Three months ago, the Ministry of Education took a spontaneous decision to ban some courses taught at three universities in Rwanda. The suspended courses included bachelor of nursing, bachelor of pharmacy, bachelor of medical laboratory science and bachelor of public health.
Another institution was also closed over offering normal classes contrary to online courses which it had been licensed to offer. Despite such huge investments for both the students and institutions, the move left many stranded but the situation would have been different if they had been pursuing approved courses in accredited institutions.
According to the Higher Education Council (HEC), the suspended courses were not accredited but what was required?
Dr Innocent Mugisha, the director of the Higher Education Council, points out that prior to starting operations, all private institutions ought to fulfill the provisions to receive a greenlight from the council.
“For a fresh Institution, these guidelines are listed on our website and the process can be started online. Only institutions which fulfill those requirements are eligible to operate,” says Dr Mugisha.
Even after such an endorsement, any changes that are to be taken by the institution should be addressed to the council.
Dr Abdallah Baguma, the acting director of academic quality at the HEC, clarifies that after accrediting the institution, the programmes too are reviewed.
“At the institutional level operating without accreditation is impossible, and although institutions would want to sneak in courses, time catches up with them,” he adds.
Currently, 28 private institutions are accredited by the HEC, with a list of approved courses for each. Any other course offered outside those presented by the institution for accreditation does not guarantee an academic award.
And Dr Baguma is fast to warn that even after accreditation, the operational license can be withdrawn at any time in the event of poor performance.
“There are levels and conditions depending on the situation, a licence can be suspended or withdrawn. This is why we remain working closely with these institutions,” he adds.
Choosing an academic institution
Most times, higher learning institutions operating under that private sector suffer the hardships of getting approval yet they persuade hundreds of students to join them at whatever cost. However, experts point out that the onus of choosing the right institution is on the students.
Unfortunately, Dr Marvin Mbasana, a lecture at the University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics, explains that most times students get influenced by their friends to make uninformed choices for higher education.
“Because friends want to join a certain institution, colleagues want to connect with them yet others are just attracted by the huge numbers at the institution,” Dr Mbasana explains.
He, however, advises students to look out for institutions with minimum requirements to operate not to fall victims of the law at a later stage, especially within private institutions.
“Public universities are usually not affected but private institutions want more returns on investment. The bigger the numbers, the higher the revenues; that is why in private institutions, the intake is usually big the facilities notwithstanding,” he adds.
Just like Mbasana, Dr Mercy Nwankwo, a lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University, points out that public institutions are less likely to offer non-accredited courses since they meet extra certification requirements like international certification.
“Usually public universities have to be certified under international standards (ISO) unlike those owned privately. Such ownership limits unlwaful operations irrespective of the location of the institution,” Nwankwo urgues.
Mahatma Gandhi University was suspended for offering normal classes since it had only been accredited for online courses.
But Ukey Aniket, the online student support provider at the university, explains that online courses are going on smoothly until management resolves the issue of facilities for other classes.
“It was closed because some facilities were not sufficient but management took a stand to improve the situation. However, online courses are going on normally,” Aniket says.
Parents speak out
Parents who spoke to the Education Times expressed fear of the dilemma in choosing the right programmes.
Margarete Muhimpudu, a parent in Kikukiro, explains that a lot of sacrifices are made to send students to school without thinking of something worse happening.
“It is unimaginable how you can sacrifice everything to send the child to school, then the next day you hear that the institution was closed down because of offering non-accredited courses,” Muhimpudu says.
For Apophia Mukandayisenga, a parent in Kimironko, the worst part is to be denied an award or a course scrapped when students have reached their final year.
“It is good that government came up to streamline such operations, otherwise even in the job market, there was a high possibility of rejecting those qualifications,” Mukandayisenga says.
However, Gratien Gahigi, a parent, puts the blame on parents for leaving every decision at the discretion of the students.
Steps for accreditating Institutions
According to the Higher Education Council, any individual or legal representative, wishing to establish a private higher learning institution to confer academic awards, and change the level of education system, applies to the minister in charge of Higher Education for consideration
The application is accompanied by the denomination of the higher learning institution, its headquarters, its category and the teaching disciplines; the mission and objectives of the institution.
Secondly, detailed documents on the financial status, staff size, mode of admission, and the nature of teaching programmes are also submitted.
However, the minister bases his decision on the report made by the National Council for Higher Education and thereafter the applicant is notified within six months from the date the application was received.
If the application is accepted, the minister signs a provisional operating agreement with the applicant which is valid for at least three years and renewable only once.
The Ministry in charge of Higher Education publishes the provisional operating agreement for a private higher learning institution in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda
After the private higher learning institution that has obtained a provisional operating permit, submits a detailed annual activity report to the National Council for Higher Education.
The Institution further submits a written application for an indefinite approval to the Ministry in charge of Higher Education and provisions such as number of students, staff among others or any other document that may be required.
A Ministerial Order of the Minister in charge of Higher Education grants the definitive operating agreement of a private higher learning institution on the basis of the report made by the National Council for Higher Education, within three months from the date of the receipt of the application.
On approval of the application by the Minister in charge of Higher Education, he or she signs a definitive operating agreement with the institution.
The agreement indicates the category of the institution, its educational levels, its faculties, its research centres and its schools as well as academic awards it is allowed to provide.
When, upon review of the report by National Council for Higher Education, it is proved that the private higher learning institution does not meet the required conditions, it is not granted the definitive operating approval.
In this case, the Minister in charge of Higher Education notifies the applicant within thirty days from the date the decision is made. The private institution concerned, which has not been granted a definitive operating permit, may, upon meeting all the required conditions, reapply within the time limits specified by law.
Under this law, the degrees, diplomas or certificates awarded by a private higher learning institution whose definitive operating approval is not granted shall not be accredited.
Any higher learning institution that shall have been granted a provisional or definitive operating approval and which wishes to upgrade its educational levels, to establish new faculties, new research centers or schools, signs an additional agreement with the Minister in charge of Higher Education.
What do you look for in a university
Ella Cyuzuzo, second year university student
I would look at what the university offers in terms of courses offered. If the institution offers what I want to purse, then I go for it. I advise students to go to institutions that are legally recognised.
Nadia Nuwase, university student
Students should look at the time frame the university offers for different courses and affordability. For example, some universities offer courses lasting four years while the same courses can be done in three years in a different institution.
Geoffrey Kayumba, university student
One should look at other benefits the institution is offering and its standard. For example, my university offers free internet facilities to students and is a recognised institute in terms of academics.
Aimee Muhire, S.5 TVET student
As a TVET student, I would look for an institution that will provide an opportunity to put my skills into practice to remain relevant. Most universities and other higher institutions of learning do not give room for practical skills, so a student like me would not fit in because my interests are not catered for.