Should a quality assurance body provide guidance and support to learning institutions applying for accreditation? 7

Written by Dr Hannes Nel, MBL, D.Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

Some quality assurance bodies will probably immediately reply “no, definitely not” to the question if they should provide learning institutions applying for accreditation with guidance and support. Reasons why they feel this way might well include arguments such as “it would be an impossible task of we were expected to help everybody who applies for accreditation”; “a learning institution who needs help with the application for accreditation obviously does not have the capacity to offer professional learning and they should not even apply”; “it is not our job” and many more.

Then there are those who feel differently. The Indian National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), for example, firmly believe that guidance and support offered by the quality assurance body to the learning institutions is critically important for the improvement of quality learning. In this respect Prasad and Stella[1] wrote the following:

“Moving beyond accreditation, NAAC has expanded its scope by strengthening its advisory role…. In addition to promoting the cause of quality education in the country, NAAC is a leading QAA in the international arena with valuable lessons of experience for the emerging QAAs of other countries.”

Quality assurance is a tool by means of which the government can ensure that learners on all levels receive good quality education and training. Monitoring and control are not the only ways in which the quality of learning can be improved – guidance and support is equally important.

South African quality assurance bodies, like quality assurance bodies in any country with a professional educational system, do have guidance and support responsibilities. A member of a quality assurance body said the following when interviewed by the author:[2]

“They [the quality assurance bodies] never understood that they were there to nurture the providers, to capacitate them, to build their quality in order that those providers can maximally train and educate people. They never understood that – so if they don’t understand their most important brief, why they are there, then of course the whole thing can’t work.”

In their official profile documentation, a South African quality assurance body admits that they have guidance and support responsibilities as follows:

  1. In their Criteria for Programme Accreditation: “As part of the task of building an effective national quality assurance system, the (quality assurance body) has also included capacity development and training as a critical component of its programme of activities.”


  1. In their lists of functions: “To develop and implement a system of quality assurance …, including programme accreditation, institutional audits, quality promotion and capacity development, standards development ….”

The quality assurance body claims that they are moving away from a focus on institutional audits toward quality enhancement in their evaluations. Quality enhancement without guidance cannot work. You cannot enhance quality by adding more bureaucracy to the quality assurance process and sticking to a persecutory approach.

The use of online platforms to apply for accreditation, which all three South African quality assurance bodies do, makes it critically important for such bodies to guide applicants for the following reasons:

  1. Online platforms cannot answer the wide array of questions that providers might need to ask, no matter how many frequently asked questions there are on the system.
  2. It is impossible for providers to guess how much information they should provide if the text box to be filled in contains only a statement/heading.
  3. It is still impossible to guess what the quality assurance body wants even if a question is asked. Quality criteria can be covered in a paragraph or a thousand pages.
  4. If the response to a question is limited to a number of words or pages, the applicant still does not know what specific content the quality assurance body wants. Learning is vast and sometimes technical and guessing what you should write is impossible.

Giving feedback on an application for accreditation is a critical point at which the applicant should be given guidance and support. Vague and unqualified feedback means nothing. Most learning institutions will probably only be able to submit a proper application after applying unsuccessful at least once and then only if proper feedback is given. The following are typical feedback remarks from which learning institutions can learn absolutely nothing:

  1. “The title of the qualification is wrong.” How and why is it wrong?
  2. “The qualification does not have sufficient depth.” What is meant by “sufficient depth”?
  3. “The applicant does not have sufficient capacity to offer the qualification.” What is meant by this? In wat respect does the applicant not have capacity? Capacity can refer to finances, personnel, capital goods, infrastructure, time, etc.

In closing, it is internationally agreed that quality assurance is a service rendered to the community at large. Quality assurance is not a policing action and does not give the quality assurance body the unqualified right to manipulate who is accredited and who not. The focus should be on the protection and promotion of the interests of the community by paving the way towards good quality education and training which would facilitate job creation and reduce unemployment.

