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14 Nov 2016   admin

Where to study? Some tips for choosing a higher education provider.

Deciding which higher education provider is the best for you is as important as deciding what to study. If you’re considering a career in graphic design, multimedia design or interior design there are a few factors to consider.

We’ve put together a checklist of important points to think about, from accreditation to staffing and even international comparability. Have a look at these points and their relevance before deciding where to enrol.

Ask yourself:
• Is the institution registered with the Department of Higher Education and are their programmes registered on SAQA’s website?
• How long has the institution been around?
• Are the academic staff suitably qualified? How many are employed full-time and how much teaching experience do they have?
• What mechanisms are used to ensure quality?
• Is the institution recommended by employers and/or professionals in the industry?
• How do their programmes compare internationally?
• Do they have facilities like a library or computer lab with easy access? Are they continuously updated?
• How much individual attention would you get from staff members and what other support systems are in place?
• Are the fees value for money?

Accreditation:
Only programmes registered on the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) are accredited and recognised under the South African law. You can find out which programmes are registered directly on SAQA’s website. Private Higher Education Institutions must also be registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). DHET has a register of private providers, listing all accredited and recognised qualifications they may legally offer. The Register of Private Higher Education providers is available on the DHET website.

Stability:
Particularly for private institutions, it’s important to check how the long the institution has been in operation. This provides an indication of their stability and status. Be careful of ‘fly by night’ providers which are money-making schemes by organisations that aren’t serious about education.

Lecturer Qualifications:
The qualifications held by the academic staff or faculty of an institution is paramount. A programme is only as good as its delivery and it’s the lecturing staff that deliver the programmes. A good rule of thumb is that the lecturing staff should hold a qualification one higher than the programmes they teach. For example, a person teaching at Honours level should hold a Master’s degree at the very least. Experience in teaching and the subject matter being taught are equally important. Finally, the institution should be staffed predominantly by a full-time lecturing faculty.

Quality Assurance Systems:
The Council on Higher Education places a lot of emphasis on an institution’s mechanisms for managing their own quality. This includes checking that all aspects of their programme design, delivery and assessment are monitored and evaluated and that objective feedback is sought and taken seriously. Some methods of quality management include external moderation and performance management systems. Ask institutions to share their policies and practices for quality management.

International Credibility:
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t one entity that benchmarks programmes across the world. Even in the USA, there isn’t one body that evaluates foreign qualifications and each university or employer is asked to make their own judgement. While there are regional quality assurance bodies, you should investigate their criteria for accreditation to make sure they’re not purely administrative. Other forms of international credibility include exchanges with institutions among staff and students, collaborations and sharing of knowledge and verification arrangements.

Industry Reputation:
Particularly for qualifications leading directly to specific employment positions, the reputation of the institution within the industry or profession is important. Some qualifications require registration with a professional body. Even if this isn’t the case, it’s useful to find out the views of potential employers. Google a few or give them a call to find out who they recommend. On a similar note, try find out where graduates of the institutions have found employment.

Facilities:
A visit to the campus is a must to determine which facilities and services are available. It also allows you to get a sense of the culture of the institution. Good questions to ask include finding out the state of the library – how many references are available there and is their library kept relevant and up to date? You should also ask about their technological facilities. Is their computer hardware and software up to date and easily accessible?

Student Support:
Being responsive to individual learner needs is a crucial aspect to quality education. Students should have access to all resources and facilities required to complete the programme, including time with teaching staff and access to course materials. Access to the campus shouldn’t be too restricted. Communication between students, lecturing and administrative staff should be easy and convenient. Additional support, like access or referrals to experts like psychologists should ideally, also be available.

Cost:
The cost of attaining a higher education qualification is high. Considering the issues noted above, the best choice is to balance quality against affordability. You can also explore the availability of scholarships or funding programs but bear in mind these often rely on strong academic performance.

Choosing a graphic design, multimedia design or interior design institution shouldn’t be a decision that’s done at the last minute. Always look at more than just location when choosing to enrol at these, or other higher education institutions and you’ll be sure to pick the perfect place for your future.

With all these factors in mind, the most useful advice is to “do your homework”. Get all the knowledge and information you can acquire to be well-informed and avoid any regrets. Make it your mission to visit all your potential tertiary education institutions and go armed with questions to ask.

 





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