Ethiopian Higher Education: Nurturing Quality, Striving
Damtew Teferra, Ph. D.
It gives me a great pleasure to present this keynote speech at the Third
Annual Conference on Private Higher Education in Ethiopia at a time when Ethiopia,
the region, and the world as a whole are grappling with the issue of quality
as providers of and demand for tertiary education are proliferating. I would
like to briefly set the global scene of higher education development first.
Demand for higher education is at all time high across the world. Even in
countries that have reached universal access, the 21st century and the knowledge
society are such that learning is a life-long process. In countries like Ethiopia
and regions like Africa, the access index remains woefully low necessitating
quite a large scale expansion.
Over the years, public universities in much of Africa had their resources
scaled down either directly or indirectly (through inflation or currency devaluation).
The international monetary and development organizations have had a major
role on higher education development in Africa. The World Bank position that
higher education is a poor investment has had a major impact on the development
and expansion of higher education in the continent.
The social, economic, and political upheavals that confronted the continent
in the last several decades, have not made the situation easier either. As
their economies declined and these countries became totally dependent on external
financial institutions, the expansion of higher education became severely
curtailed. Even when governments had some leeway to revitalize universities,
they simply did not. In fact, in many cases, their harsh treatment, mismanagement,
and blunder punched a death blow to the sector.
The global economic process is rather trendy and we have witnessed a host
of economic paradigm shifts. We have shifted from the human capital to the
structural adjustment programs and now to the knowledge economy. For instance,
the infamous structural adjustment programs insisted that governments significantly
curtail the provision of public services, such as health and education.
To be competitive in the knowledge era, producing and maintaining high-level
expertise became too crucial. As the World Bank major policy paper put it
+IBw-constructing knowledge societies+IB0- has surfaced as a critical national priority.
More importantly, the Bank has also shifted its former position in favor of
higher education, in recognition of its significance to national development.
This is a major development for higher education in the continent.
As market forces and economic liberalization took center stage, displacing
centrally planned economic policies, a need for diversified expertise exploded.
These new developments and, moreover, the inability of public institutions,
created conducive environment for new forms of knowledge providers. New forms
of institutions that are privately funded, managed and operated emerged through
out Africa, diversifying the higher education landscape of nations.
The issue of quality is a matter of serious concern around the world and
the theme of this conference is part of this larger dialogue. But then+AKAAoA- +AKA-
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-What does quality education actually mean?
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-Is quality a universal currency or a local currency valued and revalued
at local market?
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-Are parameters that measure the status of quality education+IBQ-the regulatory
frameworks and policies+IBQ-appropriate, relevant, explicit and fair?
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-How effective are these tools in gauging good quality education from
the sloppy ones?
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-Are these measurements +IBw-bipolar+IB0- or +IBw-unipolar+IB0gFA-meaning measuring inputs
alone while relegating outputs, such as student performance?
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-Who determines and updates these parameters?
+ICIAoACg- +AKA-What is the status of these institutions that are mandated to measuring
and determining quality?
And so on and so forth.
Ethiopia is currently undertaking major public higher education expansion..
The growth of private higher education institutions (PHEI) has also been remarkable.
Today close to 70 private colleges operate in the country enrolling a quarter
of the student population. Yes, major growth, significant expansion and development
are taking place in HE in the country. For this very reason, we need to be
concerned more about quality. [Just by way of a footnote, I must however
note that I continue to aggrieve on lack of recognition of this transformation
by major regional and international players of HE development.]
Even with such remarkable development, the rate of enrollment hovers around
2 percent+IBQ-the lowest in the world, even by African standard (which stands
at 4 percent). Therefore, the expansion and development must go on with meticulous
planning, realistic timetable, sustained commitment, and engaging a host of
stakeholders+IBQ-which all of these have quality implications.
I resisted the temptation of laying out the litany of obvious challenges
that confront the country+IBk-s higher education systems. Instead, I opted to
dwell directly on the theme of the conference +IBw-Paving the Road for Quality
Education in Ethiopia,+IB0- conceptualizing issues both at micro and macro levels+IBQ-within
the framework of these challenges+IBQ-that I hope contribute to quality education
in Ethiopia. I least a dozen points here.
