Quality assurance in South African higher education involves institutional oversight and program-based accreditation under the auspices of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).
As per the current legislative framework, the Higher Education Act of 1997, the CHE is tasked with setting the quality standards which must be met by institutions seeking accreditation. Through its Higher Education Quality Committee it audits the quality assurance mechanisms of higher education institutions and accredits higher education programs. According to the official Accreditation Framework of the CHE, degree programs offered at South African universities must generally be accredited “based on shared and standard criteria that focus on input, process and output aspects of programmes.”
Private institutions used to be exempted from these requirements, but since 1999 have had to be registered by the national Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and offer accredited programs. Under the current system, accreditation of one- and two-year programs lasts for three years. Programs with a duration of three years or longer are accredited for six years.
While the CHE sets overall policy guidelines at the national level, the SAQA is tasked with the implementation of many of these guidelines. The SAQA defines the levels of the National Quality Framework (NQF), ensures their implementation, and manages the registration of qualifications within their appropriate sub-qualifications frameworks. The SAQA also accredits and oversees the so-called “Education and Training Quality Assurance” bodies (ETQAs) – organizations which, in turn, accredit education providers within specific disciplines. ETQAs include professional associations like the Engineering Council of South Africa, as well as “Sector Education and Training Authorities” (SETAs) tasked with overseeing skills training in different sectors of the South African economy.