Professor Chris Onalo’s Memo to Higher Education Regulators on Accreditation of Post-University Specialized Education Institutions (P-USEI) in Nigeria
We all have different reasons for wanting to go back to further our education to a level higher than where we are presently. For some, it is personal fulfilment or setting an example for former classmate or co-workers; for others, it is for professional academic advancement to acquire new skills and knowledge for greater positional advantage.
Most Post-University Specialised study programs offered in Nigeria are designed to meet the needs of enrollees whose last school attended was either university or Higher/Ordinary National diploma program. Naturally, a university graduate faces a completely different set of challenges than an undergraduate student who have not had an opportunity to gain admission into a university.
In addition, most post-university specialist-qualification providers in the country are established around serving a specific professional academic discipline- not a specific type of student.
Therefore, it is relevant to state here that Post-University Specialized Education Institutions are indeed existing primarily to advance knowledge in specific occupational disciplines with a view to provoking employees productivity by providing exceptional specialist learning programmes tailored to the needs of individuals, businesses and society. Their focus rests on the significance of a lifelong learning as well as equipping individuals with the relevant skills and qualifications that are needed to succeed in their workplace. All these make P-USEI super unique from other tertiary Institutions not only in Nigeria, but also in civilized and productive countries.
While the target-students are working class people, there is an omnipotent need for continuing academic and professional development as this is the only sure ladder to rising in life. Graduate qualifications alone are not strong enough to make an average Nigerian graduate a proud professional and competitively be at par with their counterparts in other climes. Hence, undertaking continuing professional development is essential to maintaining standards and knowledge as evidence of specialism. Furthermore, many employers of labour look out for an institution’s accreditation status before deciding to provide tuition assistance to current employees as well as evaluating the credentials of prospective employees.
Importantly, employers of labour all over the world today have moved to insisting that all their employees must acquire post-university professional qualification(s) so that they would be current with learning and development. Any employee who lacks this retards his or her promotion in the organisation where he or she is working.
When people pride themselves as “professionals”, they are simply saying that they have qualifications which are a combination of academic and professional attestations actually fast-tracking their career progressions. This is so because academic and professional qualifications tied together are not just about getting a job/career in any sector in the labour market, the benefits affect all parts of life; intellectual, social, sporting, personal, artistic, ethical, etc.
Learners or graduates holding any post-university specialist qualification of any accredited provider benefits by having assurance that such qualifications has met industry standards, thereby adequately preparing them for employment and promotion in the industry. Such persons benefit by having the standards of their profession continually improved, ensuring the credibility of the qualification is maintained.
The definition of accreditation to employers of labour in this sense means official recognition, or something that meets official standard. With the exclusion of “post-university specialized Institutions” from the nation’s accreditation regime due to legal-side constraint, these post-university specialist institutions are left to themselves. As a result, the nation suffers many losses which include loss of revenue, dilemma of grading of such specialist qualification by the employers of labour, and the feeling of demoralization by holders of post-university specialist qualifications that are not accredited.
There is need for their urgent integration into the mainstream of tertiary institutions in Nigeria to ensure that their programmes and certification practices are acceptable… typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify their students, behave ethically and employ suitable quality assurance. Therefore, to accord institutional and programmatic accreditation to post-university specialist Institutions is important, because it helps to determine if they are meeting or exceeding minimum standards of quality; it also helps student to determine whether to accept or reject enrollment as employers often require evidence that employee – applicant have received a specialist qualification from an accredited, recognized and regulated institution.
I like to take the term “institutional effectiveness” as a direct response to accreditation, and this emphasizes the large extent to which accreditation of P-USEI will drive institutional effectiveness efforts of these bodies. There are two general types of accreditation. One is “Institutional accreditation” …a process by which an institution is evaluated as a whole with an eye towards their unity of purpose and the extent to which the sum of the parts complement the whole. The second one is “Programmatic accreditation” which focuses on components –programs, courses of study, and sometimes individual courses within the institution.
Embedded in the Post-University Specialized Institutions quality and standard code is the process for both institutional and programmatic accreditation and how it will influence institutional effectiveness.
Inevitably, in our tertiary education sector today, we need a well articulated and publicly available Tertiary Education Quality and Standard Code to reflect these circumstances. This code is expected to include all policies, measures, planned processes and actions through which the quality of post-university specialized Institutions programmes is maintained and developed, as well as a coherent system containing arrangements for a systematic evaluation of their study programmes.
Post-University Specialized Education Institution’s Quality and Standard Code essentially should set out expectations which providers will be required to meet to ensure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning resources are provided for students; and also that the learning opportunities provided by these Institution are monitored based on a number of elements that altogether provide a reference point for effective quality and standard assurance, particularly the expectations which expresses the outcomes that providers should achieve in setting and maintaining the standards of their awards, and for mapping and managing the quality of their provisions.
In Nigeria, we have a system which allows the National University Commission (NUC) as well as National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) solely responsible for these two important activities in our tertiary education sector. However, the operational coverage of the NUC and NBTE has excluded other non-university, non-polytechnic tertiary institutions rightly known as “post-university specialized independent Institutions” whose specialist cum professional skills development programmes target people who themselves are graduates, having graduated from universities or polytechnic long ago and are working or have worked at officer, supervisory, managerial and directorate levels in their places of work. Simply put, the operational mandate of NUC and NBTE restricts them to degree and higher national diploma awarding institutions accreditation and regulation in the country.
For the purpose of clarity, “programmatic accreditation”, also known as specialist or professional accreditation, is designed for specialized courses, programs, post-university specialist schools, or colleges within an institution that has already received formal accreditation which in this case does not include bodies that are chartered by law.
In the assessment of professional academic programmes, the quality, standard and research requirements are the leitmotif, whereas in the assessment of employment labour markets’ demand-driven study programmes the main stress is on occupational standards, being the professional requirements that the labour market looks out for.
Introduction of institutional and programmatic accreditation for Post-University Specialized Education Institutions offering specific professional academic programmes to have their qualifications regulated along the lines of a set of quality and standard code, will compel P-USEI Institutions to define very clearly their objectives and to involve the assessment agencies in the assessment of their performance. In that respect, the quality and standard code will lead to a demarcation of the nation’s educational sectors each of them with their own (recognized) identity.
The Evaluation and Accreditation Division of Department of Education Support Services of the Federal Ministry of Education should for the time being be restructured, reformed to take on the responsibility of providing institutional and programmatic accreditation services to the very large number of Post-University Specialized Institutions and their programmes in the country, working in close collaboration with their promoters.
The Evaluation and Accreditation Department should also provide sector-led oversight functions to these non-degree awarding specialized independent education institutions’ quality assessment arrangements. Such oversight functions should articulate fundamental principles that should apply to this sub sector irrespective of any changing national contexts. These include principles such as emphasizing the role of providers in assuring the quality of the experience they offer to students, supporting student engagement, and ensuring external referencing used to measure the integrity of their awards and the quality of provision. The process should ensure that the Code will continue to fulfill its role as the cornerstone for quality within this sector of specialized higher education industry, protecting the public and student interest, and championing Nigeria’s reputation for quality and standard in both academic and professional education.