1.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Private Higher Education:
I would like to take off by focusing on issues of quality as it specifically
relates to private higher education for it is the main emphasis of this conference;
and also that these new institutions face a different set of challenges, realities
as well as opportunities.
Numerous common threads are shared among the recently established PHEI around
the world. They are generally smaller in size, limited in programs, market-orientated,
and fee- and tuition-dependent. They are often reliant on staff from major
public institutions and largely staffed by part-timers. Virtually none of
them pursue research and very few offer postgraduate programs. Private higher
education institutions, especially those which are dependent on tuition and
fee are generally feeble, precarious and resource challenged. And at the same
time, PHEI are flexible, adaptive, creative, and efficient. The Ethiopian
private institutions also exhibit these common global characteristics.
A rich breed of PHEI has emerged around the world which brought the issue
of quality control and accreditation center stage. The knowledge market as
we have known it, is no more.
PHEI in Africa generally face persistent challenges to assert themselves
as providers of good quality education. Several reasons abound, which I would
not like to go into but only emphasize the need for these institutions to
address real and perceived notions surrounding their quality. It is to the
best interest of the bona fide and professional institutions to ensure that
this shadow of doubt and anxiety dissipates.
Yes, it is true that the quality of many PHEI has a lot to be desired. I
have had an opportunity to drive around the city and visit some of them some
months back. I had also an opportunity to speak with around a dozen institutional
leaders of these institutions. I wish to believe that we all share largely
the same views on many of them. A few may probably have to eventually get
out of business all together but many of them however, with good guidance,
clear policy, and support mechanism could emerge as strong national institutions.
Most of the PHEI operate in forbiddingly expensive leased buildings. Providing
relief to this most critical challenge (for example, by way of availing land
for construction, readily) would be instrumental in placing them in a firm
financial ground that probably percolate down to the quality of educational
delivery including presumably, driving down fees and tuition. Furthermore,
this will also allow them to expand programs and improve existing ones; more
resources would allow these institutions not only to recruit more staff but
also keep them on a permanent/regular basis creating more commitment to the
institutions and also the teaching-learning process (as well as hopefully
engage them in some form of research activities).
I am aware that institutional mechanisms are in place for regulating PHEI.
It is laudable that in Ethiopia, no institution operates without due recognition
from respective educational authorities. More than ever before, we need to
be more vigilant in policing the national higher education terrain as the
variety of educational providers is growing. I must also note that the operational
procedures of existing regulations need to be more explicit, less cumbersome
and less bureaucratic and enjoy longer shelf-life. Addressing these issues
contributes to the quality of education in the private institutions.
Furthermore, while most PHEI in the country are registered for-profit businesses,
they need not be subjected to similar terms and conditions as in other businesses
such as shoes, sugar, or garments. It is important that PHEI are nourished
and nurtured while at the same time effectively regulated. Yes, higher education
is too important a business to totally relegate to private institutions whose
driving interest is not limited to expanding knowledge. But closely working
with these institutions in actual fact fosters government policies to expand
access to higher learning.
It is important that we are also as much concerned about the quality of
education in public institutions as we do in PHEI. In fact the public institutions
should act as a role model for PHEI and there is thus a great need for the
two constituencies to interact and work closely. I should insist that I am
in no way advocating or even insinuating that the parameters set for granting
recognitions and accreditations are watered down. Make no mistake about it:
the government, students and their parents, employers, and the nation have
a vested interest in the quality, veracity, and legitimacy of PHEI.
2.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Striving for Quality while Expanding Access:
It is commendable that public higher education is growing and access to
nationals is expanding. While growth in the number of institutions and enrollment
figures are remarkable, an emphasis remains to be equally placed on quality.
Quality in teaching and research must be emphasized as much as expansion.
Higher education is an expensive enterprise. Maintaining good quality teaching
and research comes with a heavy price tag+IBQ-for it requires the mobilization
of large resources. Laboratories need to be equipped with up-to-date equipment
and chemicals; a large sum of expensive journals, periodicals and books as
well as effective library and information systems maintained; moreover high-level
experts, who are the cornerstone of any academic and research enterprise need
to be appropriately compensated and effectively mobilized. And so on and
so forth. As much as the magnitude of funds that flows into a system is critical,
the effectiveness in which these resources are utilized also matters significantly.
