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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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;
  3. 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); 
  4. 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.

NCHE successfully launches the Model Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy for Higher Education Institutions in Malawi

In a colorful event which took place in Lilongwe recently, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), successfully launched the Model Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy for Higher Education Institutions in Malawi.

NCHE developed the Model Policy under the EU funded Spotlight Initiative, through the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

The Model Gender Policy has been developed in order to offer a reference document for public and private Higher Education Institutions in integration of gender in their operations with students and staff members.

Guest of Honour, Dr. Patricia Kaliati, who is the Honourable Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, said universities are important institutions in the advancement of gender equality and development of the country, noting that universities do not only provide formal education but are also powerful agents of socialization because it is in these institutions that values, beliefs, behaviors are shaped.

The Honourable Minister noted however that, in spite of this, a lot of concerns have been raised regarding the sector’s status of gender equality which is very worrisome.

“As we speak today, there are very few universities with Female Vice Chancellors, Registrars, Deans or Heads of Departments and even Professors. Actually, women comprise only 32.5% of academic staff in both public and private universities with most of these in lower grades.

“This is not to speak of students because according to NCHE, only 39% of students enrolled in various universities are female and most of these are mainly in arts related courses and programs. When it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related courses, women’s enrollment is very wanting because these are considered men’s domain,” Dr. Kaliati said.

Secretary for Education, Mrs. Chikondano Mussa observed that the Model Gender Policy is a very critical step towards addressing the persistent inequalities and sexual harassment concerns in the sector.

“We can end sex-for-grades and exploitation of women in higher education with effective implementation of Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies. We will closely monitor implementation of these policies,” she said.

NCHE Chairperson Dr. Beatrice Mtimuni reiterated that NCHE will ensure that Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies are not just launched in universities, but are also implemented.

“We need to know that policies are important as they guide what we do. However, we will be judged not so much by the eloquence of the policies, which I think is terrific, but even more so by our capacity to implement them," she said.

NCHE Acting Chief Executing Officer Dr. Ambumulire Phiri concurred saying there is need to make the Model Policy truly effective and deliver the desired results.

“It is my hope that as a Higher Education Sub-Sector we shall commit to increase our efforts towards care and support of GBV survivors; report gender-based violence and sexual harassment immediately; act decisively where such cases are reported and with a level of certainty where perpetrators are known,” Dr. Phiri said.

So far 22 public and private universities have either developed or reviewed their Gender policies based on the Model.

NCHE encourages development of international level Quality Management Systems in Higher Education Institutions

In a continued bid to improve quality within the Higher Education sector, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), organized a five-day Capacity building workshop on development of quality management systems based on International Organization for Standardization 9001:2015 (ISO 9001:2015.)

The training was organized with funding from the UNESCO-SHENZEN Project.

The Workshop facilitated by the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS), introduced and familiarized Quality Assurance Professionals from Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), NCHE and the Ministry of Education with ISO 9001:2015, which is a set of criteria of requirements for meeting international standards of quality.

Speaking at the workshop, NCHE’s Quality Assurance Manager (Academic), Dr. Adamson Thengolose said the training was crucial in that it would enable improvements in quality assurance within Malawian Universities both public and private.

“The members have been taken through development of Quality Assurance Systems and the requirements for that development. The idea is to look at how we can enhance quality assurance systems in Higher Education,” he explained.

In an interview, the Chief Education Officer for Higher Education at the Ministry of Education Mrs. Ellin Rambiki, commended NCHE for taking the initiative towards the development of Quality Management Systems particularly ISO based. She also highlighted the importance of the training to the Ministry:

“When I look at this training, I look at the Ministry’s aspirations in the National Education Sector Improvement Plan for 2020-2030, where within the thematic areas, the focus is looking at issues of quality, how the Ministry can improve quality, relevance, governance as well as management. So, when I look at quality management systems, it fits well within the aspirations of the Ministry.”

Participants from HEIs were thrilled about the training stressing that this would result in their reworking and upgrading quality processes in their institutions.

Mr. Flemmings Nkhandwe, Quality Assurance Director at the University of Livingstonia, said now after being trained, it would be easier to raise their services to international standards.

“We have the quality policy, we have the resources and we have the leadership but this training is bringing in more insight on how to coordinate all these things in terms of quality. It would be difficult for us to understand such processes and to reach international standards without this training,” he said.

Professor Kayambazinthu, Acting Quality Assurance Director for Chancellor College shared the same sentiments adding that she felt that this was a timely training as most institutions have been operating without a comprehensive Quality Management System.

