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18 Quality Assurance Officers Graduate in Momentous Occasion for Sierra Leone

On the 20th of March 2021, a sea of blue graduates paraded into a decorated courtyard under a hot sun at the University of Makeni, anticipation, relief and excitement palpable on every face as they prepared to celebrate the culmination of four years’ hard work. Camouflaged among them, were 18 staff who have committed to improving the experiences of the next wave of students across Sierra Leone. These new Quality Assurance (QA) Officers hail from the Tertiary Education Commission of Sierra Leone and the 7 higher education institutions across the country and graduated with Postgraduate Diplomas in Quality Assurance in Higher Education as part of the Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone (AQHEd-SL) project.

Antoinette Turay, University of Sierra Leone

“At Fourah Bay College [University of Sierra Leone] we have so many challenges — the registration process, admissions process, all the processes, policies were not well in place, even though they are there but they are not effective. With this knowledge I have gained in Quality Assurance we can now tackle those challenges together and also proffer solutions since we have been taught how to settle challenges and how to respond to them accurately. We can do this now with the knowledge we have gained.”

Nadia Parkinson, Tertiary Education Commission

“The Tertiary Education Commission is the external quality assurance institution… [the quality assurance PG diploma] crosses across all facets of the commission, we do accreditation, we do monitoring and evaluation, and the quality assurance crosses across all the directorates of the commission.”

Moses Conteh, University of Makeni

“I think it is not just for my own gain, but it is for the good of the university and the good of the country as well. As we all know there is urgent need in order to ensure quality in our educational institutions, and if you see the rapid growth of UNIMAK [University of Makeni] today, it is because of we know very well the essence of quality assurance: making sure we deliver the right services, the right teaching the right curriculum in order for them to go out and be able to get a job or create jobs for themselves.

So, in a nutshell, I believe it is of relevance not only for me as someone who has received the award today, but also to the institution as a whole.”

The PG Diploma was devised and taught by the various project partners with input from local and international experts. Teaching of the programme was originally conducted jointly by Sierra Leonean and international experts but was successfully taught by 100% local experts in 2020, with members of the first cohort of trainees contributing to the teaching of the second — a testament to the capacity built through AQHEd-SL. The project has now begun training a further 16 QA officers who will join their newly qualified colleagues in their various institutions by September.

Professor Ronnie Fraser-Williams, the Quality Assurance Lead for the project and lead instructor on the programme had this to say,

“over the past years we know there has been a huge cry with regards to quality in our higher education institutions. So, a programme like this was deliberately planned, was deliberately designed so that we can bring quality into our teaching and learning… so as to begin to address some of the issues relating to the quality of our graduates that are leaving the institutions, that are going out into society”.

Professor Ronnie went on to explain that the role of the new Quality Assurance (QA) Officers was to support administrative and academic staff to address challenges leading to skills gaps in graduates that were highlighted by employers through the project. This stakeholder engagement has been an ongoing process as part of curriculum revision activities undertaken by the project. The QA Officers were part of this revision process and are the ones who can monitor and evaluate the implementation of newly revised curricula according to new quality standards and principles of outcome-based education implemented through the rest of the project.

As the staff trained were already academic or administrative staff working in the partner universities and the TEC, they have the advantage of already understanding the politics and weaknesses of their institutions, and are in the best positions to act. The fact that they were handpicked by the senior management of these institutions means that they are trusted and empowered by their colleagues. The PG diploma was also taught to the external QA officers (TEC) and the internal QA officers (at the universities and colleges) simultaneously and, because of this, strong friendships have grown between them, meaning that there is greater collaboration between the TEC as the external monitoring body and the institutions.

Project Director, Mr Samuel Weekes, congratulated the new graduates but impressed that they have been working hard to change the culture of their institutions from the moment they began their training:

“In fact they are already having an impact, we visited institutions last week and we found that even before now they have been having an impact, making changes such as improving on admissions processes, improving examination processes and bringing quality to the forefront of the institutions.”

Joseph Hoffman, speaking for the SPHEIR team, noted,

“we appreciate how much those who have received their postgraduate diploma in quality assurance have personally and professionally achieved. But their achievement also says so much about the commitment and dedication of Sierra Leone’s higher education institutions in moving collaboratively towards national outcome-based education, and their determination that quality assurance plays a key role in achieving that goal. Many countries in Africa and beyond can learn from the experience of the Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone team.”

The commitment of the staff to higher education reform, even before official recognition of their qualifications, has been remarkable. It is also deeply motivating that during recent institutional visits the Vice Chancellors, Principals and Registrars of the partner institutions have expressed their commitment to continuing AQHEd’s work in quality assurance after the end of the project. It is clear that this is just the beginning of a new and exciting phase for higher education in a country once known as the Athens of West Africa.

Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone is bringing together higher education institutions across Sierra Leone to improve quality management in higher education and support the introduction and implementation of outcome-based education. It aims to bring about a student-centred focus within higher education across the country, leading to a more responsive and capable national workforce.

The partnership is led by the University of Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone), working with Njala University (Sierra Leone), the University of Makeni (Sierra Leone), Tertiary Education Commission (Sierra Leone), Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers (Sierra Leone), King’s College London (UK), the 50/50 Group, INASP (UK), and the University of Illinois (US).

AQHEd-SL is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) as part of its SPHEIR (Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform) programme to support higher education transformation in focus countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The #SPHEIR project Assuring Quality in Higher Education in Sierra Leone.

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