African-EHEA dialogue on recognition and quality assurance: successes, challenges and perspectives for cooperation

Dialogue on recognition and quality assurance

Between the 17th and 19th of January, the HAQAA Initiative held a dialogue about recognition and quality assurance between around 70 representatives of governments, organizations and Higher Education Institutions from Africa and the European Higher Education Area in Barcelona.

Organized by OBREAL, one of the coordinators of the HAQAA Initiative, the dialogue revolved around the recognition of micro-credentials and lifelong learning as well as the quality assurance systems and the role that African and European universities and agencies should play out.

The importance of recognition and quality assurance

The main topic of the meeting has been recognition and quality assurance, due to its importance when talking about Higher Education: recognition is, in the end, what makes it possible for degrees to be valid and acknowledged in other systems.

It is important to state, though, that when we refer to recognition we do not mean the homogenization of systems. As the Director of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, Anna Gover, states, “it is not about making our higher education systems the same, but about having a common understanding of the principles on which they are built“.

In order to have an understanding of other education systems, dialogues and conferences such as this one organized under the HAQAA Initiative are key. As explained by the Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), Albert Nsengiyumva these meetings are a great way of “establishing additional opportunities and enhancing cooperation and collaboration between and among countries”.

Ultimately, the importance of recognition and quality assurance lies with the students. Because they are the ones that, all in all, benefit from it. The Secretary-General of the All-Africa Students Union (AASU), Peter Kwasi Kodije, considers recognition as vital for students as, he states, “it validates our qualifications and facilitates mobility. It ensures that the education and credentials we receive are respected and accepted internationally, which is essential for our career prospects and further education“.

Dialogue on recognition and quality assurance
Dialogue on recognition and quality assurance

The relationship between African and European Higher Education Sectors

The relationship that Europe has with the African Continent as a whole and with the African countries particularly is incredibly important, states Jenneke Lokhoff, Senior Policy Officer at The Dutch organization for internationalization in education (Nuffic). It is so because of a variety of reasons, in which she includes trade and economic ties, historical connections and cultural and political relations.

Cooperation in the Higher Education sector, she says, plays a fundamental role in areas of shared interest. In this line of thought, she explains that The Netherlands, as a founding member of the Bologna Process in 1999, brings knowledge and expertise to the table that can be interesting for African countries and universities.

In the field of quality assurance between these two continents, a lot of development has been achieved in the last years. Anna Gover, from ENQA, explains that under the HAQAA Initiative an African framework for quality assurance has been built with the development of standards and guidelines. But these, while aligned and built on the same principles, reflect the specificities of the African context.

Peter Kwasi Kodije states that “thanks, in part, to all these cooperation projects and partnerships under Erasmus+, we have achieved a growth in student mobility between Africa and Europe“. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there are still challenges related to recognition, visa issues, and financial constraints that still need to be addressed.

The challenges in African Higher Education

Africa is, at the moment, in need of critical and advanced skills to drive technological advancement and development, according to Albert Nsengiyumva, Secretary General of ADEA, who also points out “the importance to fostering a relevant, quality-focused education system across Africa since Higher Education is the platform in which these relevant skills are developed”.

But this platform, the Higher Education sector, faces many challenges in Africa: access, quality, relevance, and a mismatch between HE graduates and job market integration according to Nsengiyumva. From his side, the Secretary General of the AASU, Peter Kwasi, emphasizes the need for more inclusive and equitable education systems. Kwasi highlights, as well, the importance that international cooperation plays in addressing these challenges…. a cooperation that he deems crucial.

That is precisely one of the points that the HAQAA Initiative fosters: promoting interregional dialogue and synergies between different countries and sectors to reach innovative solutions to common challenges.

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