A senior staff of the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) has disclosed that despite the challenges limiting the performance of the commission for which its presence may not be felt in the public sapce, it made some strides in 2020 in line with its obligation.
James Andrew Lablah, Director of Quality Assurance (QA) at NCHE, said in the year under review, the commission drafted its first ever “Licensing Policy” which was endorsed by the Board of Commissioners for the first time since the establishment of the NCHE in 1989. The policy specifies standards for licensing and accrediting higher education institutions in Liberia. In past times, the NCHE had only operated on “frameworks” and “guidelines”. About 200 copies of the policy have been produced, pending launching by President George M. Weah.
The NCHE’s Director of Quality Assurance said they also developed “E-learning Standards” for the higher education setting to ease the challenge of technology that overshadows the learning process of today. This, according to him, was through the collective efforts of HEIs in response to continuing activities of learning during the lockdown by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lablah said in accordance with the commission’s current policy, the Board of Commissioners licensed and accredited seven higher education institutions; three licensed, while four were elevated. Two were approved for Bachelor status with the other two elevated to offer Master’s programs.
Rev. Lablah disclosed that ‘Specified educational program experts’ were for the first time recruited and included during assessment of higher education facilities unlike in the past when such was not the case in the process of accreditation. Previously, the NCHE had only been involved with institutional assessment, while accrediting institutions.
“Currently experts are engaged from HEIs to join the Quality Assurance of the NCHE for joint assessments. Experts focused on evaluating programs relevant and curriculum. This inclusion is increasing stakeholders’ confidence in the process, as well as helping to ensure that there is quality educational provision by the provider,” Rev. Lablah noted.
The NCHE has strengthened its relationship with professional bodies for inspection and accreditation purposes. The tie is built with the Liberia Medical and Dental Council, Liberia Nursing and Midwifery Board, the Liberia Board of Physician Assistant, the Pharmaceutical Board of Liberia, among others. Also, the NCHE Secretariat according to Labalah worked closely with the Incident Management System (IMS) of the Ministry of Health to ensure that schools reopen, while all safety measures are followed during the period of COVID-19.
The NCHE’s Director of Quality Assurance indicated that Quality Assurance developed a WhatsApp platform that provides the most effective means of communication amongst HEIs. It enhances QA monitoring and promotes the exchange of ideas, opinions, and information. It has brought the HEIs closer to the NCHE with relationship strengthened.
Rev. Lablah also recounted that HEIs Stakeholders Strategic Consultative Meeting which was held on 29th July, 2020 on the UL Fendell Campus where they drew out resolutions for the resumption of school during the lockdown.
“The July 29’s meeting inspired the need for organizing Higher Education Stakeholders Conference for Liberia. God willing, the first may be in 2021, provided it meets the consensus of relevant authorities for approval,” Rev. Lablah stated.
Meanwhile, the NCHE Secretariat has hired the services of a “Database Manager” to develop and manage its information system.
According to Rev. Lablah, Quality Assurance is developing a database that captures the information of HEIs programs and faculties.
“It will be used mainly to track information of prospective faculties’ lists of institutions applying the first time. While it still remains a challenge to get a new employee on the government’s payroll, the NCHE Secretariat is paying the services of the “Database Manager” from internally generated funds. The Quality Assurance of the NCHE has a need for more technical staff in its department. We solicit your prayers to bring this to fruition,” Lablah said.
He furthered: “These strides would not have been possible without the total involvements of everyone within the sector. Many thanks to the dynamic and strategic leadership provided by the NCHE Board Chairman, Prof. Dr. D. Ansu Sonii, Sr., along with the able NCHE Board of Commissioners. Also, the administrative guidance with financial stewardship of Prof. David S. Dahn is most appreciated. More so, the level of cooperation received from HEIs must be commended.”
The NCHE is understaffed with 24 employees. Four of its staff were retired since August 2020 including Acting Director David S Dahn without any retirement package.
Administrators of educational institutions have expressed serious concern over the retirement age set by the CSA that affects the sector, and whether or not the Acting Director (retired) will continue as none of the government’s employees in his capacity is not clear. The need for swift action at the NCHE Secretariat is imperative to continue its progress.