Ethiopian Higher Education: Nurturing Quality, Striving for Excellence
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 competitiveness.

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 adapted.

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 Diaspora.
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 soul.

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 think tank.

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.

Thank you.