Harmonisation of higher education in East Africa is set to begin this year following the approval of a framework that will help to create a common education area.
Under the common higher education area, 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 different countries.
This would make it possible for professionals in any country in the region to use their academic qualifications to work in a different partner state.
Currently, professional qualifications in fields like law and medicine are not mutually recognised in East African countries.
The East African Qualifications Framework for Higher Education, which was approved by the East African Community Ministers during their recent meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, was developed by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) in consultation with regulators of national higher education.
The regional framework will provide 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.
Universities in the region will also have a harmonised way of assessing and awarding credits and naming degrees.
Students’ academic qualification certificates will have to bear an EAC qualification seal and their names will need to be registered in the regional qualification register for them to qualify for recognition in all partner states.
According to Mayunga Nkunya, the IUCEA executive secretary, the harmonisation process will be implemented in stages and no real timeline of having a final harmonised education system has been set.
“The process has to start gradually and the institutions of higher learning will join at different stages when they are ready,” said Prof Nkunya.
Each partner state will retain its national framework but it will have to be based on the regional framework.
In the framework, education systems have been classified into eight levels. The first four levels cover basic education (primary, secondary and equivalent) while levels five, six, seven and eight cover higher education (diplomas, degrees, masters and doctorates).
“We are not emphasising the number of years to do a course but the learning outcome because the rationale of using years is difficult to quantify,” said Prof Nkunya, adding that the time period for a course is included in the framework for transition purposes only and will gradually be phased out, leaving only the learning outcome.
The region already has a quality assurance system on education in place and it is being implemented by the partner states.
Although higher education institutions are not being forced to comply with it, they will have to be accredited based on the EAC quality assurance system and if not, action could be taken against them.