NCHE to Abandon ‘Expired’ Tag on Academic Programs

The National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) has made the decision to cease using the term expired when describing programmes that are due or overdue for re-assessment.

According to Professor Mary Okwakol, the Executive Director of NCHE, the term expired has been misinterpreted and not used in accordance with the defined regulations of quality assurance for higher education universities and other tertiary institutions issued in 2008.

Okwakol explained that the term was used to indicate programmes that have reached the end of their accreditation period and therefore due for re-assessment.

Professor Okwakol further explained that in such cases, being up for re-accreditation does not imply that the program is invalid, but rather that it requires updating, and re-assessment.

She said that the council has decided to discontinue the use of the term “expired” and intends to introduce a more appropriate term that signifies that a programme is due or overdue for reassessment or re-accreditation.

Speaking in an earlier interview, Prof. Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, the Vice Chancellor at Kampala International University-KIU questioned the justification of labeling a program as expired. To him, also courses that need to be re-assessed could not be expired and the term sounded vague.

“Expired? How?” the vice chancellor wondered. He further added; “So you can’t say it has expired, because if you say it has expired it means even graduates who get out there will be affected. What should happen is the review of the curriculum and of course, the National Council is mandated to come again and check whether you are maintaining the standards. So the confusion is about expiry, what is expired?”

As indicated on the NCHE website, numerous programmes in both public and private academic institutions have reached their “expiration” dates in the past five years. These programmes include both graduate and undergraduate courses, and the duration of “expiration” varies across different academic institutions.

Many of these programs have “expired” for at least five years, yet universities have continued to admit students contradicting the regulations set forth for higher education. Some institutions have programs that expired more than a decade ago without submitting them for re-assessment.

However, regardless of any potential changes in the terminology used, Professor Okwakol, who herself has previously served as a vice-chancellor, emphasizes that universities should not ignore or disregard the importance of re-accreditation.

The council is also contemplating a review and complete revamp of its re-accreditation process.

During the review, one aspect that will likely receive attention is the duration for which programs should be allowed to run before undergoing reassessment. As per the existing regulations, the Council accredits master’s and other undergraduate programs to operate for a period of five years, while Ph.D. programs can run for a duration of ten years before they are reassessed.

Some Vice Chancellors have recently argued that the given period for reassessment is limited and may not allow institutions to conduct thorough evaluations. Professor Mpezamihigo, for example, expressed the concern that for a course taught over three years, they might require additional years beyond the given two in order to adequately assess the graduates’ performance in the real world, among other considerations.

On the other hand, there are academicians who believe that reassessment can commence even while the program is still running.

Professor John Robert Ikoja-Odongo, the Vice Chancellor of Soroti University, supports this perspective. He argues that in the fast-paced world, we live in, certain programs need to undergo internal reviews of at least 15 percent per year, rather than waiting for the complete accreditation period to elapse.

“The programs are akin to living organisms. Every day, new information, methods, and other developments emerge, and it is crucial for universities to stay abreast. This necessitates teaching staff to consistently conduct internal reassessments of the programs and their curricula. By the time the required reassessment period set by the NCHE arrives, there will be minimal adjustments needed,” noted Professor Ikoja-Odongo.

Professor Okwakol states that a final decision regarding the adjustment of timeframes has not been reached. However, she mentions that on June 1 and 2, 2023, the council will hold meetings with vice-chancellors and principals to initiate discussions on this matter, along with other pressing issues.

Meanwhile, an academic staff member at one of the Kampala-based universities expressed their belief that the entire re-assessment process is flawed. The staff member highlighted the fact that many programs are developed by university staff, and sometimes these same individuals are hired as consultants by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) to review those programs.

“It is ironic,” the staff member remarked. “You work on a program as a staff member, and then you or another faculty member gets hired to review it. What outcome do you expect? Where is the quality assurance? I want to think this is why some universities, like Makerere, occasionally overlook the process. It is almost useless,” the staff member criticized, questioning the NCHE’s ability to fulfill their duties.

But Okwakol expressed little surprise and acknowledged that it is indeed true that the council hires consultants, some of whom are academic staff from universities.

“We don’t have sufficient staff within the council, so consultants are brought in to assist. It is possible that during the hiring process, we might unintentionally select individuals with conflicts of interest regarding specific programs,” she explained.

Okwakol, however, added that for future reviews, they plan to address this issue by requiring individuals to declare any conflicts of interest before they are hired.

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