For economically challenged countries like Ethiopia, there is a great need
to utilize the meager resources very wisely and strategically while at the
same time, exploring and tapping external resources vigorously. It is important
that the first approach thus should be creating an effective networking mechanism
among higher education institutions across the nation in sharing resources
and expertise. Second, and most importantly, it is my opinion that while research
is carried out in all public universities+IBQ-new and old, and also a very few
aspiring private university/colleges+IBQ-Ethiopia must seriously invest in building
a few select research institutions, programs and initiatives with an unwavering
determination to foster and nurture its strategic position and international
3.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Enhancing Graduate Programs and Institutional Partnerships:
The backbone of effective research programs and teaching resides in
strong graduate programs. Graduate programs sustain research and development
in many countries around the world. In the US, graduate students are the
workhorse of teaching, research and innovations. There is an urgent need
to improve the status, capacity and quality of existing graduate programs
and create new ones. This is not simply by way of pumping money or increasing
resources, as of course these are critical inputs, but also formulating sound
and proactive policies. For instance, mobilizing the resources, experience,
and network of industries and businesses is vital in raising the institutional
capacity of research and teaching. It is important that opportunities are
created for industry and business leaders to teach and also engage in research
with graduate students and the faculty.
4.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Capacity Building in Drawing External Resources:
I, with other colleagues, was recently invited by major funding institutions
to map and analyze the scope of African higher education support and also
advise on the possible direction of such support and cooperation. I must complain
that our collective effort in expanding research, scholarly and academic
networks in partnership with international organizations, is dismal. The
Millennium Development Initiative, the Commission for Africa, NEPAD, other
bilateral agencies and major US based foundations are actively engaged in
revitalizing universities in Africa. It is to be recalled that the four major
US-based Foundations committed 100 million US dollars, which will be phased
out in some months, only to be renewed with more commitment and more resources,
and more countries and institutions in their fold. Unfortunately Ethiopia
has not benefited from the past and unlikely to do so in the future. With
the establishment of the Mandela Foundation, to establish major research centers
across the continent, and the Commission for Africa eyeing to generate several
billion dollars, part of which is to revitalize higher education, science
and technology development, Ethiopian institutions should be actively and
collectively mobilized to tap these resources.
When I am talking about tapping resources, I am not confined to dollars
and cents alone. Quite a vast mass of knowledge, information, and data are
now electronically available from the websites of major universities, institutions,
think tanks and others around the world. For example, MIT+IBQ-one of the leading
US institutions+IBQ-has availed its courses online, for free, for anyone, anywhere
around the world. In 2007, virtually all the university's courses will be
published online+IBQ-several hundred of them!! The popular search engine, Google
has also entered into agreement with leading institutions in the world to
post books, periodicals and other published materials electronically which
can be a major source to tap from. Such resources can boost the quality of
higher education programs and curricula, if they are actively tapped and effectively
It is my view that all our research efforts need not be invested in problem-solving
capacities alone. We need a vision+IBQ-substantiated by action+IBQ-that promotes our
strategic national interest by nurturing our research capacity and development
competence in, for instance, hydrology, geology, biotechnology, software engineering
and others largely on the account of our natural resources. This however
need not necessarily be mounted on higher education institutions alone.
5.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Engaging Local Expertise in National Issues:
It has been a common practice for external agencies to send technical
assistants instead of hiring native experts+IBQ-either based at home or elsewhere.
According to the World Bank report, technical assistance costs Africa four
billion dollars annually. Some countries have curtailed this largely discredited
practice in favor of a sound policy that engages locals in shaping national
policies. While the policy is changing in favor of recipient countries, it
is thus important for governments and responsible bodies to judiciously delegate
appropriate and competent professionals based at home+IBQ-or even possibly the
Governments and institutions need to channel research and consultancy through
their able institutions and other internal and external networks. This exercise
not only strengthens the national research capacity but also improve personal
welfare of individual experts at home. In much of Africa, however, cronyism,
favoritism, and politics continue to stifle this increasingly positive global
development. In many countries local experts have been deliberately shunted
by their governments+IBQ-for many reasons+IBQ-from actively engaging in national affairs.+AKA-
This is unhealthy trend which erodes the very fabric of a nation+IBk-s intellectual
6.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Engaging International Institutions and Their Personnel:
Ethiopia is endowed with such a historic opportunity to host numerous major
regional and international research, humanitarian, and policy institutions
that house high-level expatriate experts, from literally across the world
over. From the most prominent major UN institutions ECA, to the most unique
society, Equine Society comes to mind, hundreds of them operate in the country.
