NCHE geared to implement new 5-year Strategic Plan - An interview with the NCHE Acting CEO Dr. Ambumulire Phiri
After completing implementation of its first five-year Strategic Plan (2015-2020), the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), has now started implementing a successor five-year Strategic Plan to cover another five years, 2021 – 2026.
Priscilla Zikapanda sat down with the Acting Chief Executive Officer Dr. Ambumulire Phiri, for a discussion on the previous Plan and how NCHE intends to implement the new 5-year Plan. Excerpts:
Q: First of all, would you tell us more about the new NCHE Strategic Plan?
A: Yes indeed, as the National Council for Higher Education, we have now started implementing our new Strategic Plan, it is a step in the right direction for us to continue to strategically contribute to the development of this country, as a regulator of the Higher Education sub-sector. The NCHE Strategic Plan, 2021-2026 emanates from the provisions of the long-term Malawi Vision 2063 agenda that has been supported by other Malawi Government medium-term strategies and policies such as the third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS III) and the National Education Sector Investment Plan (NESIP) 2020 – 2030.
Q: What was the process for coming up with this new Strategic Plan, (how much stakeholder involvement was done)?
A: The development of this Strategic Plan followed a highly consultative and participatory approach as a means of setting goals and objectives. Through the facilitation of an external consultant and NCHE internal taskforce drawn from management and technical sections, the guiding principle and approach of the assignment centred around the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, where external forces were scanned in the form of the PESTEEL philosophy which looks at the political, economic, social, technological, ecological (natural environment), ethical and legal variables that have a direct impact on the operations and success of an organization. These forces come into play in the form of opportunities and threats.
Additionally, the internal strengths and weaknesses of NCHE were looked at critically. This approach and methodology were intended to ensure ownership, commitment and leadership by NCHE’s Council Members, Management, Staff and its key external stakeholders that include students, higher learning institutions, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). The guiding conceptual framework for the strategic planning process was derived and adapted from the Strategic Planning Model by Fred David (2013) which has three parts: Situation Analysis; Strategy Formulation and Strategy Implementation.
Q: What were the challenges that NCHE faced under the initial 5-year Plan that plan which you intend to address through this new one?
A: Inadequate financial support from the Government to enable Council carry out its mandate to the fullest, un-cooperation from HEIs due to lack of clear understanding of NCHE mandate, conflicting mandates between those of NCHE and the HEIs, unclear communication and delegation channels to members of staff, resistance from both private and public HEIs due to lack of appreciation for services rendered by NCHE, inherent and growing mistrust by the public, lapses and delays in the implementation of laws, regulations and rules, outstanding financial obligations by stakeholders, the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the country and the globe and also some inefficiencies in NCHE’s internal operations.
Q: Any specifics you can point at that NCHE achieved through the initial Strategic Plan?
A: the new NCHE Strategic Plan has been formulated based on notable achievements of the preceding plan that include, amongst others; setting-up the requisite minimum quality assurance standards, policy frameworks, registration of higher education institutions and their programmes; about 16 higher education institutions and their programmes have been registered as higher institutions eligible to offer higher education, accreditation of higher education institutions and their programmes: about 25 higher education institutions and their programmes have been accredited, the development of Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF) and Higher Education Quality Assurance Systems (HEQAS), the successful coordination of the harmonisation of students’ selection to public universities, the formulation and development of four public sub-sector reform areas: the Higher Education Overarching Bill (HEOB), the Opening up of offering of the Law programme to higher education institutions, the higher education levy (HE Levy) and the NCHE regulations, the development of the Higher Education Management Information Systems (HEMIS), the securing of a permanent residence/office for the Council, the successful coordination of the World Bank funded Skills Development Project (SDP) which was implemented by five institutions namely Chancellor College, The Polytechnic, Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA), collaborations with development partners in higher education like UNESCO on the Shenzhen Project and UNDP on development of the Model Higher Education Gender Policy and also strong and vibrant local collaborations with relevant professional and international bodies and systems for both internal operations and regulating higher education in Malawi.
Q: So, having achieved a lot through the previous Plan what is the general vision/goal for this new Strategic Plan?
A: The new NCHE Strategic Plan 2021-2026 plan will consolidate gains that have been made, and further improve the regulation of the higher education sub-sector and subsequently the quality of higher education offered in the country. Specifically, the new NCHE Strategic Plan is organised around four strategic pillars:
- Governance and Management, where we are emphasizing on Improve oversight at Council level; Improve human resource capacity; Enhancing transparency and accountability and Enhancing governance and management systems.
- Business Processes and Operations, we’re talking about Improving efficiency in business processes and operations; promoting the research and development activities; enhancing NCHE’s monitoring and evaluation systems and activities;
- Stakeholder Engagement and Relations, very important; the idea is to improve on communication and stakeholder engagement; enhance regional and international collaborations and improve on NCHE’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR);
- The last but not least pillar is Financial Management and Sustainability. It is crucial that we improve on revenue collection Systems; improve budgetary and internal control systems; improve procurement processes; enhance resource mobilization and sustainability.
Q: How will NCHE ensure that thisStrategic Plan is implemented to the fullest?
A: It is envisaged that NCHE will implement its strategies through creating budgets, programmes and policies to meet financial, management, human resources and operational goals as outlined in the Strategic Plan’s implementation matrices. For the successful implementation of this Strategic Plan, cooperation between Management and other staff members, as well as stakeholders, is necessary.
Q: What will you say to the stakeholders out there in terms of NCHE achieving its goals with this new Strategic Plan, because we all know NCHE cannot work in isolation even though it is the Strategic body to regulate the Higher Education Sector?
A: Based on this strategic framework, NCHE makes a firm commitment to work diligently with all stakeholders in the higher education subsector so that the aspirations and goals set out in this new Strategic Plan are well and sustainably achieved. We believe that through collaborations and teamwork and commitment, together we will fulfil provisions of the National Agenda Mw 2063 and the new Government’s Reform Programmes and aspirations to enable us create a better higher education future and environment that will respond to the needs of all Malawians.
Furthermore, we duly recognize that the Strategic Plan is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. To that end, we will spare no efforts in ensuring that implementation, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) activities of the Strategic Plan are carried out in the most effective and efficient manner. It is our hope that there will be complementary support from our stakeholders over our efforts throughout the life span of this Strategic Plan. Monitoring of the strategy after its implementation is also crucial so we intend to evaluate the strategy as time goes to determine if it yields the anticipated results as espoused in the organizational goals.