Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education in Mauritius

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1 1 Seminar on Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education Sevres, France, June 2006 Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education in Mauritius By Goolam Mohamedbhai President, International Association of Universities Former Vice-Chancellor, University of Mauritius Some Facts on Mauritius Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean having an area of about 2,000 km 2 and a population of roughly 1.2 million. It became independent from the United Kingdom in March 1968 and its system of government is parliamentary democracy. Its GNP per capita is about USD 4,600 and the literacy rate of its population is of the order of 86%. It is interesting to note that the government has enounced a national strategy for transforming Mauritius into a Knowledge Hub and a Centre for Higher Learning. Accordingly, higher educational promoters are encouraged to set up branch campuses in Mauritius. Overview of the Tertiary Education Sector The institutions in the tertiary education sector in Mauritius can be broadly classified as public, private and regional. However, this is a rather simplistic classification as there is considerable diversity among the institutions in the various sub-sectors. It should be noted that, in Mauritius, tertiary education institutions include those which offer not only undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, but also diploma and certificate programmes. The institutions, especially those not offering degree programmes, are also referred to as post-secondary institutions. The institutions in the public sector comprise two universities (University of Mauritius and University of Technology Mauritius), three institutes (Mauritius Institute of Education, Mahatma Gandhi Institute and Mauritius Institute of Health), a distancelearning college (Mauritius College of the Air), two polytechnics (Swami Dayanand Institute of Management and Institut Superieur de Technologie) and a vocational training organisation but which also offers some post-secondary education (Industrial and Vocational Training Board). In 2004, there were about 11,700 students enrolled in the public institutions, a large proportion of them (55%) being at the University of Mauritius, the oldest (operational in 1968) and largest of the institutions. In the private sector there are an estimated 35 local, privately-established institutions and about 50 overseas institutions which deliver tertiary education through local bodies. The characteristics of the institutions in the private sector are that almost all of them deliver

2 2 part-time programmes; their programmes are mostly in specific areas such as law, IT, management, accountancy and finance; they have fairly small student cohorts; and they offer their programmes under franchise agreement with overseas institutions, the latter providing programme materials and some tutorial support and the local institutions providing the physical and administrative facilities as well as teaching and tutorial support. Some institutions act as agents for distance education providers overseas. The total student enrolment in the private institutions is estimated to be about 7,500 in 2004, representing about 39% of total student enrolment in Mauritius, although at present there is no proper and systematic record keeping of students in private institutions There are three institutions which have specific regional status. These are the Institut de la Francophonie pour l Entrepreneuriat (set up by the French university agency AUF and catering for students from the African region), the SSR Medical College (an Indian institution affiliated to the University of Mauritius) and the Mauras College of Dentistry (another Indian institution affiliated to the University of Bhavnagar in India). Finally, a significant number of Mauritian students study in overseas institutions and some register for distance education programmes directly with foreign institutions. The estimated number of these students is of the order of 6,800 in 2004, although again there is dearth of statistics on such students. The tertiary education enrolment rate for Mauritius, including students studying overseas, is estimated at about 20% and it is planned to increase that figure to about 35%. Institutions Overseeing Tertiary Education The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) was created in 1988 by an Act of Parliament as a parastatal body under the Ministry of Education (which in Mauritius also covers tertiary education). It has a governing Board with a chairman appointed by the Prime Minister. The chief executive officer is the Director, appointed by the Board with the approval of the Minister of Education. The main responsibilities of TEC at the time of its creation were to plan, develop and co-ordinate post-secondary education in Mauritius, to allocate government funds to those institutions falling under its purview and to ensure accountability and optimum use of resources within those institutions. The institutions originally under the purview of TEC were the University of Mauritius, the Mauritius Institute of Education, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute and the Mauritius College of the Air. Later, the University of Technology Mauritius, when it was created in 2000, was added to the list. Back in 1988 there were hardly any private tertiary education institutions in Mauritius, and quality assurance was not yet applicable to the tertiary education sector. In 1997, the government established The National Accreditation and Equivalence Council (NAEC) under the Ministry of Education. The main objective of NAEC was to ensure the provision of quality education in Mauritius. It was not only to establish equivalence of qualifications awarded by institutions both within and outside Mauritius, but also to undertake academic audits and accreditation of institutions. It was also to set

