Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 1079-108 6
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1079
Regionalisation and Its Impact on Quality Assurance
in Higher Education
Ephraim Mhlanga
South African Institute for Distance Education, Johannesburg, South Africa
Received July 23rd, 2012; revised August 24th, 2012; accepted Septembe r 1 0th, 2012
In many parts of the world, higher education is still predominantly shaped at national level, and tends not
only to reflect but also to underscore the specific traditions and circumstances of individual countries
(Enders, 2002: p. 1). As a result, it has been mainly assessed in the context of national systems with very
little attention being paid to its international dimension. In Southern Africa, this trend has largely been
due to the nature of relationship that prevails between higher education and the nation state. This trend
has started changing as globalisation and internationalisation factors exert more and more influence on the
shaping of the institution of a university. This article argues that in Southern Africa, globalisation mani-
fests itself through regionalisation, a process that has ushered in standardisation of quality assurance sys-
tems; a new managerialism in the management of higher education institutions; marketisation and com-
modification of knowledge; changing forms of state-university relationships; greater emphasis on effi-
ciency, cost saving and income-generating discourse; the forging of university-private sector partnerships;
and increasing staff and student mobility in the region and on the continent. The article pursues these
themes and shows how they impact on the quality of delivery of three case universities in Southern Af-
Keywords: Quality Assurance; Higher Education; Regionalisation; Southern Africa
In many parts of the world, higher education is still pre-
dominantly shaped at national level, and tends not only to re-
flect but also to underscore the specific traditions and circum-
stances of individual countries (Enders, 2002: p. 1). As a result,
it has been mainly assessed in the context of national systems
with very little attention being paid to its international dimen-
sion. In Southern Africa, this trend has largely been due to the
strong relationship that prevails between higher education and
the nation state. Generally, higher education has long been
almost wholly publicly funded and therefore strictly controlled
by the state. Under these circumstances, quality assurance mainly
served as a form of public accountability and the nation state
steered the system as the sole player with a significant stake in
higher education. However, this trend has started to change and
the predominance of the nation state as the main determinant of
the character of universities is now heavily challenged. Thus,
although state influence is still dominant in most universities in
Southern Africa, the higher education system today is charac-
terised by de-nationalisation, a process where states are losing
their monopoly on the control of university institutions while at
the same time the systems are gradually being shaped by factors
beyond their national borders. Significant among these external
factors is the influence of globalisation and internationalisation
forces on local higher education systems and on quality assur-
ance in particular.
Based on a study that was conducted in three public universi-
ties (for which pseudo names will be used) in three countries in
the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region,
this paper argues that regionalization takes the following forms:
Within the SADC region and indeed in sub-Saharan Africa,
regionalisation ushers in 1) standardisation of quality assurance
systems; 2) a new managerialism in the management of higher
education institutions; 3) marketisation and commodification of
knowledge; 4) changing forms of state-university relationships;
5) greater emphasis on efficiency, cost saving and income-
generating discourse; 6) the forging of university-private sector
partnerships; and 7) increasing staff and student mobility in the
region and on the continent. The seven factors above provide a
sound theoretical framework for analysing how the process of
regionalisation is shaping university practice in Southern Af-
This paper pursues these themes and shows how they are in-
fluencing the operations of the three case institutions. It also
shows the impact of these thematic factors on quality assurance.
A pertinent question which arises is whether these practices
have sufficient potential to enhance the quality of higher educa-
tion in the region. This paper attempts to address this question,
with specific reference to the case institutions.
Within Southern Africa, globalisation is assuming the form
of regionalisation, a process that involves the creation of a
common space in the various aspects of social and economic
development of the countries within the region. As in the Euro-
pean Union, the process is characterised by the adoption of
common policies on matters of education, trade, migration and
general development. There is increasing realisation globally of
the importance of close co-operation between countries through
sharing resources and technologies, addressing common prob-
lems and facilitating the free movement of people (COMEDAF
III Report, 2007). The key advantage of creating such regional
blocs lies in the benefits individual countries enjoy in con-
fronting problems as a group rather than as individuals, and in
building on each other’s synergies in the process of develop-
ment. Member countries support each other in the process of
economic development by concentrating on different niche
Regionalisation and Higher Education in
Southern Africa
Loosely defined, regionalisation refers to the grouping of na-
tions within a common geographical location in order to streng-
then cooperation and sharing as a strategy for achieving devel-
opment. Such groupings are motivated by physical and cultural
proximity as well as by common challenges faced. The process
of regionalisation gives institutions an international character.
The Regionalisation Project
In Southern Africa the project of regionalisation has under-
gone several metamorphoses. Starting as an apartheid project
during colonialism, this political project was aimed at integrat-
ing the region into a wider Southern African economy. This
was to be achieved by creating a constellation of states within
the region that would promote, support and consolidate colonial
interests. As more states became politically independent within
the region, they reconceptualised the concept, through the for-
mation of the Southern African Development Co-ordination
Committee (SADCC), into an emancipatory strategy. The re-
gional body was meant to facilitate collaboration and co-ordi-
nation of activities among the member states. Such collabora-
tion was extended beyond political frontiers to include eco-
nomic and social dimensions of development. In order to en-
hance development, the regional body identified niche areas for
member countries, and co-ordinated development in those areas
for the benefit of the entire region. These areas included, among
others, transport networks, regional food security, mining and
fisheries, tourism, and the development of energy resources.
