East African context is important for appropriate higher-education frameworks in the region

The TESCEA project is working to improve critical thinking skills for employability in East Africa. One of the TESCEA partners is Mzumbe University in Tanzania and this post comes from Dr. Jennifer Sesabo, a faculty member in the Department of Economics at the university. Here, she shares her experiences from working on quality assurance initiatives across East Africa and the importance of understanding and addressing local contexts for effective and sustainable projects. Contextual understanding across four institutions in Uganda and Tanzania also underpins the TESCEA approach to ensure that changes to curricula and pedagogical approaches are appropriate and help enable students to leave university with the skills needed for the workplace and wider society.

I first became interested in quality assurance issues in relation to higher education when I did my Ph.D. in Germany. Around that time, the Bologna process was developing common higher-education processes across Europe. I saw how different countries, with different systems of higher education, helped student mobility by developing systems to allow transfer of credits to another university for the rest of their degree or for a few courses.

When I came back to Tanzania I found that the top managers of our universities in the East Africa region were also thinking about developing an East Africa Quality Assurance Framework. A series of consultative meetings and workshops at country and regional level helped to assess what was happening in East African higher education and find commonalities and differences in quality assurance mechanisms and systems across different universities in the region. It resulted in the development of harmonized standards across East Africa and a Quality Assurance Handbook, which helped the universities to rethink the way they are doing things and to improve.

The tools from this process included subject benchmarks that identified competences and skills that graduates need to possess after the completion of their studies. Universities need to be accountable to society and they can be accountable by showing that the graduates or the services that they offer have quality and can be trusted.

In order for East Africa to contribute to economic and human development, there is a need for the region to continue to revitalize efforts within the quality of teaching and learning. Critical-thinking skills are one of the outcomes of high-quality teaching and learning processes that enables university graduates to increase their chances of employability. Building on the work over the past decade in aligning higher-education approaches across East Africa and recognizing the importance of critical thinking for graduate employability, the ambition of the TESCEA project is to transform graduate employment and entrepreneurship in East Africa by enabling universities, industry, communities and government to work together and creating an improved learning experience of students.

As well as re-designing curricula and supporting academic staff to introduce new pedagogy into the classroom, we will also be working at institutional level, to create the right policy environment, so that this change to learning is supported and enabled. TESECA is a partnership that spans three East African countries, but we also hope to contribute to the wider East African higher-education community by developing tools and approaches that others can share, as well as a network of higher-education faculty across the region that can provide leadership and practical support to similar initiatives. We hope that, as the project progresses, we can contribute to the wider conversation about change in East African higher education.

What excites me most about the TESCEA project is that we are doing this as a collaborative; all stakeholders who have a stake in higher education are involved in this change. It is an opportunity for students, staff, and top managers within a university, in the private and public sectors and also in the community, to come together to see how we can instil those attributes for critical thinking and problem-solving.

TESCEA is not just about students getting employed but about them creating their own futures. The government and the private sector cannot absorb all the graduates, but I think that we have a lot of opportunities from different sectors and different areas. I think it’s about an individual seeing the opportunities and creating his or her own future, but we also need to make a systematic change, from the institution point of view as well as the individual.

For me, the project has also made me reflect on the way I deliver my own work and teaching. You see yourself where you were as an educator and where you need to improve or where you need to change the way you think. One of the important things, for me, is to see students as partners in the teaching and learning process.

Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) supports universities, industry, communities and government to work together to create a learning experience for students that produce employable and creative graduates for social change.

TESCEA is a partnership funded by the SPHEIR (Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform) programme.

www.inasp.info/TESCEA

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