The Role and Functions of Higher Education Councils and Commissions in Africa

Project update: August 2014

Project manager: Tracy Bailey


The roots of this study lie in the research findings that emerged from the Universities and Economic Development in Africa project, which was part of CHET's Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA) Phase 1 (2007-2011). One of the analytical propositions of the project was that for higher education to make a sustainable contribution to development in a country, there has to be national-level coordination of knowledge policies and of the key actors in the system. The study found that higher education councils/commissions had been established in each of the eight countries. More often than not, these agencies were mandated to undertake accreditation and advisory functions and had, over time, assumed additional roles and functions. It became apparent to the research team that these organisations could be key players in national coordination and implementation monitoring. In addition, a review of the literature on higher education governance revealed that there was little research on governance at the system level and, in particular, on the role of higher education councils/commissions.

In order to address this gap and to contribute to the body of empirical knowledge on the role and functions of councils/commissions in general, and in the African context in particular, the Higher Education Councils and Commissions in Africa project was initiated in late 2011. The study focussed on the councils and commissions that were in existence in the eight countries that formed part of HERANA Phase 1. These included the following:

•    The Botswana Tertiary Education Council
•    The Ghana National Council for Tertiary Education
•    The Kenya Commission for Higher Education
•    The Mauritius Tertiary Education Commission
•    The Mozambique National Council for Quality Assurance
•    The South African Council on Higher Education
•    The Tanzania Commission for Universities, and
•    The Uganda National Council for Higher Education.


The main aim of this comparative study was to explore the role of the councils/commissions in higher education governance through their legal foundations, their mandated functions, and how these were resourced and carried out. Detailed case studies of the eight councils/commissions were developed during 2012/2013 and explored the following research questions:

  1. What functions are these councils/commissions mandated by law to undertake?
  2. Why and how were these organisations established, and how are they structured and resourced?
  3. How have their mandates, structure, capacity and operations evolved over time?
  4. What factors have impacted on the capacity of these organisations to carry out their respective mandates?
  5. What roles do the councils/commissions fulfil in the governance of higher education in their respective countries?

It was assumed that factors both internal and external to the organisation impact on its raison d’être and the way it functions and operates. Internal factors explored included the way in which the organisation was structured and composed, its legal status and powers, and the resources available to it to carry out its mandate. External factors included, amongst others, funding sources and arrangements, interaction with other actors in the system, and the agencies’ legal and political autonomy in relation to external stakeholders.

There are also two sub-components to the broader project, each of which has their own report and informed the broader case studies:

  1. A comparative analysis of the legislation that gives rise to and mandates the councils/commissions in the study, and
  2. A comparative analysis of how the councils/commissions are financed, and how they carry out their funding functions (where applicable).


The council/commission case study reports were developed primarily via desk research and interviews with key informants. Desk research was undertaken in preparation for the site visits which included information about each country’s higher education system and the council/commission itself, as well as detailed overviews of the relevant legislation pertaining to the establishment, mandate and operation of these organisations. Information from policy documents, strategic plans, annual reports and other relevant publications, statistics and websites was also reviewed as part of the development of the case study reports. Visits to each of the councils/commissions were undertaken by the project leader between March and October 2012, to conduct interviews with senior leadership and staff at each of the councils/commissions and with at least one key individual in the parent ministry. These interviews explored the historical and broader political contexts within which the councils/commissions were created and operated, as well as the structure, composition and functions of these organisations.

The project was undertaken by a (largely African) multi-disciplinary research team, working in collaboration with key resource people and key informants from the councils/commissions and ministries in the eight countries. The key resource people offered invaluable assistance in providing background information, negotiating with gatekeepers and scheduling interviews, responding to queries during report-writing, and attending work-in-progress seminars.









South Africa





University of Cape Town, South Africa
Centre for Higher Education Transformation, South Africa
University Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique
Former Executive Director of the Tertiary Education Commission of Mauritius
Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi
Project leader (Roles and Functions of Higher Education Councils and...