Written by Dr Hannes Nel, MBL, D.Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)
Some quality assurance bodies will probably immediately reply “no, definitely not” to the question if they should provide learning institutions applying for accreditation with guidance and support. Reasons why they feel this way might well include arguments such as “it would be an impossible task of we were expected to help everybody who applies for accreditation”; “a learning institution who needs help with the application for accreditation obviously does not have the capacity to offer professional learning and they should not even apply”; “it is not our job” and many more.
Then there are those who feel differently. The Indian National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), for example, firmly believe that guidance and support offered by the quality assurance body to the learning institutions is critically important for the improvement of quality learning. In this respect Prasad and Stella wrote the following:
“Moving beyond accreditation, NAAC has expanded its scope by strengthening its advisory role…. In addition to promoting the cause of quality education in the country, NAAC is a leading QAA in the international arena with valuable lessons of experience for the emerging QAAs of other countries.”
Quality assurance is a tool by means of which the government can ensure that learners on all levels receive good quality education and training. Monitoring and control are not the only ways in which the quality of learning can be improved – guidance and support is equally important.
South African quality assurance bodies, like quality assurance bodies in any country with a professional educational system, do have guidance and support responsibilities. A member of a quality assurance body said the following when interviewed by the author:
“They [the quality assurance bodies] never understood that they were there to nurture the providers, to capacitate them, to build their quality in order that those providers can maximally train and educate people. They never understood that – so if they don’t understand their most important brief, why they are there, then of course the whole thing can’t work.”
In their official profile documentation, a South African quality assurance body admits that they have guidance and support responsibilities as follows:
- In their Criteria for Programme Accreditation: “As part of the task of building an effective national quality assurance system, the (quality assurance body) has also included capacity development and training as a critical component of its programme of activities.”
- In their lists of functions: “To develop and implement a system of quality assurance …, including programme accreditation, institutional audits, quality promotion and capacity development, standards development ….”
The quality assurance body claims that they are moving away from a focus on institutional audits toward quality enhancement in their evaluations. Quality enhancement without guidance cannot work. You cannot enhance quality by adding more bureaucracy to the quality assurance process and sticking to a persecutory approach.
The use of online platforms to apply for accreditation, which all three South African quality assurance bodies do, makes it critically important for such bodies to guide applicants for the following reasons:
- Online platforms cannot answer the wide array of questions that providers might need to ask, no matter how many frequently asked questions there are on the system.
- It is impossible for providers to guess how much information they should provide if the text box to be filled in contains only a statement/heading.
- It is still impossible to guess what the quality assurance body wants even if a question is asked. Quality criteria can be covered in a paragraph or a thousand pages.
- If the response to a question is limited to a number of words or pages, the applicant still does not know what specific content the quality assurance body wants. Learning is vast and sometimes technical and guessing what you should write is impossible.
Giving feedback on an application for accreditation is a critical point at which the applicant should be given guidance and support. Vague and unqualified feedback means nothing. Most learning institutions will probably only be able to submit a proper application after applying unsuccessful at least once and then only if proper feedback is given. The following are typical feedback remarks from which learning institutions can learn absolutely nothing:
- “The title of the qualification is wrong.” How and why is it wrong?
- “The qualification does not have sufficient depth.” What is meant by “sufficient depth”?
- “The applicant does not have sufficient capacity to offer the qualification.” What is meant by this? In wat respect does the applicant not have capacity? Capacity can refer to finances, personnel, capital goods, infrastructure, time, etc.
In closing, it is internationally agreed that quality assurance is a service rendered to the community at large. Quality assurance is not a policing action and does not give the quality assurance body the unqualified right to manipulate who is accredited and who not. The focus should be on the protection and promotion of the interests of the community by paving the way towards good quality education and training which would facilitate job creation and reduce unemployment.
Note: I omitted references to sources that might create discomfort for quality assurance bodies or individuals.
 2004: 9 – 10.
 Nel, 2007: 317.