Thus, efforts were made to identify areas of economic strength,
including the natural resource endowments of each member
country, which were to be developed for the benefit of the re-
SADCC evolved into the Southern African Development
Community (SADC), a body that is increasingly becoming an
expression of globalisation, much like the European Union.
There is increasing awareness that for the region to develop into
a knowledge society and catch up with other regions, human
resource capacity is a key prerequisite. Thus, various strategies
for enhancing higher education in the member countries are
being mooted. Amongst other measures, these strategies in-
clude harmonising and integrating higher education national
systems with a view to forming a regional higher education
space that is competitive in terms of scholarship and efficient in
meeting the human resource needs of the region.
The SADC Protocol on Education and Training is one in-
strument meant to achieve such harmonisation of the system.
Article Seven of this Protocol deals with co-operation in higher
education and training and clarifies some of the key areas of
harmonisation. The major aim of the Protocol is “to progres-
sively achieve equivalence, harmonisation and eventual stan-
dardisation of the education and training systems in the region”
(COMEDAF III Report, 2007). The SADC Technical Commit-
tee on Certification and Accreditation (TCCA) was established
in 1997 with a specific mandate to develop and recommend
policy guidelines, instruments, structures, and procedures that
would eventually facilitate equating, harmonising, and stan-
dardisation of accreditation and certification of qualifications in
the SADC region. To achieve this mission, the TCCA set the
following objectives:
to facilitate the development and implementation of national
qualifications frameworks;
to facilitate harmonisation of national qualifications frame-
works into the development of a regional qualifications
to strengthen national assessment, quality assurance and ac-
creditation structures, systems and procedures, and
to facilitate the development of credit transfer systems.
((COMEDAF III Report, 2007).
Clearly, one of the focus areas of efforts at enhancing re-
gional integration of higher education amongst the SADC
countries is by improving the quality assurance systems of in-
stitutions. Among other tasks, the TCCA undertakes studies
and analyses of issues of accreditation and recognition, which
provide a basis for making recommendations that lead to com-
parability of criteria of evaluations and recognition of degrees
within the region. The SADC TCCA has reportedly initiated
the process of establishing a regional qualifications framework
known as the Southern African Development Community Q ual i-
fications Framework (SADCQF). In 2006, the TCCA produced
a Draft Concept Paper on the SADC Qualifications Framework,
in which it proposed the establishment of a SADC Qualifica-
tions Agency. On the recommendations of the Ministers re-
sponsible for higher education in the SADC member countries,
the TCCA should first focus on assisting countries to strengthen
their quality assurance systems before the development of na-
tional and regional qualifications frameworks. The activities of
the TCCA are clear demonstration of the trend towards greater
harmonisation of higher education offerings, standardisation of
quality assurance systems and the creation of a common re-
gional higher education space. There is however, greater reali-
sation that progress in the SADC region cannot be seen in iso-
lation from global developments, and that member institutions
will be very much influenced by international trends in their
quality assurance practices.
Beyond the SADC region, regionalisation on the continent is
further driven through the formation of bodies like the New
Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African
Council for Distance Education (ACDE), the Association of
African Universities (AAU), the Association for the Develop-
ment of Education in Africa (ADEA), the Southern African
Regional Universities Association (SARUA) and the African
Virtual University (AVU). All these organisations seek com-
mon strategies towards addressing educational problems in
Africa and in the Southern African region, particularly in ad-
dressing the pressing challenges of access, equity and quality
A significant result of regional integration in higher educa-
tion is the enhancement of both student and staff mobility
across institutions within the region and on the continent in
general. There is also harmonisation of policy and guidelines
for quality assurance and the evaluation of qualifications across
institutions in order to facilitate equivalency and comparability.
Such comparability further enhances student movement and
credit transfer across country institutions.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Standardis ation of Syste m s and Strategies
Standardisation of higher education and of quality assurance
systems in particular, is explicitly expressed through the activi-
ties of several bodies on the continent and in the Southern Af-
rican region in particular. The Arusha Convention of December
1982, which was subsequently revised in 2002 in Cape Town
and in Dakar in 2003, is one such initiative. This Convention
pushes for the recognition of certain studies, certificates, di-
plomas, degrees and other academic qualifications in higher
education in African countries. Underlying this move is the
principle of harmonisation and portability of qualifications on
the continent.
The African Union (AU) is developing a strategy for harmo-
nising higher education programmes, and at the core of this
initiative is the development of criteria for harmonising quali-
fications across countries. There is talk of joint training and
joint offering of certain degree programmes in order to provide
skills that are considered key to economic development on the
continent. The African Council for Distance Education has
identified as its priority area the establishment of Pan African
Standards and of a regional quality assurance and accreditation
body for distance education—the African Council for Distance
Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency
(ACDE-QAAA). This continental quality assurance and ac-
creditation agency was formed in 2010 and is currently devel-
oping quality assurance criteria for use by higher education
ODL providers on the continent. Amongst other support me cha-
nisms, the ACDE-QAAA is also developing a manual for good
practice in ODL as a way of enhancing the quality of open and
distance education in higher education on the continent. Thus,
benchmarking of standards in programme offerings becomes a
regional rather than an institutional concern.