“We know a number of things including tools for quality assurance but putting them together the way ISO 9001 has done is very helpful. It has given us steps on how we can deal with the issue of developing a Quality Management System when we go back to the institutions. It is a very important training,” Kayambazinthu added.

This training serves as the beginning for not only the development and implementation of Quality Management Systems, but it will also allow HEIs to apply for ISO certification.

NCHE applauds the Universities and Colleges Association of Malawi for organizing the second annual International Higher Education Conference

As part of boosting collaboration with stakeholders in the higher education sector, the National Council for Higher Education, was part of this year’s International Higher Education Conference, which took part in Mangochi.

Organised by the Universities and Colleges Association of Malawi (UCAM), the Conference drew together participants from both local public and private Universities as well as international ones.

Deputy Minister of Education Honourable Madalitso Kambauwa-Wirima was Guest of Honour at the Conference which was held under the theme “Higher Education in the 21st Century".

The Deputy Minister of Education said the theme comes at an opportune time for players in the sector look at opportunities and challenges (including COVID 19), facing higher education in Malawi and international community, within the context of the prevailing global trends.

She also encouraged universities in Malawi to take advantage of the fact that His Excellency the State President is the Champion for Higher Education in Africa, a recognition which has also propelled and positioned Malawi as a continental leader in Higher Education, a billing that as players in the sector must live up to.

“As you all know, His Excellency Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of the Republic of Malawi was on 1st June 2021 deservedly recognized by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), as Champion of Higher Education in Africa. This is an honor that we, as Higher Education Institutions should take advantage of, as it means that His Excellency is a torch bearer and supporter of Higher Education. It also means that he is committed to issues on Higher Education. He is indeed an ardent believer that education is the centre piece for socio-economic development of any country,” she said.

She added that as universities continue with the noble duty of providing higher education, they should always remember that Government has the responsibility of ensuring that education on offer is of high quality and comparable to other universities regionally and internationally.

“It was for this reason that the National Council for Higher Education was established to ensure compliance with the set standards. It is pleasing that the Council has been part and parcel of the organisation of this conference and that they will even present papers. The dialogue between the regulator and the higher education providers should continue in order to promote a common understanding for the good of all,” she said.

Speaking to journalists after the conference, NCHE Acting Chief Executive Officer Dr. Ambumulire Phiri, said NCHE cherishes the collaboration which is there between NCHE and universities as well as collaboration amongst universities themselves, which is a crucial part of the important work of improving quality in the sector.

“As NCHE we would like to emphasise that we appreciate the teamwork which is there between ourselves and the universities, both public and private. We’re partners in ensuring that we maintain quality in the provision of higher education to Malawians, and partnership is a great way to forge ahead,” Dr. Phiri said. The first annual international Higher Education Conference was held in 2020.

New NCHE Council ready to work

The newly appointed Council members for the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), are ready to start working following an in-house orientation meeting which recently took place in Mangochi.

The 2-day briefing meeting brought together the appointed Council members, ex-officials and management of NCHE.

The newly appointed Council members include: the Chairperson Professor Beatrice Mtimuni; Vice Chairperson Dr. Harry Gombachika, Members: Dr. Wotchiwe Kalande; Professor James Kamwachale Khomba; Dr. Christina Chihana, Professor Al Mtenje and Dr. Salule Masangwi.

The meeting centred on familiarizing the new Council with NCHE’s work as a higher education regulator in Malawi.

Topics at the briefing meeting included the NCHE Act; mandate, functions, vision, mission and core values of NCHE; registration & accreditation of universities; achievements of NCHE so far; Public Service Reforms and proposed new reform areas for NCHE; the Higher Education Overarching Bill; opening up of legal education in Malawi, among many.

Secretary for Education, Chikondano Mussa, who led the team of ex-officials for the Council, presented on the Government Policy on Higher Education.

Mr. Suse Chisale from the Department of Statutory Corporations gave a presentation on the Code of Conduct for the Council Members.

The members also divided themselves into 3 committees namely: Finance, Administration and Appointments Committee; Audit and Risk Management Committee and Quality Assurance and Accreditation Committee.

The National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) was established by Act of Parliament No. 15 of 2011, with the mandate to regulate the higher education sector in Malawi.

Contacts

National Council for Higher Education
Private Bag B371
Lilongwe
MALAWI

Telephone: +265 1 755 884

Fax : +265 755 886

Email: info@nche.ac.mw

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