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14 Nov 2016   admin

Where to study? Some tips for choosing a higher education provider.

Deciding which higher education provider is the best for you is as important as deciding what to study.  In this article we highlight a few factors to consider, from accreditation to staffing to international comparability. First we being with a checklist of important questions to ask, followed by some pointers about why these issues are relevant.

A quick checklist of questions to ask:

  • Is the institution registered with the Education Department, are the programmes registered on SAQA’s website?
  • How long has the institution been in existence for?
  • Are the academic staff suitably qualified, how many are full-time, and how much teaching experience do they have?
  • What mechanisms are used to ensure quality?
  • Is the institution recommended by employers in the industry?
  • How do the programmes compare internationally?
  • Are the facilities such as library and computers relevant and continuously updated?
  • How much individual attention is offered, and what other forms of support are there?
  • Are the fees value for money?

Accreditation. Only programmes that are registered on the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) are accredited and recognised under the South African law. You can find out what programmes are registered directly on SAQA’s website. Private Higher Education Institutions must also be registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). DHET has a register of private providers, listing all accredited and recognised qualifications they may legally offer. The Register of Private Higher Education providers is available on the DHET website. 

Stability: particularly for private institutions, it is important to check how the long the institution has been operating for. This provides an indication of their stability and status. Be careful of ‘fly by nights’ which are money-making schemes by organisations that are not serious about education.

Lecturer Qualifications: The academic staff or faculty of an institution are paramount. A programme is only as good as its delivery, and it is the lecturing staff that deliver the programmes. A good rule of thumb is that the lecturing staff should hold a qualification one higher than the programme they teach in (for example a person teaching at Honours level should hold at least a Masters degree). Experience in both teaching, as well as the subject matter being taught, are equally important. Finally, the institution should be staffed predominantly by full-time lecturing staff.

Quality Assurance Systems: The Council on Higher Education places a lot of emphasis on an institution’s mechanisms for managing their own quality. This includes mechanism to check that all aspects of the programme design, delivery and assessment are monitored and evaluated, and that objective feedback is sought and taken seriously. Some mechanisms for quality management include external moderation and performance management systems. Ask institutions to share their policies and practices for quality management.

International credibility: Contrary to common belief, there is no one entity that benchmarks programmes across the world. Even in the USA, there is no one body that evaluates foreign qualifications and each university or employer is called on to make their own judgement. Whilst there are regional quality assurance bodies, one should investigate their criteria for accreditation to make sure they are not purely administrative. Other forms of international credibility include exchanges with institutions amongst staff and students, collaborations and sharing of knowledge, and verification arrangements.

Industry reputation: Particularly for qualifications leading directly to particular employment positions, the reputation of the institution within the industry or profession is important. Some qualifications require registration with a professional body, but even if this is not the case, it is useful to find out the views of potential employers. Google a few and give them a call to find out who they recommend. On a similar note, try find out where graduates of the institutions have found employment.

Facilities: A visit to the campus is a must to determine what facilities and services are actually available. It also allows you to get a sense of the culture and vibe of the institution. Good questions to ask are the state of the library (how many references are there, are they relevant and up to date?), as well as technological facilities (is computer hardware and software up to spec?).

Student Support: Being responsive to learner’s individual needs is a crucial aspect to quality education. Students should have access to all resources and facilities required to complete the programme, including time with teaching staff and access to course materials. Access to the campus should not be too restrictive. Communication between students, lecturing and administrative staff should be easy and convenient. Additional support, such as referral to experts such as psychologists, is also valuable.

Cost: the cost of attaining a higher education qualification is high. Considering the issues noted above, the best choice is to balance quality against affordability.

With all these factors in mind, the most useful advice is “do your homework”. Be informed and avoid any regrets. Make it your mission to visit every potential and go armed ready with questions to ask.

 





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