Institutional audits constitute one of the ways through which South Africa‟s Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) executes its quality assurance mandate. The HEQC‟s institutional audits ran from 2004 to 2011 and focused on institutional policies, systems, procedures, strategies and resources for managing the three core functions of teaching and learning, research, and community engagement as well as academic support services (CHE, 2007).
Due to the HEQC‟s seemingly superficial mechanisms for monitoring progress made by higher education institutions in the implementation of their improvement plans, the study aimed to investigate the effect of the HEQC‟s institutional audits on the quality of relevant aspects of teaching and learning, support functions, and student experience across different types of higher education institutions. The main research question is: What effect have the HEQC„s institutional audits had on the quality of relevant aspects of teaching and learning, support functions, and student experience across different types of higher education institutions?
As this study is the first in South Africa to investigate how higher education institutions have responded to and followed-up on the institutional audits, it was considered important to conduct an in-depth study of a few institutions so as to get an indication of the effect of institutional audits on a variety of areas at South African universities. A case study design was therefore the most appropriate research design for this investigation. The universities were taken from each of the three South African public higher education institutional types to ensure a wide variation of coverage, and thus comprised a traditional university, a comprehensive university, and a university of technology. Interviews were held with senior management, academic staff and students at each of the three universities.
The study‟s findings indicate that the HEQC's institutional audits have had limited but positive effect on relevant aspects of teaching and learning, and support functions across different types of higher education institutions, albeit at varied levels of acceptance and implementation. The effects on the quality of student experience, however appears to be quite limited. There appears to have been progress in various areas since the institutional audits were conducted at the three universities. While some universities seem to have made considerable progress in some areas, others appear to be struggling to implement their improvement plans effectively and seem to be in need of more focused support. Contextual factors seem to play a role in the institutional audit process as there seems to be a difference in the manner in which a historically black and a historically white university responds to the HEQC institutional audit recommendations. Some of the recommendations based on the study‟s findings are that the HEQC should put in place more robust follow-up and monitoring mechanisms which include compulsory follow-up site visits pertaining to institutional audits and that further research should be conducted on a similar topic covering more institutions and a wider spread of participants at each institution.