It is my knowledge that virtually none of the expertise in these institutions
is tapped to quench our needs for high-level expertise.
Also, quite a large number of high-level local experts work in government
ministries, private businesses, humanitarian organizations, international
organizations, and NGOs. These institutions often house the cr+AOg-me-de la-cr+AOg-me
of the local expertise. And yet, the expertise of these constituencies is
hardly utilized. +IBw-Kemogn dejaf mofer yiqoreTal endilu+IB0- or +IBw-be+IBk-ej yale worq
end medab yiqoTeral+IB0-, I do not know which one of these Ethiopian sayings is
appropriate, we are as yet not deployed this potential goldmine for the nations
higher education quality and excellence.
7.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Stable and Competent Institutional Leadership:
Quality cannot be readily harvested, if at all, in unstable or forbidding
academic environment.+AKA- Institutions need a steady and competent visionary
leadership+IBQ-endowed with wider clout and influence+IBQ-to execute effectively the
mandate of their institutions. In a situation where high turnover of leadership
is characteristic, and institutional instability is rampant, it is challenging
and problematical to pursue long-term objectives, such as quality. If anything,
the successive leaders would come and go without meaningfully contributing
to the development of their institutions. Therefore, an institution needs
to have a stable and competent leadership with executive powers and full
autonomy. Higher education institutions as a different kind of institutional
breed need to be well understood.
8.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Nurturing the Community of Higher Education:
First and foremost, guaranteeing a modest living and working opportunity
for the higher education community significantly contributes to quality of
higher education. Furthermore, recognizing higher education institutions and
their personnel as critical national economic, social, and cultural powerhouses+IBQ-and
assets+IBQ-is central. This is also vital in arresting the massive flow of expertise
(what we generally refer to as brain drain) from these institutions to overseas
and other local institutions.
Yes, one can always contract technical experts or even employ expatriates
instead of long-term cultivation of local capacity. It is however vital that
a nation relies on the skills, expertise and leadership of its own citizens
and nurture a culture of self-reliance. While it is strategically important
for a nation to draw from a rich variety of expertise to foster cross fertilization
of ideas, concepts and knowledge, the driver+IBk-s seat must be reserved for citizens.
9.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Mobilizing the Diaspora:
I would like to firmly state that the Diaspora is a formidable force,
as yet not tapped, in the national endeavor to quality and excellence. The
potential of the intellectual Diaspora community can be gauged from the staggering
numbers and qualifications of nationals as university professors, researchers,
engineers, medical doctors, and high-level technicians. For instance, in the
US alone, one in two African Diaspora has some form of a university diploma.
As one of the leading African countries with a large Diaspora community, Ethiopia
stands to benefit immensely from mobilizing it.
This large Diaspora community has a rich variety of skills, expertise, resources,
and status in the countries they live in. Many of the Diaspora are the result
of the institutions here and feel very strongly about contributing toward
higher education development in particular and national development as a whole.
There are many intellectual networks established by Ethiopian alumni which,
for example include Addis Ababa University Alumni and Jimma University Alumni.
Many countries are now vigorously mobilizing their Diaspora communities, especially
those with high-level expertise and resources. Ghana for example bows less
to the international development agencies as the total FDI by Ghanaians has
surpassed the development assistance of all international agencies put together.
The Ethiopian Diaspora can likewise be mobilized in the well being and development
of higher education in general and quality of higher education in particular.
There are numerous ways in which this potential can be mobilized for advancing
the quality of higher education in the country through: joint research and
teaching initiatives; exchange programs; serving as pro bono external examiners;
taking sabbatical stays; sponsorship and mentoring of select departments,
events, and students; participating in academic publishing (such as editorial
board membership); establishing endowments; unleashing contacts and resources;
collecting and shipping published resources such as highly required journals
and books and so and so forth.