3 3 up a code of practice for overseas institutions operating in Mauritius. It was, in fact, meant to serve as the external quality assurance agency in Mauritius. However, it never really fully fulfilled its mission. In 2001, a Mauritius Qualifications Authority (MQA) was set up to evaluate and recognize qualifications awarded mainly by training institutions running technical and vocational courses, but this was not explicit and the MQA started assuming responsibility for all post-secondary qualifications as well. The MQA was set up, not under the Ministry of Education, but under the Ministry responsible for training and human resource development. Clearly there was an overlap in the responsibilities of MQA and NAEC, as far as recognition of qualifications was concerned, and in those of MQA and TEC with regard to public post-secondary education institutions. With these overlapping objectives and with the need to have a regulatory framework for the growing number of private institutions, as well as the felt need for a quality assurance agency, a re-organisation of the three institutions was to be expected. In 2005, three important changes were therefore made. First, the MQA Act was amended so as to remove all post-secondary institutions from its purview, the latter being brought under TEC. The MQA would be responsible for only technical and vocational qualifications. Second, the NAEC was demolished and all its responsibilities were passed on to TEC. And third, TEC was explicitly given the responsibility for acting as a quality assurance agency for all post-secondary education institutions, public and private, in Mauritius. These changes were reflected in the amendments made to the TEC Act in order to assign it the following major additional responsibilities: to register and accredit private universities and other post-secondary institutions; to recognise and determine the equivalence of academic qualifications in postsecondary institutions in and outside Mauritius; and to promote and maintain high quality standards in post-secondary education institutions through quality assurance and accreditation mechanisms. TEC and Quality Assurance TEC has been active in promoting quality assurance in the public tertiary education sector since It set up a Quality Assurance and Accreditation Division and also a Quality Assurance Committee, chaired by the TEC Director and comprising a representative from each of the public institutions coming under its purview. In May 1997 it organised a major seminar on Quality Assurance in Higher Education where academics from UK, US, India and South Africa gave an outline of quality assurance developments in the higher education sector in their respective country. In October 1999 it published the document Framework for Quality Assurance in the Tertiary Education Sector in Mauritius in order to assist institutions to put in place quality assurance systems in their respective institution. Later in the same year, it organised a seven-day workshop on Setting Up of Institutional Quality Assurance Systems for all the institutions.

4 4 The model for quality assurance adopted by TEC is that each institution should be responsible for putting in place and implementing its own quality assurance system. The term quality is taken to mean fitness for purpose, that is the effectiveness of the institution to fulfil its stated mission and objectives, as well as fitness of purpose, that is the responsiveness of the institution to national socio-economic needs. Once an institution has its quality assurance system in place, it should carry out a self-assessment to verify the effectiveness of the system and, in that connection, TEC published, in March 2000, a document entitled Guidelines for Self Assessment. When the institution feels confident to undergo external scrutiny, it invites TEC to carry out an external quality audit. In May 2004 TEC published a comprehensive Quality Audit Handbook which outlined the detailed procedures to be used in the external quality auditing of an institution, and it held a briefing seminar for the public institutions to explain the criteria for the audit. The basic procedure for the external audit is for the institution to first prepare a portfolio based on its self-assessment, which is then used by an external audit panel, set up by TEC in consultation with the institution, to assess the quality of the institution after visiting it. A first draft of the audit report is submitted by the panel, through TEC, to the institution for any comments, and the panel then finalises its report to be submitted to TEC and to the institution audited, but the report is the property of TEC. The institution audited is then expected to act on the recommendations of the report and to transmit to TEC the outcome of actions taken. An institution feeling aggrieved by the recommendations of the audit report can appeal to the Minister of Education. The latter sets up an ad hoc committee to hear the case, and communicates the committee s decision to both the institution and TEC. TEC established a first cycle of quality audit of the public institutions covering the period The first institution that was audited was the University of Mauritius in May The other institutions to be audited during that cycle are the Mauritius Institute of Education, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute and the University of Technology Mauritius, in that order. The quality assurance approach adopted by TEC for private institutions is through registration of the institution and accreditation of its programmes. In that connection, it has published two documents entitled Programme Accreditation and Guidelines for Programme Accreditation. With effect from July 2005, any private institution which wishes to operate in Mauritius has to register with TEC which then accredits its academic programmes. An accreditation panel, which is chaired by the TEC Director and which includes two subject specialists, is set up for each programme. The panel may grant provisional accreditation subject to quality control visits by TEC during the programme period. Subsequently, accreditation may be granted for the full duration of the programme. The panel may also refer back an application for accreditation with recommendations for resubmission, or reject the application outright.

5 5 Quality Assurance at the University of Mauritius In parallel to, and somewhat independently of, the developments taking place at the level of TEC, the University of Mauritius started putting in place its quality assurance system in the mid-90 s. The first step was to assign the responsibility of quality assurance to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor who was also responsible for curriculum development. A number of visitors, mainly from UK universities with which the University had links, were invited to guide the University in its task. The next major step was the preparation of the University s five-year Strategic Plan ( ), defining its vision, mission and objectives. A bottom-up approach was used, with all sections of the University being involved in the formulation of the Plan. The University then started to review all its academic processes such as curriculum approval, programme documentation, student selection and recruitment procedures, etc. To make the work more effective and participatory, an overall University Quality Assurance Team (UQAT) was set up under Senate to promote a quality culture, to establish standards and practices and to review quality systems and processes. At the same time a Quality Assurance Team (QAT) was set up for each major academic and administrative unit, for example FQAT for a Faculty, CQAT for a Centre, and AQAT for Administration. The outcome has been a number of quality assurance documents detailing procedures used in the various academic processes, as well as questionnaires and forms for evaluation and obtaining feedback. In October 2002, a Quality Assurance Office was set up and a full-time Director appointed. A major task of the Director was to carry out an internal quality audit. In 2004, the University agreed to be externally audited by TEC, and the Quality Assurance Office started co-ordinating the compilation of the institution s portfolio based on its selfassessment in collaboration with members of the various Quality Assurance Teams. The Director played a key role in assisting and facilitating the visit of the audit panel in May The University received the draft report of the panel in February 2006, gave its views on the draft and is currently awaiting the final report for implementing the recommendations. Sources of Information 1. Web site of Tertiary Education Commission, Mauritius Seminar on Quality Assurance in Higher Education, Tertiary Education Commission, Mauritius, May Quality Audit Handbook, Tertiary Education Commission, Mauritius, May Web site of the University of Mauritius.

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