As Tanzania celebrates 60 years of independence in the midst of technological advancement, it is no doubt that the country has experienced a dynamic environment with dramatic changes in higher education.

Being in a transition, Tanzania needed its institutions of higher learning to prepare people to work well as sources of knowledge, skills and as key partners in sustainable development.

This necessitated national education policy to establish key national goals and priorities in matters pertaining to education, especially higher education. The policies were intended to help the country move towards sustainable development through enhancing the capacity of its people to meet their needs.

Reports indicate that until 1992, Tanzania had no clear and consistent national policy for higher education in the country, or, for that matter, had they disseminated a working definition of higher education.

The general conference of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) at its 27th session in 1993 it is said to have approved a definition of higher education to include “…all types of studies, training or training for research at post- secondary level, provided by universities.

Over the years, higher education institutions have increasingly been an important part of achieving Tanzania’s development task and building a sustainable future by providing young people with new ideas, skills and knowledge.

The six decades has rapidly changed all political, social and economic conditions by adding opportunities and challenges to higher education institutions as key partners in socio-economic development.

To understand the country’s current situation, one must look back first to its pre-colonial and colonial educational policies and reforms that shaped the current post-colonial educational system.

According to reports, the government, among other interventions, had to develop a series of educational and socio-economic policies, beginning in the 1960s, to transform and reform its higher education.

It is recorded that the pre-colonial societies in Tanzania had a wealth and diversity of teaching and learning that embodied education, culture and tradition.

This is said to have helped communities to succeed by equipping them with life skills to develop competencies, such as generosity, independence and mastery of their environment, and to become positive contributing members of society.

From the first years of independence, the government continued to face many challenges when it came to providing quality higher educational services to its people. One such a setback was a massive illiteracy that saw only 10 percent of its population being able to read and write.

The country is recorded to have had only two African engineers, 12 doctors and about 30 arts graduates in serving a population of approximately 12 million people.

In 1961, Tanzania was the least developed country among the British East African colonies of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, as all of her higher education levels were provided outside the country, mainly in Makerere University in Uganda, Royal technical college in Kenya and other universities from Britain.

Changing the tides

Faced with many post-independence challenges posed by such a crisis in the colonial system, Tanzania recognised poverty, ignorance and diseases as the main enemies to its development.

Its immediate post-independence developmental efforts focused on addressing these socio-economic challenges through formulating and implementing several policies and strategies aimed at revitalising the education system.

These reforms include the educational reform act of 1962, to regulate the provision and accessibility of educational opportunities. This was through the revision of the curriculum and examination processes as well as promoting Swahili as the national language and medium of instruction in primary school.

At the same time, this reform revoked and replaced the 1927 British colonial education ordinance that provided educational services on the basis of racial and socio-economic discrimination.

In further addressing socio-economic challenges, the country established the University College of Dar es Salaam in 1961 and the Institute of Development Management (IDM) in 1972, currently known as Mzumbe University.

Further, the country introduced the Ujamaa policy, a socialist socio-economic programme, aimed at bringing equality to all Tanzanians.

Reports show that it is this reform that led to the introduction of the “Education for Self-Reliance” (ESR) policy in 1967 to reform the curriculum and integrate educational theory with practical skills as socio-economic empowerment and development tools.

This education for self–reliance policy guided the enactment of other educational policies including the education acts of 1967 and 1978, the decentralisation programme of 1972, the National Examination Council Act No.21 of 1973, the Institute of Adult Education Act No. 12 of 1975 and the Institute of Education Act No.13 of 1975.

Some of the significant impacts of these educational reforms were the revision of the curriculum to meet national needs, the expansion of teacher training programmes, the introduction of the National Examination in the formal school setting, and formalisation of on-going assessment at secondary and teacher education levels.

Meanwhile, the government put more emphasis on and gave financial support to literacy and adult education.

The importance of higher for the country’s socio-economic development is pointed out in the first phase of the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (NSGRP) known in Kiswahili as MKUKUTA I in 2005-2009 and the second phase, MKUKUTA II, 2010-2015, which focused on people’s quality of life and well-being…

This strategy also stressed equitable access to quality education at all levels, particularly by women, and the expansion of higher and technical education to support socio-economic growth.

Establishment of the quality assurance watchdog

Starting the late 1980s up to the mid-1990s, Tanzania liberalized its political and socio-economic policies which led to the opening up of higher demands for social services including higher education. Since then, higher education has continued to experience exponential expansion, including the establishment of private universities.

The proliferation of higher education is considered a threat not only to the quality of the institutions being established but also to the education provided. In response, a regulatory framework was instituted to ensure that the increase does not compromise the quality of education offered in universities.

As a result, in 1995 the then Higher Education Accreditation Council (HEAC) was established, with the legal mandate to regulate the establishment and subsequent accreditation of private owned universities in the country.

Such a mandate being limited only to private universities was considered unfavourable for the promotion of a viable public-private partnership in higher education as stipulated in the National Higher Education Policy of 1999.

