Recently higher Institutions of learning had reforms mainly in the content and form of their programmes.
It is in this regard that the National University of Rwanda (NUR), like many other Institutions of Higher learning in the Country adopted a new system tailored along the Bologna process: an intergovernmental European reform process aimed at establishing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010.
Students from the Faculty of Agriculture at the NUR who were supposed to be in second year under the old system allege that they were made to repeat an entire academic year because of the implementation of the new system.
The New Times’ PAUL NTAMBARA talked to Professor Roger Sapsford, the director of Quality Education at the National University of Rwanda about what the new system brings to the learning and teaching process at the University and how the Agriculture degree was redesigned. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Qn. Could you please explain the new teaching and learning system introduced at the NUR
Ans. The new system is linked to the bologna process. An important thing about the Bologna process is that it establishes benchmarks and criteria across the world. The only people that are not involved in it are in the USA.
There are uniform benchmarks in all countries in which it is being implemented. All qualifications guarantee uniform standards except that it is associated with a movement that actually started in the United Kingdom which is a shift from knowledge transfer.
Qn. How different is its pedagogical style?
Ans. The pedagogical style is not about transferring knowledge. It is about learning skills and learning the ability to do transferable things like taking decisions, working in groups, working by yourself, finding new knowledge and evaluate conflicting positions.
Employers do not need somebody who knows a lot of History; they need somebody who can evaluate evidence. So we have this double shift at the same time. So what we are introducing is a system which is closely based on the Scottish version of the Bologna system which is a different approach from England and a bit different again from what is happening in other continents.
Qn. Why did you choose the Scottish version of the Bologna process?
Ans. The Scottish system was picked partly because Scotland had a four year degree and so do we, but also partly because it is acknowledged to be the one that is not just concerned with monitoring quality but with it enhancing, building procedures so that courses, programmes and modules get better with time. It is also quite elaborate in its way.
Qn. Have all courses been validated?
Ans. Most validations are conditional mostly when we have a validation event you are given a licence by the University to take a given number of intakes subject to redesigning the last year and reducing the amount of lectures, increase the amount of practical applications. We spent a lot of time last year and at the beginning of this validating every course that the University has.
Qn. The new system uses modules as aids of instruction. Are these modules already in place?
Ans. Almost all courses are already on paper and they are starting to teach the first year. Each module has complete specifications outlining learning outcomes, its assessment, and the indicative content.
We are working on our exam procedure and registration procedure.
Qn. How are examinations handled in the new system?
Ans. Students take exams at the end of their courses. We are improving the accountability of our marking process by involving more people in marking. It is not an exact science so we get two people to see if they agree. We shall be bringing a standard feature of Bologna Universities, of external examiners.
We are improving our internal procedures. By the end of the year we shall have policies for it. Some Universities have already got through this. We are working on improving our examination security. I cannot say that we get a lot of exam cheating but its better to have a system where it could never happen anyway.
Qn. Could you please take us through the grading system
Ans. Under the new system we have adopted the UK and Scottish idea of exit velocity. One of the points of this degree is that you get better. When people have just come, in a lot of ways you are marking how good the schools they went to were. But by the end you are marking how good they are because you have overcome those differences.
So far, for purposes of going on, you will have to pass everything but for purposes of classification it will only be the honours level 4 and 5. It is the marks of the last three semesters that will count for classification of ones honours degree.
Qn. How are successful students awarded on completion of their courses?
Ans. If you work out to the final year you will get an honours degree. But if for some reason you had to leave early; parents die and you have to take a job, you want to move to another country, frankly you can’t just pass fourth year. At the end of first year you get a certificate in higher education and we are running one course in Kigali for professional journalists which specifically offer a certificate in higher education. You can also get a diploma in higher education after second year.
Qn. Students in the Faculty of Agriculture are complaining that they were made to repeat the first year. What do you make of this allegation?
Ans. This is not true. We have introduced new degrees only for first year. I would not take somebody in the third year of knowledge transfer degree and say now be independent and manage your own study. It is unfair.