The Association of African Universities is poised to raise
standards of higher education in African countries, primarily by
building capacity in the area of quality assurance. In Southern
Africa, the promotion of national and regional qualifications
frameworks has been on the agenda for quite some time, again
in order to facilitate mobility and portability of qualifications
across countries. The aspired consequences of all the above-
cited initiatives by various organisations are regional integra-
tion through increased regional student and staff mobility; in-
creased sharing of information, intellectual resources and re-
search; strengthening African expertise to avoid over-reliance
on skills from elsewhere; promotion of greater networking
within the region; and the creation of a common African higher
education and research space. These aspects are considered
core in so far as the quality enhancement of higher education
provision in Africa is concerned.
Regionalisation has an indirect but very profound influence
on institutional quality assurance. Apart from giving higher
education a transnational character, today’s market-driven re-
gionalisation fosters similarities that are related to the “con-
solidation of international (and regional) epistemic communi-
ties that seek common responses to common problems” (Torres
& Schugurensky, 2002: p. 43). The dynamics of regionalisation
in Southern Africa have a significant impact on the perceptions
of what constitutes valuable knowledge and quality degrees,
and hence influence how institutions proceed to quality assure
their offerings. At the same time, national quality assurance
agencies try to align their quality assurance systems with re-
gional quality assurance frameworks and with the ideals of
international quality assurance agencies. At Universities B and
C, for instance, it was evident that in developing institutional
quality assurance systems there was extensive consultation with
international and regional experts, sometimes at the expense of
local stakeholders. Although there was no evidence of similar
consultations at University A, the literature shows that interna-
tional consultation was quite extensive in developing quality
assurance policy at national level in South Africa (Kraak, 2004).
Because of regionalised markets, “ways are needed to provide,
internationally, information about the nature, level, and quality
of education” (Woodhoues, 2001: p. 1) of any university insti-
tution that claims space on the regional higher education market.
Within the region, institutions closely follow market trends and
try to align their degrees and their research programmes with
the demands and needs of the ever-changing and expanding
regional market. A typical example of this is the increasing
recruitment of students and academic staff by South African
universities from the rest of the continent. According to a sur-
vey conducted at Wits in 2004, 9 percent of the surveyed stu-
dents came from the SADC countries while 8 percent came
from the rest of the African continent (Cross, Sehoole, Mhlanga,
Bayers-Ameguide, Inglis, & Koen, 2004). The vision of the
University of South Africa (UNISA), for instance, places the
institution as an African university that is poised to serve South
Africa and the African continent. Due to regionalisation, uni-
versities within the region find themselves in a new information
age in which society, the economy and knowledge have become
part of an irresistible regional environment, and therefore are
forced to conform to regional trends, consciously or uncon-
sciously. This trend is greatly enhanced through the growing
awa rene ss by univ er siti es o f int er nati ona l an d re gio nal cooper ation,
collaboration and competition in the globalised higher educa-
tion market (Enders, 2002).
A New Managerialism
In most regional institutions, including the three case univer-
sities for this study, an emerging trend is that managers have
assumed greater importance and enjoy heftier benefits than
academic professionals. Greater emphasis is placed on “hard”
approaches to management in order to achieve efficiency. As
Cloete and colleagues confirm from their study of the South
African higher education system, many vice-chancellors be-
lieve that the biggest challenge facing their institutions has
shifted away from achieving the national goals of equity, de-
mocracy and relevance to one of safeguarding the “bottom line”
(Cloete, Bunting, & Kulati, 2000, cited in Cloete, Kulati, &
Phala, (eds.)). The same authors note that at most of the South
African universities they studied, the struggle to stay solvent
had become the new battlefront (Ibid). In order to achieve such
solvency, institutions have resorted to tight management sys-
tems that are characterised by an entrepreneurial ethos. The
three case universities, like business enterprises, now engage
managers at every level of the system and these managers em-
phasise performativity—the capacity to deliver outputs at the
lowest possible cost. New managerialism manifests itself in the
increasing levels of accountability on the part of institutions
and the individuals therein, and in the growth of an audit cul-
ture within the institutions. There is an apparent tendency for
quality assurance policies for these institutions to privilege
managerial values more than epistemic ends. As is shown in the
following section, marketisation and commodification of knowl-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1081
edge have profoundly influenced enrolments for the three case
universities, the forms of knowledge they privilege, and the
type of research they engage in.
Marketisation and Comm o d i fi c ati o n of Kn ow l edge
While the process of globalisation is not new, what seems to
be novel about it, especially within the Southern African con-
text, is the degree of expansion in trade and transfer of capital,
labour mobility, production, consumption, information and
technology which, together, are ushering in significant changes
in lifestyles, working patterns, how nations relate to one an-
other within the region, and how institutions deliver their pro-
grammes and set their research agenda. Like anywhere else in
the world, universities within the region are listening more to
the voice of the market than ever before. Market-induced proc-
esses, driven mainly by market expansion, are informing what
counts as valid knowledge and what disciplines to prioritise.
