To augment the accreditation process that started in 2013 to strengthen its quality enhancement mechanisms, the Lesotho Council of Higher Education (CHE) is starting its first cycle of institutional audits. Since this process will be new in the system, the CHE invited Saide to facilitate a two-day induction workshop on institutional audits. The workshop was facilitated by Ephraim Mhlanga.
The Lesotho Council of Higher Education (CHE) is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education delivery in Lesotho. To achieve its mandate, the Council developed a comprehensive quality assurance framework and inducted all higher education institutions in the country on the framework and the importance of maintaining high standards of quality. In 2012 Saide was involved in supporting the CHE in putting in place the quality assurance framework and familiarising institutions with quality assurance processes. This process which lasted for close to a year entailed facilitating a two-day induction workshop for representatives of higher education institutions, providing technical support to higher education institutions to develop institutional quality assurance policies and set, and providing technical support to the CHE to prepare to implement the quality assurance framework across all higher education institutions in the country.
Following the above preparatory processes, the CHE started implementing the quality assurance framework throughout the national higher education system. To date, more than 70 programmes have been accredited.
Institutional audit workshop
Like the 2012 workshop, the workshop on institutional audits was held at the Lehakoe Recreational Center in Maseru attended by 46 participants.
The objectives of the two-day workshop were to:
- Give an overview of the Institutional Audit Framework as a tool for evaluating and enhancing the overall performance of a Higher Education Institution;
- Train representatives of local higher education institutions on how to:
- prepare for an institutional audit;
- conduct self-evaluation and develop a self-evaluation report in preparation for the audit;
- prepare supporting documentation for the audit;
- conduct themselves during the audit process;
- Train prospective auditors on how to conduct instituitional audits; and
- Train representatives of local higher education institutions on the development and implementation of an Improvement Plans in order to address recommendations in the audit report.
In line with the TORs and the workshop objectives, the workshop addressed the What, Why and How of institutional audits. The methodology consisted mainly of group activities aimed at getting participants to understand various aspects of the audit process and the associated challenges. Participants used a variety of resources prepared by the facilitator, which included examples of lines of inquiry to be used in interpreting CHE audit criteria, guidelines on evidence to be provided for each criterion during the audit, templates for compiling self-audit reports and for developing improvement plans. Group work also provided participants with a good opportunity to share experiences with accreditation and challenges anticipated with audits. These discussions were extremely fruitful as most of what participants thought to be surmountable problems turned out to be nothing more than mere molehills after sharing in groups. In general, the common problem participants identified was the general lack of documentation of processes and keeping of reliable data at institutions. Whilst it was acknowledged that there is a lot of good practice implemented in most institutions, recording and sharing of such practice was still very minimal in institutions.
The group work activities were interspaced with plenary sessions where group reports were given and discussed, and presentations by the facilitator. Lively discussions were held in plenary based on group reports and these helped to clarify issues and reinforce some of the processes discussed in groups. Participants also sought clarification on some of the aspects of the CHE audit framework which they didn’t fully understand.
Throughout the workshop, emphasis was placed on perceiving audits as an improvement strategy rather than a compliance exercise. In this regard, the workshop underscored the importance of conducting audit processes professionally and of taking audit recommendations seriously by developing improvement plans that are effectively implemented. This was done in order to get participants to appreciate that in order for audits to achieve their intended purpose of enhancing continuous quality improvement in institutions, they have to be conducted properly and with good intentions. Amongst the aspects covered under process were stages involved in the audit process, protocol issues, roles and responsibilities as well as ethical issues.
Based on the workshop experience, a few recommendations were made at the end of the workshop. The first recommendation that was made by the facilitator was that although participants had expressed confidence that they were now sufficiently equipped to conduct audits, institutions should do mock audits first, even on a small scale, in order to prepare themselves adequately enough for CHE audits. Such mock audits are most beneficial if institutions invite an expert to participate in the process and provide guidance. The CHE can also be invited to provide support in the mock processes. The sooner these mock audits are done after workshops, the more effective they are likely to be.
The other recommendation was that institutions should support each other through inter-institutional collaboration in building capacity in conducting and managing institutional audits. This can be done by inviting peers to participate in the self-audit processes.
The third recommendation comes out of the wide range of institutions that constitute higher education in Lesotho. These institutions range from universities (both public and private) to agricultural, nursing and commercial colleges offering a wide range of qualifications at certificate, diploma and degree levels. The challenge of using a common audit framework, especially audit criteria cannot be overemphasised. In this regard, it was recommended that the CHE should consider getting a critical mass of evaluators thoroughly trained to undertake the process, especially to interpret the standards appropriately for the various types of institutions. Developing an online evaluator course that can be used on a more regular basis for training new people and can be accessed by trained evaluators as and when they need to would be a worthwhile investment.