Over the years, it has been realized that Sierra Leone’s higher education system has been negatively affected by various factors ranging from inadequate financing, poor faculty oversight, limited staff training opportunities, ailing research infrastructure to the lack of an effective quality management system. These are some of the reasons that have led to lecturers at the higher education level to be unable to align course content with the needs of the job market and to meet the aspirations of the growing number of students.
With these in view, the idea of a Retreat that would build on the efforts of my Administration in the past two years and to take further necessary strategic actions that would raise and maintain standards in academic and administrative performance within the University was conceived.
Currently, the University Administration is implementing a number of initiatives which are all geared towards ensuring quality. Examples include:
- Quality Management Training in partnership with UNIDO
- Consolidation of staff database
- Mandatory Pedagogy Training (in progress)of all staff of the university
- Review of Curricula for all programmes
- Harmonisation of assessment and examination procedures
- Academic staff workload audit
The Retreat was eventually convened in Bo from 28th April to 1st May 2021on the theme; Re-Engineering of the University of Sierra Leone.
The reasons for convening the Bo Retreat included but not limited to the following:-
- The need to respond to the growing desire by the University Management Team to consult with senior administrative and academic staff on a wide range of quality issues
- Articulating a strategic action to raising standards in key aspects of university operations.
- Bringing together Heads of Campuses, all Deans and representative Heads of Departments and Administrative Managers to explore solutions to quality issues that have been identified over the years.
The Bo Retreat concluded by making a number of key recommendations which have been considered and approved by the University Senate.
Following Senate’s approval, project groups were set up to implement the various themes/objectives over a period of 12 months.
Let me briefly describe the themes and provide an update on the implementation process so far:-
Harmonisation of admissions and assessment processes including exit verification and promotion criteria
We have reviewed the University of Sierra Leone’s admissions/entry requirements and have also harmonized the students’ promotion criteria and exams verification processes. The University Registry is responsible for communicating this information to various stakeholders including the staff and students.
Centralized Coordination of Extramural Courses with the setting up of an Institute of Extramural Studies (Community College)
The University will be establishing an Institute of Extramural Studies (i.e. Community College) to focus on certificate and diploma programmes for the benefit of candidates who could not get the normal university/departmental entry requirement to train in areas that will provide them with skills for employment and subsequent university admissions.
The Institute will have branches in all provincial and key district headquarters.
The University has commenced preparations including resource mobilization targeting 2021/22 academic year for commencement.
Splitting, merging and creation of new faculties / departments
The academic workload audit which was recently carried out has revealed significant failings in the administration of academic faculties and departments. During the audit exercise, it was discovered that some faculties/departments are too large whereas others are comparatively too small (with large staff but smaller student population in some cases and too many lecturers with much fewer students in others). It has long been established that the Lecturer-Student ratios and class sizes can significantly impact on the quality of learning.
Consequently, the Faculty of Management Sciences at IPAM and the faculties of Arts, and Social Sciences and Law at FBC have been identified for splitting. The aim is to:-
- Ensure a more effective management of programmes, staff and other resources and to ensure better workload balance for the Deans and HoDs,
- Review existing programmes/courses and identify new ones that are more aligned with industry expectations, government development goals and international standards
Work is in progress for the re-organization or the launch of new faculties in the Campuses as follows:
Faculty of Management Sciences at IPAM will be split into 3 faculties
- Faculty of Accounting and Financial Services
- Faculty of Leadership and Governance,
- Faculty of Business Intelligence and Entrepreneurship
Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at FBC will be split into 2 faculties
- Faculty of Law
- Faculty of Economic and Development Studies
Faculty of Arts at FBC will be split into 2 faculties
- Faculty of Communication, Media and Information Studies
- Faculty of Arts
At the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, because of the acute shortage of dentists in the country, the faculty of Clinical Sciences will commence the training of dentists. Therefore, the faculty will now be renamed, Faculty of Clinical Sciences and Dentistry. A new faculty of Public Health and Infectious Disease will also be established.
The Faculty of Nursing will be renamed Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery as the faculty, in addition to training nurses, will start to train midwives directly from school.
Building an eLearning infrastructure, developing eLearning resources and training of lecturers aimed at launching online Masters Courses and expanding USL’s distance learning offers
The University of Sierra Leone has made significant progress with the customization of the New Learning Management System which will be ready as a platform for the 2021/22 academic year. A framework for establishing three virtual learning resource centers, training of staff and development of eLearning materials has been mapped out and an initial budget has been approved to kick- start the procurement process.
The Online masters programmes have been identified and the project group is developing classifications for the various postgraduate programmes namely:
- Taught Masters
- Professional Masters, and
- Research masters
These steps have been taken to ensure that there are clear distinctions in the various curricula, structure and content of these programmes.
Review of Administrative Functions
It was deemed necessary to review some of the University’s administrative functions with the aim of ensuring best practice. The main focus is on:-
- the monitoring of affiliated institutions for compliance with our policy relating to academic excellence,
- the review of staff supervision and appraisals to provide the opportunity to recognize and reward employees fairly and to ensure they feel valued for the work that they do.
- the effective monitoring of performance and progress as against objectives/targets.
It is this initiative which we have undertaken; we refer to as the “Re-engineering of the University Systems”. We are very grateful to the Minister, Prof. Alpha Wurie, especially for taking time to attend the opening session of the Bo Retreat and to other senior officials of the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education for their support.
We hope that the press, as major stakeholders and with whom we share similar aspirations for maintaining high standards and best practice within the Higher education sector, will partner with us by disseminating this information even as we have provided you with our quality improvement roadmap and ideas.
Prof Foday Sahr
Vice Chancellor and Principal
University of Sierra Leone