Regionalisation is enhancing transnational business activities
that thrive on selling the culture-ideology of consumerism. The
expansion of South African companies and businesses to other
countries within the region and indeed on the continent is a
typical example of such market expansion. Mobile communica-
tion, mining, finance and retail companies are fast penetrating
the regional markets. The same trend is noticeable in the field
of higher education, where South African universities are re-
cruiting more and more students and academic staff from the
region. The ideology of consumerism privileges the perpetual
expansion and growth of the regional market. Thus today’s
market-dr iven globa lization, wi th its push fo r commerc ial int e r e s ts
that protect profits rather than people, is an unstoppable process
on a world (and indeed regional) scale (Yang, 2003: p. 272).
The market discourse has entrenched itself quite significantly
in higher education and has influenced new ways of redefining
the role of the African university and the clients that it serves.
All the three universities studied advertise conventional pro-
grammes as well as innovative short courses offered to em-
ployees in various fields, the latter mostly on a part-time basis.
Such short courses are meant to attract more revenue for the
institutions. They also run university enterprises, forge partner-
ships with the private sector, and engage in a number of in-
come-generating activities. There is rapid shifting of these uni-
versities from being public institutions that serve public inter-
ests to being entrepreneurial enterprises that operate as business
entities that view students as consumers and that survive on
values of competition and efficiency. This shift is likely to exert
greater influence on what universities prioritise and how they
do their business. As some scholars in higher education studies
argue, the notion of higher educational serving a form of col-
lective public good is fast disappearing; instead participation in
tertiary education is now regarded as a form of private invest-
ment (Sosteric, Gismondi, & Ratkovic, 1998). This is particu-
larly noticeable at University A and University C. This thinking
explains why students (consumers) at University A are required
to shoulder the bulk of the increasing cost of higher education.
It also explains why organisations like the World Bank have in
the past recommended less public investment in higher educa-
tion than in basic and secondary education. Institutional opera-
tions and policy decisions are informed more by corporate val-
ues than by epistemic ones.
The desire to do more with less (e.g. upping student-lecturer
ratios, increasing teaching hours for staff, making staff do with
minimum of resources needed for effective teaching and re-
search) was one of the major identified threats to quality deliv-
ery in the three universities studied. Staff in the three institu-
tions was very concerned about the practice of basing planning
on the economic rationale.
There is evidently the generic problem of large class sizes in
the studied universities. At the University B, most staff reported
that they handle classes that are generally too big for the avail-
able lecture rooms in the university. In some cases, students
spill out of the small rooms during lectures and this has a de-
motivating effect on the students. Most departments reported
undergraduate class sizes of between 100 and 300 students. The
general view of staff at University B is that class size is an es-
sential variable militating against quality teaching and learning
at the university and requires urgent attention if the quality
assurance policy is to yield the de sired results. At Univer sity A,
22.5 percent of the surveyed staff taught classes that were 150
students or more, while 15 percent taught classes that had more
than 200 students.
The literature shows that class size has an effect on the qual-
ity of learning that takes place in a class:
It is generally agreed that class size has profound effect on
the quality of learning that takes place in a class. Class size
affects not only the extent of one-on-one interaction that takes
place during learning, but also enhances individual support
form the teacher.
The tendency in the studied universities and indeed in many
other universities within the region, to handle too many stu-
dents using minimum resources and to engage academic staff at
unattractively low salaries leads to the creation of Fordist-style
degree mills (Noble, 1997, cited in Sosteric, et al., 1998). Post-
modern theorists call it “performativity” that is, “the capacity to
deliver outputs at the lowest cost which replaces truth as the
yardstick of knowledge” (Crook, et al., & Smith, 1997: p. 323).
This practice defeats the whole purpose of achieving academic
excellence by universities as it constrains the effective imple-
mentation of the quality assurance policies in the case universi-
Commercialisation of research has now seen the privileging
of applied research at the expense of basic research. In the
South African context, for instance, patterns in research and
publishing show an alarming tendency to “follow the money”
In all three universities studied, curriculum relevance is
viewed in terms of knowledge application to the world of work,
and the market is exerting profound influence on curriculum
reforms. At University A for instance, the Faculty of Humani-
ties closed down some of the departments that were considered
to be out of touch with market trends, like Classics, Religious
Studies and Afrikaans. Other disciplines like History are
equally threatened with closure due to the limited number of
students who opt for them. At the same time, new study areas
are being introduced because they are considered to be relevant
to current market trends, and for this reason they attract large
numbers of students and significant revenue. Examples of such
areas are Work and Labour in the Global Economy (a sociology
field) and Issues in South African News Media. All these cur-
riculum trends are influenced by market ideology. Decisions as
to whether courses will or will not be delivered are measured
by their financial viability and not only by their long-term in-
tellectual contribution to the project within the unit (Johnson,
2005). The notion of profit centres forms the hallmark of the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
functioning of academic centres, and institutions are run on
business/corporate lines, including the use of strategic plans.
The practice of university curricula following market trends
rather than knowledge for its own sake was not only peculiar to
University A; it was also noted at the other two case study uni-
versities. The literature shows that this is a common trend
worldwide in higher education systems and is an integral aspect
of globalisation. As Carnoy would argue, globalisation enters
the field of education on an ideological horse (Carnoy, 1999: p.
