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CHE review of Unisa PhDs underway

The university has been hard at work preparing for the National Doctoral Review (NDR) visit of the Council on Higher Education (CHE). The journey started in 2017 when colleges initiated reviews of doctoral programmes. In 2019, all colleges had at least one of their programmes evaluated externally.

In December 2019, the Department of Planning and Quality Assurance (DPQA), together with the colleges, produced a self-evaluation report that was sent to the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL).

Zone Mdledle, Quality Assurance Practitioner at the university, says that CoL representatives came and tested Unisa’s claims. She says that they interviewed heads of research, executive deans and top management, doctoral graduates and current doctoral students, as well as graduates, doctoral students and employers of graduates in Ethiopia. "All these extensive preparations were to complement Unisa’s preparations for the CHE NDR process taking place in 2020."

According to Mdledle, the university received the final report from the CoL panel in January 2020. "The report contained ten recommendations and six commendations. This gives us confidence that the university is on the right track in paying focused attention to the areas that need improvement," she says.

Interviewees identified

In 2020, preparations as a university started in earnest with a structured workshop to develop the CHE NDR self-evaluation report, using lessons from the CoL report.

The university is expecting the CHE panel site visit in the month of August 2020. The team has identified the following stakeholders as potential interviewees during the NDR, namely; executive deans, members of the Higher Degrees Committee (HDC) at college and departmental level, Unisa doctoral graduates in the past five years, staff in Postgraduate Administration, librarians, the Directorate of Student Admissions and Registrations (DSAR) doctoral students supervisors, current doctoral, students and alumni. They will be given copies of the self-evaluation report to read and prepare for the CHE visit: The council has communicated that should there be any additional people they want to engage with, they will alert the university to this.

CHE appointment of reviewers

As part of this National Quality Assurance process of peers, the CHE requested names from Unisa of possible reviewers of doctoral programmes following set guidelines. The approved reviewers are professors Dorothy Farisani, Kgomotso Masemola, Azwihangwisi Mavhandu-Mudzusi, Luvuyo Lumkile Lalendle and Dr Corné van Staden, who will join a pool of reviewers from other universities in South Africa.

Covid-19 challenges

The CHE date of online submission for the self-evaluation report was 31 March 2020. The university made its submission on 30 March and a notification of receipt was received. The CHE site visit was scheduled for 24 to 28 August 2020.

A CHE memorandum dated 13 May 2020 communicates that the dates have been postponed because of the Covid-19 challenges and preparations in line with the requirements. The memo also states that the CHE will continue with the desktop evaluations of the self-evaluation reports and that this process will commence in the last week of June. There is a possibility that interviews will be conducted virtually.

The task team thanks the management committee of the university who enlisted the services of the CoL panel to review the doctoral qualifications at Unisa. This has yielded positive results since the feedback from the panel was used for the enhancement of the report. The way the stakeholder engagement was conducted seems to have been successful because all the university structures are now aware of the CHE process.

As part of the communication strategy, the NDR task team will continue to communicate the progress of the process with the university. The involvement of all the Quality Assurance & Enhancement Heads has worked well, as this is making it easy to engage with the colleges.

In conclusion, Mdledle says, "Covid-19 has been a major disruptor in our preparations and we are glad to announce that we have adapted to an e-working context that is now the new normal for most of us at Unisa."

* By the Department of Planning and Quality Assurance; the NDR Team; and Lesego Ravhudzulo, Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Unisa set to embark on national doctoral review process

Publish date: 2020/06/08