently offered are legal. He assured the students not to be overly concerned since if the programmes are approved it means they are offered legally. According to the regulations, only a programme with a rejected status is cause for concern. Madigele said the students who complete in a programme that has been approved but not given a full accreditation the qualification is legally recognised. The minister, however, concurred with the students when they say some institutions take longer than required to regularise their programmes. “This is exactly what has got us to this point because institutions take time to regularise their programmes. Some even take up to two years to comply,” he said. Dr Madigele who did not want to start a finger pointing game also said BQA also had a part to play. The minister acknowledged that BQA has been facing a mammoth task to work on the back log of applications. He said this is partly because BQA have not been fully capacitated. Dr Madigele however said this is not a time of finger pointing but to work towards finding the solution to the matter at hand. He nonetheless called on BQA to start doing more in educating the students and the public in general about the transition from the old regulation into the new one.
Botswana Qualification Authority
It however looks like despite the turn of events BQA has been doing something to address the community on the matter. On January 27, 2017 the authority met the student leadership through National Student Representative Council and the National Student Union to consult them on the transition to the new regulations. Prior to this the authority also hosted the media to update them on the transition to the new BQA regulations. BQA Chief Executive Officer Abel Modungwa recently acknowledged that the transition will come with challenges but committed to giving them due attention to address them. Modungwa assured that they will continue embarking on a nationwide tour to address education and training providers, student, local government officials, Dikgosi, area MPs, district commissioners, VDCs and other stakeholders. He acknowledged the need to engage with stakeholders saying several consultations have been done. Modungwa encouraged students to familiarise themselves with the regulations and the complaints handling procedure in case they have complaints. Addressing the matter at hand of students protesting about unaccredited courses Modungwa attested that BQA has taken the student leadership through the transition guide. BQA Communications Manager, Selwana Koppenhaver recently told the media that there is nothing illegal about Botho University and that the courses they provide were legitimate. Koppenhev said this is the reason why the courses are sponsored by the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF). She explained that accreditation is a process and is done in stages. “If the courses are approved then institutions are allowed to enrol students,” she said. This resonates with what has been said by Dr Madigele when assuring students that as long as the programmes are approved the students should not worry. BQA assured students, parents and the general public that it commits to improving the quality of education and training in the country. The authority has already instructed Education and Training Providers with learning programme on approval status to submit applications for accreditation. BQA has committed to process the applications within the next six months. The authority stated in its website that all students enrolled in the currently approved or accredited learning programmes leading to qualifications that commenced before the coming into effect of the new regulation shall complete their studies and their qualifications will be recognised. BQA is the body that has been entrusted with providing for and maintain the National Credit and Qualification Framework. The sole aim of its establishment was to improve the quality of education and training in Botswana.
The recent form five leavers who are looking to go into tertiary education are reported to be in a great confusion following what transpired. It is said that the poor prospective students are currently in a mix-up in trying to choose future programmes. This is mainly because those that are at institutions are up in arms protesting for some courses offered at tertiary institutions. The turn of events has left the new comers in between a hard place and a rock when deciding which courses to undertake for the future. The prospective students do not want to see what is happening now happen to them also. This has not only affected the students but parents are also alarmed by this trend.
What is being done?
Dr Madigele said the ministry is doing everything in its power to expedite the process of finding a solution to put the accreditation matter to rest. “I meet with BQA board of Directors and the Chief executive Officer regularly to try and find a solution,” said Madigele. He revealed that they are also engaging professional bodies since some programmes require their input. The minster also said they are currently considering a financial request from BQA to engage subject matter experts who will help expedite the accreditation process. Furthermore, the ministry of has formulated a communication plan to be rolled out in two week to address the matter. Madigele said all the stakeholders will be taken on board in soliciting solutions and educating them on the regulation transition. “It is important to provide accurate information in order to produce desired results,” he said.