59). Institutions continually scan the market, and their success
is determined by their ability to adjust and align themselves
with the needs and demands of the market. It is the neo-liberal
ideology that ushered in economic reform policies that promote
massive privatisation and decline in public spending, removal
of trade barriers and promotion of export orientations, deregu-
lation of markets and reduction of state intervention in the
economy. All these aspects are characteristic of higher educa-
tion in the Southern African region. Such policies, which have
also been strongly supported by the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (themselves peddlers of the
globalisation process) in developing countries, have had the
overall impact of increasing corporate culture in the operations
of universities, institutions that hitherto functioned primarily
for the public good.
In higher education, it is clear that globalisation has changed
the discourse of rights into an economic discourse of invest-
ment, where decisions to invest are determined purely by the
perceived social returns of such investments. Such rationale is
not consistent with the equity values espoused by most South-
ern African countries. It also falls far short of providing a con-
ducive funding framework for institutions to manage effective
quality assuran ce systems.
State-Institution Relationshi ps wi thi n a Regionali sed
Regionalisation and internationalisation forces have also in-
fluenced the changing patterns of state-institution relationships.
The first effect of regionalisation was the ushering in of new
international reform ideologies that fundamentally challenged
the notion of institutional self-steering in higher education
(Maasen & Cloete, 2002: p. 16). Regionalisation has led to the
broadening of the role of higher education policy to embrace
economic growth, the promotion of the knowledge economy,
internationalisation and trade (Carnoy, 1999: p. 59). The as-
sumption that universities and colleges should be left to steer
themselves has been challenged. Instead, the new thinking is
that universities should be externally steered, subjected to mar-
ket forces, audited through formal evaluation, accountable for
their performance, and run by professional leaders and manag-
ers rather than academics (Tertiary Education Policy for Bot-
swana). This reform thinking is characterized by what scholars
like Neave call “the rise of the evaluative state” (Neave, 1998),
a situation where universities are externally controlled and their
activities are subjected to regular evaluation by the state. The
rationale behind this thinking is that universities in the region,
very much unlike in the developed world, are key instruments
for inducing social and economic development, and hence the
importance of state steering in order to align their activities
with broader national and regional development plans. Thus,
the impact of international reform ideologies has been the reju-
venation of state interest in the running of university affairs.
This thinking has informed the relationship between the state
and universities in the Southern African region. Whilst such
steering is positive, there is the danger of coercing universities
to follow a narrow knowledge agenda.
Another significant effect of regionalisation has stemmed
mainly from the international connectedness that has been brought
about through the Internet, mobile telephony and intensifying
patterns of travel (Neave, 1988: p. 17). In recent years, such
forces have also been felt through the General Agreement on
Trade in Services (GATS) under the auspices of the World
Trade Organization (WTO). Such agreements as GATS have
accelerated the influx of private and foreign providers of uni-
versity education where domestic capacity is inadequate, and
this has mainly been in developing countries. Transnational
provision of higher education has emerged as big business for
universities in the developed world, especially in Australia, the
United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA).
Although South Africa and Botswana have not signed to the
GATS, the phenomenon of foreign providers of higher educa-
tion was noted in both countries; it is one of the factors influ-
encing how governments position themselves in relation to the
national higher education institutions. This development, which
has been largely enhanced by the liberalisation of the higher
education market, takes various forms, like recruitment of in-
ternational students, establishment of campuses abroad, fran-
chise provision and online learning. There is great concern by
some developing states that liberalisation of higher education
may not only hamper the development of institutions in the
developing countries through stiff competition, but also com-
promises on quality of programme offerings (Knight, 2003: p.
5). As a result of these concerns, transnational provision of
higher education has further awakened the interest of states in
the regulation of domestic higher education policies, particu-
larly in the area of quality assurance. Such regulation has been
done in the name of protecting local consumers against provi-
sion of poor-quality university education by unscrupulous for-
eign and private providers who seek nothing more than profits.
State regulation has also been aimed at making institutions
more competitive by making them international in terms of
their curricula, by enrolling increasing numbers of international
students and by recruiting international staff. Positive effects of
state regulation were identified at the University A, where, as
highlighted above, both international students and staff were
very significant aspects of the institution’s demographics. To
some extent, University B also showed some of these interna-
tional features, particularly with regard to staffing.
Efficiency, Cost Saving and Income Generation
An important impact of regional integration is the shift of
policies in higher institutions to promote economic efficiency
through the liberalization and deregulation of markets. The
implication of deregulating national markets is the emergence
and growth of a regional integrated market that masks the long
tradition of local markets and in the process forces nation states
to retreat in terms of shaping economic activities within their
countries. Integrated markets, especially in higher education, do
not only call for an interstate (or global) regulating system, they
also raise questions regarding the relative benefits that accrue to
individual countries, given their different competitive capacities
in such integrated regional markets. Thus, activities of institu-
tions are left to be shaped mainly by market forces. Institutions
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1083
need to raise enough revenue in order to survive, and to do so
they have to be competitive and innovative enough to attract
sufficient clients from the market, which is now defined in
regional rather than in national terms. In a market situation,
those with stable leadership, with ability to be responsive to
market demands, and those that have the skills and resources to
move in new directions, will be at an advantage (Ibid). Rich
institutions stand to benefit as they have the capacity to move
quickly and take advantage of the expanded market, drawing
students and staff from countries where there are weak institu-
tions that have shaky quality assurance systems. At the same
time, the presence of foreign providers in the region obviously
introduces competition for the local, poorer universities.
