Lecturers in local universities and employees in public and private institutions who were educated at Atlantic International University (AIU) have contested the decision by Higher Education Council (HEC) to withdraw their academic equivalences. On Monday, HEC cancelled all academic equivalences it had issued to graduates from AIU, saying the American based institution was not accredited by any agency. The university offers Bachelors’ degrees, Master’s degrees and PhDs. HEC had explained that even the claimed accrediting agency for Atlantic International University which is Accreditation Service for International colleges (ASIC) is not a government agency in charge of accreditation of institutions of higher learning in the United Kingdom (UK) or any other country. The decision by HEC has put local universities and their lecturers as well as employees in government and private organizations in a dilemma. In an interview with The New Times, Callixte Kabera, the Private Universities’ Association, said universities are awaiting HEC’s final decision on employees whose equivalences have been cancelled before taking any decision. “We are aware of the HEC’s decision but there are some lecturers who are victims as they had been given equivalences by HEC,” said Kabera, who is also the vice-chancellor of the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies (UTB). Callixte Kabera, the Chairperson of the Private Universities’ Association . / File In addition to the University of Rwanda, which is a public university, Rwanda has 27 other private universities. Although he didn’t disclose the number of lecturers that could be affected by HEC’s decision, Kabera said that some of them went to AIU and other overseas universities when they were already teaching and got equivalences later while already in jobs. “If HEC maintains the decision it means those lecturers might lose their jobs because we are obliged to employ only those who have academic equivalences and we always check this before recruitment,” he said. Graduates speak out A graduate from AIU said HEC should reconsider its decision, insisting that AIU is an accredited institution. He said he was given an equivalence by HEC. “In principle, as per the US standards, accreditation of Higher Education is entrusted to non-governmental bodies,” he explained, emphasizing that AIU is accredited by Service for International colleges (ASIC) — one of the non-governmental accreditation bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in Washington DC. He added that ASIC is also an approved accreditation body in the UK urging HEC to conduct deep research to understand how accreditation is done in USA. Another graduate with a PhD from AIU who preferred anonymity said that HEC has been providing equivalences to the graduates of AIU. “If HEC says the university is not accredited then it means it should be held accountable because it’s responsible for guiding students, People need to know which criteria were used by those who have been issuing equivalences and which criteria being used by those who have cancelled the equivalences and the difference between them,” he asked. He proposed that HEC meets all graduates and clarify matters. “HEC should also talk to our embassy there (USA) or write to institutions in charge of education there to help understand,” he noted. What to look out for when choosing a foreign university Kabera has recommended the establishment of a system that could help Rwandan students on what to look out for when looking for both foreign and local universities. “The system should have a link of accredited universities to guide applicants. However, students should also invest their own efforts in investigating if the university they need is really accredited. Otherwise many will continue to lose time and money,” he said. He said that they should pay attention considering that universities that are offering online teaching are causing problems to graduates. “Most of these universities seem to be most affordable compared to others and it takes only two years to get a PhD degree while in other countries it takes at least four years. This is why the uptake of such universities is high but risky,” he said adding an awareness campaign is needed. Sarah Mutesi, who runs an early childhood development centre said that she was about to enrol for a masters’ degree in AIU but was not aware of its accreditation status. “I applied online. Later I changed to study in a local university to be able to run my business at the same time. Many people do not care to check about accreditation status and how it can be done,” she said. Francois Xavier Ngabonzima, Comparative Educator & Educational Researcher advised the government to set up a platform and experts that compare education systems of countries. “This platform could also facilitate those looking for foreign universities to choose the best and those accredited,” he said. He cited an example of the Netherlands that has already introduced such a system that checks hundreds of countries. He also advised students to do their own double-checking when choosing a foreign university. “People can check the education ministries and institutions in charge of higher learning institutions websites and data to see if they accredited such universities. If possible you can work with people who are aware or send emails to those institutions,” he suggested, citing examples of how he discovered that some universities that are partially accredited and others that are not accredited as Comparative Educator and Educational Researcher. He urged HEC to set up a checking system by learning from countries that have been able to do it.