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Past Editorial : January 2012

January 2012

1443651948496Harmonization and Tuning: Integrating the African Higher Education Space

Karola Hahn & Damtew Teferra Ph.D.
Dr. Damtew Teferra is a professor of higher education, the leader of Higher Education and Training Development, and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is also the Editor-in-chief of the International Journal of African Higher Education. He may be reached at
teferra@ukzn.ac.za and teferra@bc.edu.

The harmonization of higher education in Africa is a multidimensional process that promotes the integration of the higher education space in the region. This objective is to achieve collaboration across borders, sub-regionally and regionally, in curriculum development, educational standards and quality assurance, joint structural convergence, consistency of systems as well as compatibility, recognition and transferability of degrees to facilitate mobility.

The African Union Commission promotes the harmonization of African higher education to integrate the region. The European Commission supports these efforts through the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership including the Africa-EU Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership and the Joint Africa-EU Strategy Action Plan.

Various initiatives to foster harmonization have been launched in the last three decades. The most prominent include the Arusha Convention (1981) and the SADC Protocol on Education and Training (1997). The Convention which is being revised will serve as the legal framework for the harmonization of higher education in Africa.


Tuning: Pioneering Initiatives

Tuning is a complex methodology to improve teaching, learning and assessment in higher education reform. It guides the development of curriculum, a credit accumulation mechanism, and transfer system so as to obtain intended learning outcomes, skills and competences. One of its objectives is to ensure consensus of academics across borders on a set of reference points for generic and subject-specific competences alongside subject lines.

Tuning as a tool has been developed in Europe following the Bologna Process. So far, tuning projects have been completed in over 60 countries around the world including Europe, Latin America, Russia, and the US. Projects have recently started in Australia, India and China. More than 1,000 universities, ministries, agencies, and other bodies have been involved in such projects. Tuning Africa is part of this larger initiative to help harmonize and reform higher education in the region.


Harmonization and Tuning: Tools of Integration

The importance of tuning as a tool to implement harmonization of higher education in Africa has been first discussed at a political level. The European Union commissioned a feasibility study in 2010 to explore its potential, relevance, and timeliness.

Following the study and a broad consultation, the tuning approach has been introduced in a pilot project. Unlike many other initiatives that tend to be top-down, the tuning process in Africa started in a dual mode of interaction combining top-down (first) and bottom-up (later) approach.

In a Validation Workshop held in Nairobi in March 2011, five priority areas were identified for the pilot project that include Agricultural Sciences, Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Medicine, and Teacher Education that will be coordinated across the five regions.


Tuning Africa: The Pilot Project

A call for participation in the “Harmonisation and Tuning African Higher Education” was launched in October 2011. In November 2011, a selection workshop was held in Dakar followed by an international conference on ‘Tuning, Credits, Learning Outcomes and Quality: A Contribution to Harmonisation and the Space for Higher Education in Africa” attended by stakeholders including the African Union Commission (AUC), the European Commission, the Association of African Universities (AAU), the Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Supérieur (CAMES), the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the Council on Higher Education, South Africa (CHE), the African Council for Distance Education (ACDE), national quality assurance agencies such as the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and national ministries.

The selection workshop screened 96 applications. As not all shortlisted universities were finally selected, further efforts of recruitment are being made to reach 60—the designated number of potential participants for the pilot phase.


The Outstanding Issues

Ownership, Inclusiveness, and Leadership

Initially, the Tuning Africa initiative was promoted by political convictions of regional integration, mobility, and harmonization. At the launch of the initiative concerns were raised about ownership, inclusiveness, leadership and strategy. In a direct response to, and accord of the reaction, it was agreed to start the initiative with a feasibility study.

As the tuning process needs to involve numerous and diverse stakeholders—such as administrators, ministries, higher education and quality assurance agencies, policy makers, employers and the public sector, students, regional bodies, intermediary actors and university associations—a close and continuous consultation over a reasonable period of time has been advised.

The initiative is now ushering into a new phase where the African Association of Universities (AAU) is identified as implementing agency under the guidance of the African Union Commission. In this phase, it is expected that AAU would engage African universities in a consultative, transparent and effective way by facilitating and ensuring their full leadership and ownership of the dialogue.

Coherence, Consistency and Dissemination

A plethora of national and regional quality assurance, accreditation, qualification frameworks, credit accumulation and credit transfer systems, and curricula reforms abound. What remains to be done is to ensure that these efforts are effectively integrated and synchronized to create coherence and consistency. Tuning still remains a new lexicon in the African higher education landscape. In the “Tuning Africa” pilot project only 60 universities are involved and this comprises a small critical mass of champion universities, along with supporting political and intermediary bodies. Therefore a sound, appropriate and persistent dissemination strategy to popularize the initiative is imperative.


Implementing harmonization and tuning requires resources. As most African universities experience chronic financial constraints, the provision of resources still has to be negotiated by numerous constituencies. The success of the initiative may also be hampered by the disparate institutional infrastructure and weak human resources base in many institutions.

Outcome-Oriented Learning: Issue of Viability

The successful implementation of a paradigm shift from input-oriented teaching to outcome-oriented learning—with all its associated implications to competence assessment and quality assurance—remains a key challenge to “Tuning Africa”. The rapid “massification“ of higher education, meager and overstretched resources, poor management and leadership, under-qualified staff and under-prepared students will pose imminent threat to its success. Therefore appropriate, contextualized, and realistic approaches need to be put in place for the Tuning Africa pilot project to succeed.

Tuning Africa: A Pioneering Effort

Distance Education has an important role in expanding access to higher education and training in Africa. In recognition of its importance the pilot project is pioneering in integrating distance education into the mainstream. This component has never been tested in a tuning project so far.


Conclusion: The Way Ahead

The Tuning Higher Education in Africa pilot project is expected to be a consultative process that will foster discourse at grassroots level across borders through a number of regional seminars and conferences. These will provide the platform of dialogue for quality assurance, improvement of teaching and learning, and assessment. As the dialogue on credits and a common credit system is one of the central pillars of the Tuning approach, the pilot project might also advance the discourse towards an African Credit System.

The success of the pilot project will depend on the involvement of a critical mass of universities and stakeholders, sustained resources, well organized dissemination, as well as transparent and credible leadership. The direct linkage and integration of the Tuning pilot project into existing quality assurance initiatives – including regional and national qualification frameworks – is expected to contribute to a sustainable, institutionalized and harmonized reform.


* Opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Steering Committee or others mentioned here.

This editorial is a longer essay building on a blog post by the same author available at The World View.



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