This jungle situation of survival of the fittest is certainly in
favour of institutions that have an upper hand in terms of qual-
ity delivery. Thus, regional integration is a significant phe-
nomenon of globalisation that is in favour of allowing market
forces to determine what institutions can offer and with what
amount of success. Rui Yang aptly describes the gloomy side of
market-induced policies and economic systems:
Arguably, the market has gone too far in dominating social
and political outcomes. The opportunities and rewards of glob-
alization spread unequally and inequitably—concentrating
power and wealth in a select group of people, nations and cor-
porations, while marginalizing others. When the profit motives
of market players are unconstrained, they challenge peoples
ethics and sacrifice respect for justice and human rights. It is
just here where the market falls short. It places the whims of the
rich over the most elementary necessities of the poor. The mar-
ket cannot safeguard the needs of those without money, which
is why so many people die every day within sight of global
abundance. In this sense, the market is deaf and blind. It re-
sponds only with the sensory equipment that can detect money
(Yang, 2003: p. 272).
In a situation where the logic of the market determines ser-
vice provision and patterns of consumption, the role of the state
in protecting the weak against being down-trodden by the more
powerful is severely eroded. The state’s prime role of protect-
ing the rights of all citizens in the higher education system is
undermined. As already mentioned above with regard to the
provision and governance of university education, globalisation
has resulted in a shift from the logic of rights to a logic prem-
ised on economic convenience. Market-driven higher education
systems inevitably call for a different kind of relationship to be
established between higher education institutions and the state.
This repositioning of the state has many implications regarding
state monitoring of the quality provision of these institutions
and aligning higher education with overall national develop-
ment goals. Regional countries ought to analyse the direct im-
plications of globalisation on higher education in terms of
various dimensions like staffing, changing forms of knowledge
and the nature of work in the academy, and relations with other
social agents. Similar concerns need to be raised at regional
level regarding moves to open up the regional higher education
market to transnational providers.
There are particular symptoms of regionalisation that have
bearing on quality assurance which can be identified in the
studied institutions. These relate to performativity, profession-
alisa tion of degre es, and standa rdisatio n of degrees an d qualifi-
cations in order to facilitate labor mobility and credit transfer.
Because of the need for universities to account to external
stakeholders like the state, management emphasises measurable
aspects of staff performance and by so doing shifts the aca-
demic staff from their traditional roles and interests to those
aligned to the organisation (Johnson, 2005: p. 210). As alluded
to earlier on, the concern with performativity does not neces-
sarily focus on epistemic issues that improve the performance
of universities as academic institutions.
Marketisation of higher education is characterised by closer
partnerships between universities and outside clients and other
knowledge producers, and an increasing burden on faculty to
access external sources of funding (Subotzky, 2006: p. 2). The
success of an institution is measured in terms of its ability to
forge such partnerships with strategic partners and to maximise
revenue generation. This practice has had profound influence
on the way the studied institutions perceive knowledge and the
resultant restructuring of degree programmes in order to meet
the immediate needs of the market. In all the three universities
used in this study, the trend to professionalise degree pro-
grammes and commodify knowledge was very distinct. Institu-
tions run many new short courses that are offered in order to
cater for the immediate needs of particular professions, espe-
cially in the Business and Education schools and faculties. In
all three universities, some of these courses are run in the eve-
nings and during weekends in order to allow working clients an
opportunity to attend. This tendency to professionalise degree
programmes is clearly a market-driven innovation which privi-
leges mode 2 forms of knowledge at the expense of mode 1.
The important point to note here is that customisation of uni-
versity offerings for particular professions and other immediate
business client needs has undoubtedly resulted in considerable
influence being exerted on institutions in terms of their curricu-
lar reforms and the way they benchmark their quality in those
programmes. It was also worth noting that such outside busi-
ness partners influence, in very significant ways, how quality
should be assured, not only in the academic programmes of-
fered but also in the form of research that is undertaken in some
of the studied universities. In all three contexts of this study,
particularly in South Africa, institutions have aligned their re-
search with the national and regional market as well as with
national development goals. There is a dramatic shift away
from basic toward applied research—a 25 percent shift over a
five-year period is reported in South Africa (Bawa and Mouton,
2002, cited in Muller, 2005: p. 96). One interviewed academic
at Wits confirmed the influence of external factors like profes-
sional organisations and the market on curricula:
We have the generic quality assurance policy by the univer-
sity, but within the faculty our programmes are accredited ac-
cording to certain professional requirements. There are profes-
sional organisations that make an input into our programmes
and they accredit those programmes.
