Is the difference between tertiary institutions about quality of education?

I read with much interest a front page story entitled “Unaccredited institutions denied ‘University’ title” in the Sunday Times of September 16.

I read with much interest a front page story entitled “Unaccredited institutions denied ‘University’ title” in the Sunday Times of September 16.

The author was reporting statements made by officials from the National Council for Higher Education and the Minister of Education. After reading the article, I was left with a lot of questions.

The major question that disturbed me, and which caused me to write this piece, is “is the quality of education offered a criterion to differentiate between a College, Institute and University?”
The article quotes the Executive Director of the National Council for Higher Education, Prof. Pamela Abbott as saying “We feel that for one to use a University title, they must fulfil all the requirements that qualify the institution to award internationally recognized degrees”.

The first question that came in one’s mind is, how many institutions of higher learning in East Africa have its Academic Program accredited by internationally recognized accreditation bodies?

How many colleges do we know in the UK, USA and elsewhere that offer internationally recognized academic qualifications even up to PhD level?

A lot of them for sure! Look at MIT Sloan School of Management; it is one of the top five Institutes offering Business Education and other programs. 

In my understanding, an Institution of higher learning bearing the name College or Institute does not make it inferior to the ones bearing the name University.

I am not sure if this was the thinking behind the move to change KIST from Institute to University. I am sure there are other criteria to follow for one institution to qualify as a college, institute or university.

I request the National Council for Higher Education and the Minister of Education to clarify this otherwise Rwandans will be misinformed.

When I was trying to learn more of the usage of the words; College, Institute and University, I came out with the following:

A College is an Institution that offers post - secondary education in the U.S., college may refer to a four-year institution of higher education offering a bachelor’s degree, or to a two-year junior or community college with a program leading to the associate’s degree.

A four-year college usually emphasizes a liberal arts or general education rather than specialized technical or vocational preparation.

The four-year college may be an independent private institution or an undergraduate division of a university.

An Institute is a permanent organizational body created for a certain purpose.

Often it is a research organization, research institution created to do research on specific topics.

An institute can also be a professional body.

In some countries institute’s can be part of a university or other institution of higher education, either as a group of departments or an autonomous educational institution without a classic full university status such as a University Institute.

In some countries, such as Korea and Japan, private schools are sometimes called institutes, rather than schools, as a form of marketing.

A University is an Institution of higher education, usually comprising a liberal arts and sciences college and graduate and professional schools that confer degrees in various fields.

A university differs from a college in that it is usually larger, has a broader curriculum, and offers advanced degrees in addition to undergraduate degrees.

I would like to conclude by saying that changing the name of Institutions is not in any way an attempt to address quality issues in education. In my understanding, the criteria to award the title College, Institute or University should be seen in the original vision/ mandate of the university, variety of academic programs offered, academic levels offered and so on.

If the National Council for Higher Education could define these criteria, benchmarking other internationally recognized Universities, I wonder how many institutions of higher learning in Rwanda will qualify to be called University. Because, if you can ask, how many academic program do we have in our institutions?

For example, if you wanted to take a BA Degree in Development Studies, how many institutions will you find offering it in Rwanda? You can name others and you will never find them offered.

Also, how many levels of academic qualifications do our institutions offer? From Certificate, Diplomas, Undergraduate degrees, Masters Degrees and PhD Degrees? May be none!

I therefore urge the National Council for Higher Education to first sit down and define these criteria before they can just decide to change the name of the Institutions of Higher learning in Rwanda.

The writer is the Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Rwanda (ADERWA)


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