The East African Heads of State Summit is expected to declare the transformation of the EAC into a Common Higher Education Area this Saturday in Dar es Salaam.
This means that the partner states will recognise academic certificates from universities and higher learning institutions in the region, and students will be able to transfer credits across universities in the region.
This will provide an opportunity for the region’s university students to be more exposed to and better prepared for integration, and will potentially impact many aspects of their lives both economically and socially.
Alexandre Lyambabaje, the executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), said the move will provide students in the region with an opportunity to join universities of their choice among the more than 110 in the partner states, either as undergraduates or at the postgraduate level.
It will also provide them with opportunities for training, research and or community engagement in any of the region’s universities, research organisations or communities after being enrolled in a university in any of the EAC partner states.
“Under this arrangement, universities in the region will recognise qualifications attained at universities in any of the EAC partner states because of the mutual recognition of credits and qualifications, easing employability and in line with the free movement of personnel as enshrined in the EAC Common Market Protocol,” said Prof Lyambabaje, adding that this will also provide an enhanced interest among non-traditional higher education sponsors from within the EAC region because of evident benefits.
East African Qualifications Framework
The higher education system will also benefit from the regional development potential in higher education teaching, research and community engagement.
A Common Higher Education Area presents scope for efficiency in exploiting resources.
Under the arrangement, the IUCEA, in consultation with regulators of national higher education has developed an East African Qualifications Framework for Higher Education that provides guidelines on the different levels of education, volume of learning and recognition of prior learning. It will also guide the credit system of universities and colleges, as well as credit accumulation and transfer and programme benchmarks.
Each partner state will retain its national framework which must be based on the regional framework.
Universities in the region will also have a harmonised system of assessing and awarding credits and naming degrees.
Students’ academic certificates will have to bear an EAC qualification seal and the names of holders must be be registered in the regional qualification register for them to qualify for recognition in all partner states.
The region already has in place a quality assurance system on education being implemented by the partner states, although higher education institutions are not forced to comply with it. However, they will now risk being punished if the institution’s accreditation is not based on the EAC quality assurance system.
Different education systems
Most degree courses are similar across the region but the course content, qualifications considered and even the time for the completing course is different in almost all the universities.
East African states have different education systems. They either use the three cycle education system: Kenya (8-4-4), Burundi (6-6-4), Rwanda (9-3-4); or the four cycle system of Tanzania and Uganda (7-4-2-3).
The challenge of determining the quality of education across the bloc remains the ever increasing number of new private universities. With the EAC Common Market Protocol in place, a harmonised education system will encourage mobility of students and workers in the partner states.
According to Benedict Mtasiwa, the IUCEA chief principal of exchange programmes, links and partnerships, the harmonisation process will be implemented in stages and no hard and fast timeline of having a final harmonised education system has been set.
“The challenge for developing the EAC Common Higher Education Area was in capacity building for human resources for co-ordination of its operationalisation,” said Dr Mtasiwa.