Our programmes are developed around certain professions
internationally and locally. These include the Royal Chartered
Institute of Quantity Surveyors, the South African Council of
the Built Environment. These organisations have certain de-
mands on our programmes. Their demands are higher than
what the Higher Education Council requires.1
Thus, the perception of quality and the way it is assured was
identified as a product of the concerted efforts of the universi-
1Interview with the quality assurance coordinator in the Faculty of Engineering,
University A, 7 April 2005.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ties and their outside partnerships. At University A this was
mainly conspicuous in the fields of Engineering and Business
Studies. At University C the practice was quite prevalent in
Agriculture, Commerce and Business, and Education. At Uni-
versity B the trend was noticeable in the Faculties of Engineer-
ing and Business Studies as well as in the Nursing Science
The practice where external stakeholders, especially profes-
sional organisations, have influence in quality assuring univer-
sity activities is becoming a global trend. Motivated by the
increasing international mobility of professionals and facilitated
by regional and global trade agreements which concern the
international trade in professional services, these professional
organisations initiate far-reaching agreements on mutual recog-
nition of professional qualifications and on international quality
standards, and actively support the development of international
accreditation practices (Van der Wende, n.d.: p. 3). As exem-
plified by the above interview citations and examples, this is
quite a significant trend influencing quality assurance of par-
ticular disciplines in the studied universities.
It was also apparent in this study that, due to the role of ex-
ternal partners with a stake in university business, a new di-
mension of multiple accreditations could become an important
component of quality assurance of programmes in universities.
The impact of globalisation in the studied cases is thus charac-
terised by epistemological and organisational changes towards
applications-driven or strategic forms of knowledge production
and dissemination (Subotzky, 2006: p. 2).
Student and Labour Mobility
Regionalised markets operate alongside the phenomenon of a
regional economy, which survives largely on mobility of capital
and labour across national boundaries. Within the Southern
African region, this “regionality” necessitates the prevalence of
labour mobility across geographical boundaries and across
national economies. Countries within the same geographical
and political regions are increasingly recognising the need to
collaborate in order to facilitate mobility of students and skilled
labour in an orderly manner (The Statesman, 2007: p. 4). There
is increasing relaxation of migration regulations among coun-
tries within the Southern African region, a development that
makes cross-border travel easy for students and academic staff.
For this to happen more smoothly, there are moves within the
region to standardise qualifications from universities and other
tertiary institutions. This encourages harmonisation of study
programmes, articulation of qualifications and cross-transfer of
credits. Thus, one of the effects of regional integrated higher
education systems is to maximise standardisation in particular
disciplines in order to facilitate labour mobility as well as stu-
dent exchange. In line with this trend, institutions are aligning
their quality assurance arrangements with those of regional and
international agencies; hence the increasing discourses of in-
ternationalisation (and regionalisation) of quality assurance of
university education (Van der Wende, n.d.). Within Southern
Africa, this process is augmented by efforts at establishing a
regional quality assurance agency that enhances quality among
the regional institutions. Such an agency also ensures that
higher education institutions stretch themselves up to quality
levels that make them competitive at international level. In the
region, this is partly being achieved by encouraging the forma-
tion of national councils of higher education which, in turn,
affiliate to the regional body. National Councils of Higher
Education were a common phenomenon in all the three coun-
tries studied, and one of their key functions is the regulation of
higher education through quality assurance.
Given the broader discourse of international exchange and
co-operation emphasised by nation states, international bodies
and business today, the advent of the “universalism of learning”
and “the universal-university world” (De Wit, 2000: p. 1) be-
comes inevitable. If regionalisation is to promote quality deliv-
ery in the studied institutions, strategies institutions adopt to
achieve this goal become critical. Development of quality de-
livery through partnerships is a matter of institutional strategy:
But too often such cooperation agreements are merely ex-
pressions of academic good will or the product of transient
opportunities. Their numbers are generally more impressive
than the quality of the contributions they make. What most Af-
rican universities need are partnerships that are few in number,
strategically chosen, and equitable in the benefits provided to
each partner. Such partnerships hold the potential to make an
institution stronger, more competitive, and more relevant. To
achieve this, these partnerships must emerge from an institu-
tions strategic planning process (The Statesman, 2007: p. 7).
The narrow approach common in the institutions, where re-
gionalisation is taken to be one or two activities—like staff
mobility, multicultural education, area studies, study abroad or
the establishment of an international office—certainly needs to
be broadened so that it constitutes a comprehensive and more
holistic approach that permeates every facet of university op-
erations and that has an impact on the experiences of students.
This broader and more integrated approach stands more chan ces
of impacting more positively on the quality performance of the
universities; this was clearly absent in the studied universities.
This paper showed how globalisation and internationalisation
influence higher education reforms in general and quality as-
surance in particular in the Southern African context. It pre-
sented globalisation and internationalisation within the context
of regionalisation of higher education in the Sub-Saharan re-
gion and tried to show how the latter process is transforming
national economies into an integrated regional economy, and
national higher education systems into interconnected entities
operating in resonance with each other. In the social sphere
regionalisation has the effect of intensifying social relations at a
distance, making it imperative for what happens in one country
to resonate throughout the entire region and to affect what hap-
pens everywhere else in the region. The paper showed deregu-
lation of markets as one of the major effects of regionalisation,
which has had the effect of blurring national boundaries in
terms of both provision and consumption of higher education
services. The overall impact has been the invasion of the sys-
tem by a market ideology which emphasises competition, eco-
nomic efficiency and consumption. Market discourses have
permeated higher education and are noticeably influencing the
options of the studied universities. Thus, there is competition
by universities for the best clients in the regional market—a
process that has been exacerbated by the advent of private pro-
viders of higher education, including those from the most ad-
vantageously placed institutions overseas. At the same time,
students’ choices have been broadened as they seek relevant
degrees that are of international standard.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1085
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
As a way of responding to the emergence of a global econ-
omy, the case institutions are increasingly placing more empha-
sis on regionalisation—a process that involves cultural integra-
tion in teaching and learning as well as the research activities of
a university. Among other motives, regionalisation is seen as a
way of enhancing the quality offerings of these universities,
through providing an international experience to staff and stu-
dents, through mutual exchange of ideas and through regional
and international co-operation and information sharing between
agencies and institutions responsible for quality assurance.