Also, the issue of quality higher education was considered cross-cutting to both private and public owned institutions and therefore by 2004 a decision was reached to find an alternative to HEAC which would establish a harmonized higher education system.

“This led to the establishment of the current Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) in 2005 through enactment of the Universities Act, Cap. 346, with the legal mandate to regulate both private and public owned university institutions,” says the commission’s executive secretary, Prof Charles Kihampa.

TCU, he says, was given three major responsibilities, which are regulatory, supportive and advisory roles. “These entailed overseeing the rules, regulations and procedures for the establishment and operation of our universities.”

The commission was also mandated to assist and provide guidelines to universities on quality assurance, various modes of operation, organize and coordinate training for lecturers and university administrators and university leaders.

It was also made to provide advice to the government through the responsible Minister for education in the country on the various scientific, technological, policy and educational trends of universities nationally and globally.

TCU’s notable achievements

One of the mandates of TCU is to assure the quality of education offered by universities. In realizing this, among other initiatives, between October 2016 and January 2017 the commission conducted a national Special Academic Audit (SAAT) to 64 institutions including universities, university colleges, university campuses, centres and institutes.

The outcome of the audit found 45 university institutions with minor shortfalls on adherence to minimum quality assurance standards. Such institutions were advised accordingly and managed to rectify the shortfalls and allowed to continue with the provision of education.

However, in this exercise, 19 university institutions were found with serious shortfalls, thus were suspended to admit new students from the 2017/2018 academic year.

In implementing the commission’s advice and guidance, until October 2019 eight of the 19 suspended universities made improvements to meet the standards and were allowed to continue to admit students and provide education to some of their programmes.

However, despite the guidance, capacity building and support provided by the commission, some universities failed to ameliorate the observed shortfalls mainly due to financial capability impinging upon human resource, infrastructure, teaching and learning resources.

Based on the prolonged period of financial crisis, TCU opted to cancel the registration of six universities and transfer 2, 600 students to other universities that met the required standards in accordance with Regulation 18 of University General Regulations GN 226.

“Regular inspection and monitoring systems have prompted universities to make significant improvements in teaching and learning infrastructure including the construction of modern laboratories, classrooms, and increase the number of qualified lecturers in accordance with existing laws, regulations and guidelines,” says Prof Kihampa.

Also from under 100 graduates in the 1960s to more than 40,000 university graduates per year currently is said to be a big step that marks a 60-year journey of success in terms of higher education in the country without forgetting the increase in programmes from those that focused on self-reliance up to 724 programmes currently in offer.

“Everything has continued to change due to increasing demand for various issues in the community. In fact, in Tanzania we have made progress. What we still have to do is keep striving for improvement of our curriculum to keep pace with the change in technology,” says Dr Thomas Jabir, an educational consultant based in Dar es Salaam.

However, according to TCU, up until February 2016, Tanzania had a total of thirty three fully-fledged public and private universities, a number that has since increased to 47 universities; 19 (public) and 28 (private) by 2020 with enrollment also increasing throughout the six decades. In the academic year 2020/21 206, 305 students were enrolled in universities.

Focus on country’s industrial drive

According to Prof Kihampa, higher education institutions’ research and innovations are the sub-sectors driving force for industrialization in most countries including Tanzania, while also determining the long-term sustainability of an economy.

He says for the lower middle-income economy like Tanzania, the provision of quality higher education is indispensable in order to produce well-trained human resources to respond not only to national development needs but also to existing and emerging regional and global labour markets demands.

He notes that in response to various global changes in higher education and the quest to attain quality education, in 2019 the Commission issued the Third Edition of the Handbook for   Standards and Guidelines for University Education in Tanzania, as mandated under Regulation 61 (2) of Universities (General) Regulations 2013.

“The handbook contains the tools to guide day-to-day quality assurance operations of higher education institutions in Tanzania. They promote the creativity and innovativeness of universities with respect to their academic function, institutional growth, diversification and competitiveness,” he reveals.

Being keen on government long-term priorities, TCU has been advising universities to invest in programmes of national priorities especially in the country’s drive for industrial revolution and the reality of the fourth industrial revolution.

As a result quite a number of universities have developed curricula that conform to national development priorities that support the national, regional and international market needs.

Some notable curricula developed are; Embedded and Mobile Systems, Information Systems and Network Security, Wireless and Mobile Communication, Food Science and Technology, Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management, Health Molecular Biology; Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology and Laboratory Sciences.

Others are; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Interventional Radiology, Neuroradiology, Medical Imaging and Radiotherapy, Clinical Microbiology and Diagnostic Molecular Biology, Data Science, Cyber Security, Digital Forensic, and Digital Instructional Design.

“TCU has come up with an admission system that allows universities to admit students directly without problems. In the past we had many challenges including students being admitted to more than one college,” explains Prof Raphael Chibunda, vice chancellor of Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA).

He says they are currently admitting students and then sending names to TCU for verification.

Prof Chibunda says after admission the commission has been inspecting each college at different times looking at various criteria that match the quality requirements.

“Given these developments, we are confident and hopeful that our universities will reach the point of becoming competitive in Africa and even globally. We can now vividly see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he notes.

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