Strengthening higher education in DR Congo
Universities are major catalysts for development in Congo. However, the problem is that education and research quality is not always adequate. Flemish and Congolese partners work together to boost the standard of Congo’s universities in the VLIR-UOS Quality Assurance programme.
On 20 March 2015 the Congolese minister of higher education Théophile Mbemba Fundu opened a conference on quality assurance in higher education in Kinshasa. In his speech he emphasised the scale of the challenges:
‘We must ensure a culture of quality, so that our universities and higher education institutions earn a good ranking compared with universities in Africa and the rest of the world. Quality assurance is the foundation on which to build to progress towards an improved education system.’
According to the minister problems in higher education include corruption, the low quality of education, the proliferation of educational institutions that lack the appropriate resources or professors, and the commercialisation of reference books.
Quality Assurance programe
VLIR-UOS set up the Quality Assurance programme in 2011, together with professor emeritus Oswald Van Cleemput of Ghent University. Professor Arno Libotton of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and professor Georges Mulumbwa of University of Lubumbashi are currently coordinating the programme.
Seven partners are involved in Congo: the three big state universities in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kisangani; the Catholic universities of Congo and Bukavu; the Higher Institute for Applied Techniques and the National Pedagogical University.
One of the goals of the Quality Assurance programme is to contribute to the quality culture of the Congolese universities. An additional aim is giving support to the universities in their efforts to join the Bologna process, with the split into bachelor, master and doctorate levels. To that end, they must meet certain criteria and quality standards.
Assessment is a key part of the programme. The departments in question first performed a self-assessment. This was then done at faculty level. The next step is entire institutions. In due course external assessments will be held, enabling the universities to be accredited.
Training and quality guide
Four trainings spread over one or two days are held in Kinshasa every year. Not only the seven partner universities participate; the Congolese Ministry of Higher Education and selected regional universities are also involved, with the support of the World Bank. The partnership has led to the establishment of the National Coordination for Quality Strengthening (CONAQ) under the authority of the Ministry of Higher Education.
Each partner institution now has its own quality assurance department, which is expected to mature into a centre of expertise within the university. A guide has also been developed, which forms the basis for a quality assurance policy in DR Congo.
Bearing in mind the great efforts and motivation of the institutions involved and the positive results, the Quality Assurance programme will most probably be continued for a time. In the meantime the trainings in Kinshasa continue. The organisers continue to work on the development of the quality guide and the expansion of the self-assessments, with the final goal of the international recognition of the courses and institutions.
The Congolese Minister of Higher and University Education has set up a national autonomous structure for Quality Assurance in DR Congo. Of the six national experts, there are four who attended the VLIR-UOS training on quality assurance.
Partnership with ARES-CCD
Quality assurance relies on ICT. It also draws on the UniversiTIC programme, a digital accessibility programme jointly implemented by VLIR-UOS and ARES-CCD in Congo. Here, hardware but also software is deployed to support university pedagogics and management, academic English and doctoral schools.
Photo: 'University of Science of Kisangani' by CIFOR