I recall a time when I was presenting a paper here in Addis some two years
ago outlining the role of the Diaspora in connection with establishing the
Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology for Ethiopia. One audience
put to me: +IBw-There are close to 60 professional associations in Ethiopia. Why+IBQ-and
what makes you think+IBQ-that the government would make an effort to mobilize
the Diaspora when it deliberately ignores these high-level expertise here
at home.+IB0- I firmly believe that there is a great need to address this concern.
In summary, the intellectual Diaspora could be a powerful force in the integration
of home institutions with the knowledge centers in the major global capitals+IBQ-in
the process shaping the direction as well as improving the quality of higher
education in the country. The burden is on the home country institutions
and their leaders to make this happen. It takes two to tango.
10.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Developing Alumni Base:
It is true that much of the focus in tapping resources focuses largely
on Diaspora communities+IBQ-of course for reasons. It should be equally stressed
that a great resource remains untapped at the home front. In the US, universities
actively+IBM-and in fact, I must also say, aggressively+IBQ-pursue and track their
alumni+IBQ-to contribute to their alma mater. A while ago, my University named
its School of Education after a wall-street business tycoon who gave ten million
dollars in endowment. The alumni in much of Africa remain largely untapped
and thus need to be mobilized in fostering quality education, in so many
ways. In connection with this, I would also like to emphasize that there
remains a great potential in tapping the professional organizations in the
effort to improve quality education in the country.
11.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Undertake Research in Higher education:
We agree that the country has seen major developments in higher education+IBQ-soon
over 20 public institutions and some 70 private colleges will provide education
to a quarter of the student population. As institutions grow and expand, so
is also the need to undertake serious and rigorous research on higher education.
There is a great need to study higher education institutions in Ethiopia
which should ultimately inform public policy. Conferences like this one need
to be organized on a regular basis; and papers published in appropriate fora,
in time, and widely distributed.
The Journal of Higher Education in Ethiopia has been launched a while
ago and it is my hope that this journal would play a positive role in enhancing
the debates and dialogues surrounding higher education developments in Ethiopia.
Promoting this journal and the institution that hosts it would play an important
role in the national higher education dialogues and research. It is important
that not only researchers but also policy makers get involved in the debates.
12.+AKAAoA- +AKA-Integrating Higher Education, Science and Technology:
I would like to slightly digress from the theme of the main topic+IBQ-whilst
I command such a big and important captive audience+IBQ-to share my opinion for
the direction of Ethiopian knowledge system+IBQ-which of course has implications
for quality education and knowledge creation in the country. This opinion
has already been communicated in two fora: At the Getachew Bolodia Foundation
Lecture and on Medrek+IBQ-the organ of the Forum for Social Studies, the Ethiopian
Producing high-level expertise to create, access, adapt, consume, and disseminate
knowledge has become too critical for national development. Integrating science,
technology and higher education as a national knowledge development strategy
for meaningful social and economic progress is an emerging development. Institutions,
departments, and expertise are reorganized, reshuffled and streamlined to
capitalize on their collective strength, quality and vigor. The repositioning
and reconstitution of ministries and organizations represent steps in the
realization and enhancement of these underlying objectives. Nearly a third
of the African continent, many countries in Latin America and others in Asia
have integrated their higher education and science and technology.
About two decades have elapsed since the Commission for Higher Education
got disbanded; the current organizational arrangement of the higher education
system in Ethiopia is also more than a decade old. And yet, major national
and global transformations have taken place since then which prompts us to
entertain the idea of restructuring the national system of knowledge institutions
in Ethiopia in keeping with these changes, challenges and trends. Countries
all over the world are clamoring to overhaul their knowledge institutions
to deploy them as an engine of development and, it is my position that, we
should do the same. We need not initiate change just for the sake of it; but
the changes we do must be guided by long-term vision, genuine commitment,
and above all national interest. I am thus reiterating the idea of establishing
a new autonomous organizational body that governs higher education, science
and technology collectively under one roof.
To summarize my paper, factors that promote and rekindle a sound quality
education are numerous and complex, hence necessitating the articulation of
an integrated, well-conceived and multifaceted policy to address it. Raising
and maintaining quality requires not only investing a large amount of resources
but also mobilizing and tapping a host of other resources+IBQ-close and distant,
virtual and real, and national and international. Even more, quality of education
is a product of stable and solid leadership, sound and conducive policies,
great concern and sustained commitment.