Note: I omitted references to sources that might create discomfort for quality assurance bodies or individuals.


[1] 2004: 9 – 10.

[2] Nel, 2007: 317.

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About Hannes Nel

CEO and owner of Mentornet (Pty) Ltd. Academic background: B. Mil.; BA Honnours; MBL; D. Com; D. Phil Published 10 books with two more in the pipeline.

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7 thoughts on “Should a quality assurance body provide guidance and support to learning institutions applying for accreditation?

  • Hannes Nel Post author

    I agree that we should privatise quality assurance of learning. EU countries have been doing this for decades already. It will only work if we can convince government to support the concept, so timing is of the essence. I wrote the article on ten reasons why private learning providers can offer better quality learning than large public universities and colleges. I was actually shocked with what transpired and will not post the article. The situation with especially universities is really bad – based on the brief research that I did for the article.

  • Tass Schwab

    I personally agree fully and always tell clients to go the accreditation route, not for themselves but for their learners sake and the love of life long learning to be supported.
    An alternative that allows for credits to be recognized? Possibly private industry Training Bodies that take it into their own hands AND make it a legal recognized alternative.

  • Hannes Nel Post author

    Tass, I would not be surprised if people start offering qualifications that are not endorsed by any of the quality assurance bodies. The main reason why this is not a good idea is because you can then not read the credits and qualifications achieved by your learners into the NLRD. Also, you will not easily get a training contract from government if you are not accredited. We need an alternative.

  • Tass Schwab

    Thank you for this! I often get Training Service providers who have bought poor material, and the developers have vanished and I am requested to do remediation on the material. But the reports are as shown above poorly worded, and even in some cases confusing (feedback example: ETQA Award column – Does not meet requirements and the comments – Activities are clearly documented and referenced back to the SO and AC) and the SETA is simply unavailable to help gain clarity. Our industry is full of Developers who provide poor material, and at the other end at the SETA’s those who are just seemingly churning out verification reports that are poor. I wonder if its even worth being an accredited provider anymore?

  • Nigel Shipston

    Frustrating is the word, especially when an ETQA Manager, motivated by personal issues, blocks beneficial industry focused projects by virtue of their position in the chain of approval.

    So far, in dealing with QCTO, the underlying philosophy of supporting and guiding is the order of the day. The openness to discussion, the ability to listen and make reasonable decisions make interaction with QCTO a breath of fresh air in comparison to that with which we have become familiar. As long as this openness continues, we should be able to achieve a lot more.

  • Hannes Nel Post author

    This is frustrating, Nigel, and it applies rather widely. The QCTO seems to be trying to improve their standards, though.

  • Nigel Shipston

    Thank you Hannes,
    Having studied the SAQA Guideline and Policy documents in some depth during the early 2000’s, I cannot agree more. The theme throughout these documents was one of development and support, yet very little of this was forthcoming from the ETQA’s. In the early days I had an ETQA Practitioner who sat with me while we developed a QMS, learning materials and other activities towards accreditation. Her reason was simple – if she couldn’t do it herself, how would she be able to provide appropriate advice to other providers? That has never happened again.

    In the majority of cases, I do not believe that is a case of not wanting to provide guidance and support, but more a case of not having the ability to do so. The very “policing” aspect you refer to, and which is currently prevalent with these authorities, is a far cry from the often referred to guidance and support clearly intended in SAQA publications.

    I have often referred to this problem or questioned an ETQA’s practice in terms of these expectations. Needless to say, I am not particularly popular in some areas. But with all due respect, the bus was missed right at the beginning when SAQA should maybe have done more to guide and support these authorities in order to maintain a consistency of operation. As much as a training provider needs guidance and support, perhaps the same type of guidance and support should have been provided to accrediting authorities. We all know how diverse these operations have become over the years, and that perhaps should be a lesson in the future.