Will new university entry qualifications improve quality of graduates

25Jul 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Will new university entry qualifications improve quality of graduates

Recently, the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) issued a public notice on the change of procedures, requirements and minimum admission entry qualifications for undergraduate students.

Any student, with total points ranging from four in two of their study subjects at A-level qualifies for admission into higher leaning institutions.

The said public notice informed the General Public and all Prospective applicants for admission into various undergraduate degree programmes that, pursuant to section 5(1)(c)(i) of the Universities Act, Cap. 346 of the Laws of Tanzania, the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) is mandated to provide guidance and monitor criteria for admission to universities in the United Republic of Tanzania. The minimum admission entry qualifications currently in use were approved by the Commission in 2011.

Furthermore, the notice provided the rationale for changes in the minimum entry qualifications as that in recent years, there have been concerns from different stakeholders on the quality of candidates being admitted to various universities, hence negatively affecting the quality of training and the resultant output/graduates.

Similarly, there are concerns that by lowering the minimum points for admission into university institutions, almost every candidate with two principal passes are eligible to join a university and therefore leaving most of the middle level tertiary institutions without qualified students.

TCU’s decision has sparked public commotion especially among prospecting students and their parents, who have blamed TCU for providing such an abrupt notice. On the other side TCU has struggled to defend its actions through various media platforms. This article is trying to analyse whether the new university entry qualifications will improve quality of university graduates.

At the end of last week, I watched a TV programme ‘Kipima Joto’ on ITV in which the main topic was on changes of entry qualifications in universities. The participants were a concerned citizen, officials from TCU, and Tanzania Non-Government Schools and Colleges (TAMONGSCO). In the course of discussions, officials from TCU said the new minimum qualification meets international standards and seeks to promote an equitable professional supply chain.

It was further that TCU has published new procedures, requirements and minimum admission entry qualifications for undergraduate students, making total four points as the minimum entry qualification to higher learning institution by form six applicants.

Under the new guidelines, TCU has admitted misconception of the two Ds as the minimum admission qualification for form six applicants who completed their Advanced level studies before 2014.

Therefore, any student, with total points ranging from four in two of their study subjects at A-level qualifies for admission into higher leaning institutions. This can be A+E, B+E, C+E or D+D...these are just minimum entry qualifications for undergraduate studies.

TCU officials said that the Commission had conducted a thorough appraisal of the requirements before advising the Minister for Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training on the matter.
During the discussion, I deduced a number of issues of critical concern which emerged from education stakeholders. The issues are presented and discussed below:

(a) The Process was not participatory: It was revealed that process for identifying weakness and determining new entry qualifications was not participatory. We all know that changing entry qualification is not a small matter as it affects a number of education stakeholders including institutions, non-state actors, owners of colleges and universities, students and parents, just to mention a few.

For a number of years it has been normal for our leaders to make decisions which affect citizens’ lives without ensuring they participate in the decision making. As a result, no matter how good is that decision, citizens will always feel they are not part of the decision.

(b) The decision was not based on any research findings: as per information from TCU officials, it is clear that this decision was not based on firm foundations of research findings, but it was merely depending on TCU’s speculations and feedback from education stakeholders which show concerns on low quality of university graduates.

I am sure one of TCU’s roles is to undertake research and utilize findings from these researches to advise the Minister and other relevant bodies accordingly. Therefore, when decisions are made without undertaking research, then I get very uncomfortable.

(c) Is the production of poor graduates a result of only low entry qualifications? I think we need to ask ourselves this question. We need to dig deeper to find out factors leading to poor quality of graduates from our universities.

According to my experience there are a number of factor interplay which result into poor graduates: First, it is true that the quality of candidates has contribution on determining the quality of the graduates. Therefore, I concur with arguments to uplift minimum entry qualifications to ensure students with quality enter universities. However, is this only important factor? No, the second factor is very important too.