University education is being extended beyond the local in
terms of curricular restructuring, so is the benchmarking of the
practices and standards. The pre ssures of globalisation and i nte r-
nationalisation have extended the scope of the market, the stu-
dent and staff catchment area, needs and priorities to be met in
terms of research concerns, and programmes offered are well
beyond national and regional boundaries. A trend that is
emerging in the case institutions, perhaps just like elsewhere, is
the move towards benchmarking quality assurance in accor-
dance with regional and international standards, irrespective of
the level of development of the institution. This is done mainly
by aligning institutional policies and practices with regional and
international trends and norms, in spite of the constraining local
imperatives, and by intensifying peer review processes as a key
aspect of quality assurance. This need is evidenced by the ex-
tensive consultations made with outside experts on quality as-
surance as well as by the affiliation of institutions to regional
and international quality assurance agencies like the Associa-
tion of African Universities, the Southern African Regional
Universities Association, and the International Network of
Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education.
Thus, this paper shows that while quality assurance policies
of these developing case institutions are influenced by local
imperatives, they are increasingly being influenced by regional
dictates. As Enders rightly argues, internationalisation and
globalisation became key themes in the 1990s, both in higher
education policy debates and in research on higher education
(Yang, 2003: p. 272). Universities are both subjects as well as
objects of internationalisation and globalisation; they are af-
fected by and at the same time influence these processes. Qual-
ity assurance policies and practices in the studied institutions
are no exception in this regard.
Carnoy, M. (1999). Globalization and educational reform: What plan-
ners need to know. Paris: UNESCO.
Cross, M., Sehoole, T., Mhlanga, E., Bayers-Ameguide, P., Inglis, J., &
Koen, S. (2004). University experience in the 21st century: Percep-
tions of global and local exposure at the University of the Wit-
watersrand, unpublished research report. Johannesburg: University
of the Witwatersrand.
De Wit, H. (2000). Rationales for internationalisation of higher educa-
tion. URL (last che cked 5 May 2006).
Delucchi, M., & Smith, W. L. (1997). A postmodern explanation of
student consumerism in higher education. Teaching Sociology, 24,
322-327. doi:10.2307/1319301
Enders, J. (2002). Higher education, internationalisation, and the nation
state: Recent developments and challenges to governance theory. A
paper prepared for the CHER conference, Vienna, Austria.
Harmonization of higher education programmes in Africa: Opportuni-
ties and challenges. (2007). A report of the third ordinary session of
the conference of ministers of education of the African Union. Jo-
hannesburg, South Afri ca.
Johnson, B. (2005). Towards post-managerialism in higher education:
The case of management change at the University of the Witwaters-
rand. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Johannesburg: University of the
Witwatersrand Library.
Knight, J. (2003). Trade in Higher Education Services: The Implica-
tions of GATS. Kagisano, 3.
Kraak, A. (2004). Discursive tensions in South African Higher Educa-
tion, 1990 to 2002. Journal of Studies in International Education, 8,
244-281. doi:10.1177/1028315304265337
Maasen, P., & Cloete, N. (2002). Global reform trends in higher educa-
tion. In Cloete, N. et al. (Eds.), Transformation in higher education:
Global pressures and local realities in south africa (pp. 13-57).
Kaapstad: Cape Town.
Muller, J. (2005). The world is not enough: Knowledge in question.
South African Journal for Higher Education, 19, 89-103.
Neave, G. (1988). The Evaluative State Reconsidered. European Jour-
nal of Education, 33, 206-283.
Sosteric, M., Gismondi, M., & Ratkovic, G. (1998). The University,
accountability, and market discipline in the late 1990s. Electronic
Journal of Sociology, CAAP.
Subotzky, G. (2006). Globalisation and higher education. URL (last
checked 18 May 2006).
The Statesman (2007). Revisioning Africa’s tertiary education in the
transition to a knowledge economy. URL (last checked 5 September
Torres, C. A., & Schugurensky, D. (2002). The political economy of
higher education in the era of neo-liberal globalisation: Latin Amer-
ica in comparative perspective. Higher Education, 43, 429-455.
Van der Wende, M. (n.d.). Quality assurance in higher education and
the link to internationalisation (1) Paper to be published by the
OECD in a publication with the title: “Quality and the International
Dimension in Higher Education Institutions”. URL (last checked 7
December 2005).
Woodhoues, D. (2001). Globalisation: Implications for education and
for quality. A paper presented at the AAIR Conference held at
Rockhampton, Australia.
Yang, R. (2003). Globalization and higher education development: A
critical analysis. International Review of Education, 49, 269-291.