The second factor is the quality of lecturers. I have worked in universities both private and public. I have met some lecturers who have been employed with Masters and PhDs but they do not pedagogical skills and possess poor mastery of English language to convey the content. Therefore, you find that these lecturers struggle to communicate with their students, as a result students may fail not due to lack of understanding of the content.

I remember, way back when I was studying at University of Dar es Salaam, there was a Centre for Continuing Studies, which was a place where lecturers were given pedagogical skills to support their classroom interaction. Therefore, the quality of lecturer matters a lot to ensure students are shaped-up accordingly.

There are some instances, where students have been complaining on being taught by lecturers with low level of qualifications or mastery of the content.

The third factor is the teaching and learning environment, which include lack of adequate and relevant infrastructure such as lecture rooms, laboratories, libraries, and hostels; and teaching and learning materials and facilities such as text books, on-line resources, laboratory equipment, ICT facilities.

On the other side, in situation where teaching load is higher, there is a possibility for lecturers to have less time to support their students. I taught at university so I know how challenging to provide support to a students when you have extra teaching load.

Lecturers in this situation cannot perform other duties such as research and consultancy. We should agree that even if you have quality students and teachers, but if the teaching and learning environment is not conducive, we cannot expect wonders. Incentives for lecturers in these circumstances play a major role.

(d) Fragmented approach to education challenges: from TCU’s decision, I have realized that we approach challenges in fragmentation. May be I should remind the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) that quality candidates for higher education are a result of quality candidates from basic education levels (pre-primary, primary and secondary).

We should ask ourselves, have we invested enough at basic education level to ensure that we get quality candidates for higher education including technical and vocation institutions? This move to address challenges at the top is miscalculated and put the education structure as fragmented, while we should approach challenges in the education sector as a holistic.

(e) TCU has not been effectively played its role in quality assurance of higher education. We have a number of examples in which colleges and universities which were given accreditation by TCU, were later found to have lecturers with low qualifications, poor or inadequate facilities, inadequate infrastructure and many more. The cases of St. Joseph College in Ruvuma and Kampala International University (KIU), in which students were admitted by TCU and but to find that the courses in these universities were not fully registered. These kinds of cases leave with wonder as to what really happened with TCU’s quality assurance role.

(f) Can new entry qualifications enhancing inequality-class divide? It is obvious that most public schools, in which majority of our children are learning, have poor infrastructures, lack of learning material and facilities, inadequate teachers and many more challenges; while their counterparts in private schools have all required facilities and teachers, therefore they have high possibility of performing much better.

The 2016 Advanced level examination results show this very clearly. From this we need to ask ourselves, will students from better schools get more opportunities to access higher education than from disadvantaged schools? This calls for enhancing investment in public schools; in which majority of our children attend to, in order to reduce possibility of inequality.

(g) Need for extending loans to middle cadre courses: during the ITV programme I mentioned earlier, one official from TCU informed the public that those who have passed but below new entry qualifications for university, can apply to middle cadre courses at colleges offering Certificates and Diploma courses. However, we know that one of hindering factors for many households in the country is lacking of means to support their children’s education.

If parents are not able to support their children at basic education level, we do not expect them to be able to pay their fees for college level. The current practice is that the students loans are only provided to students who have obtain admission at University level. So how do we expect majority of students who may get admission for Certificate and Diploma courses are able to support their studies? If the Government will not establish financing mechanisms for this group, we may have a youth ‘bulge’ of secondary graduates sitting idle, which can be dangerous.

As I said before, I do not oppose introduction of new entry qualifications for universities; however, my arguments lies on the manner in which we make decisions, which are critical to our socio-economic development. We need to ensure participation of all stakeholders, make decisions basing on research, undertake a holistic approach in addressing challenges at all levels; quality assurance should be a daily routine, improve quality of basic education and extend loans to middle cadre level courses.
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The write is a specialist in educational policy, planning, economics and finance. He is reached through: [email protected] or +255754304181.

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