Prescriptions and Antidotes, Good Intentions and Misunderstandings
William Saint+ACo-
June 6, 2004

The following discussion is prompted by the recent commentary from Dr. Damtew Teferra entitled +IBw-The World Bank Prescription for Ethiopian Higher Education: The Missing Antidote in +IBw-Pursuing the Vision,+IB0- and seeks to shed additional light on some of the concerns that he expresses.+AKA- Why have I taken the time to do this?+AKA- Because I value, as Dr. Teferra does, the enhanced understanding that can be gained from pluralistic debate.+AKA- Because the goals, priorities and strategies that currently guide the development of Ethiopian higher education would surely benefit from wider engagement by people who can make professional contributions to this dialogue.+AKA- But most importantly, because Dr. Teferra+IBk-s well-intentioned commentary flows from four apparent misunderstandings.
The first misunderstanding is that he views the recent World Bank report, Higher Education Development for Ethiopia:+AKA- Pursuing the Vision, as the Bank+IBk-s +IBw-prescription+IB0- for Ethiopian higher education.+AKA- This is incorrect because a legitimate prescription already exists.+AKA- This prescription is contained in the Government of Ethiopia+IBk-s +IBw-Higher Education Proclamation+IB0- that was approved by Parliament in June 2003.+AKA- The Proclamation provides a thoughtful, forward-looking policy framework for guiding the growth of Ethiopian higher education over the medium term.+AKA- As is normally the case with national policy formulation, it was produced by Ethiopians for Ethiopians.+AKA- The World Bank did not participate in the drafting of this Proclamation.+AKA- Following issuance of the Proclamation, however, the Ministry of Education did ask the World Bank to provide it with technical suggestions on how it might implement certain aspects of the new policy framework, e.g., the funding formula, management preparation for institutional autonomy.+AKA- In this context, +IBw-Pursuing the Vision+IB0- should be understood to mean implementing the policy vision of Government as contained in the Proclamation rather than imposing a World Bank vision on Ethiopia.

The second misunderstanding is Dr. Teferra+IBk-s assumption that the referenced report is +IBw-of great consequence that may affect tremendously the development of higher education in the country in all its forms and shapes.+IB0AoA- While it would be gratifying to think that one+IBk-s work might be so influential, the fact of the matter is that this report is unlikely to produce any lasting effects.+AKA- It is simply the most recent in a decade-long stream of studies,+AKA- reports and seminars on higher education produced by the Ministry, university researchers, and various development partners, including the Dutch, the Italians, the Swedes, the Germans, and the British.+AKA- In most cases, policy formulation draws on a general consensus about what is useful in such a collection of studies, which is then tempered and shaped by national political considerations.+AKA- In this context, no single report ever has much impact.

The third misunderstanding is that the World Bank has the liberty to dictate the composition of the counterpart team chosen by the Ministry of Education to work with Bank staff in the analysis of Ethiopia+IBk-s higher education needs and the design of an investment package to address those needs.+AKA- This is a process in which the two sides continually seek areas of agreement and negotiate areas of difference.+AKA- In this dynamic of give and take, the Bank team represents the Bank+IBk-s interests, and the Government+IBk-s team represents the Government+IBk-s interests.+AKA- No government would willingly give up its right to constitute its own team.+AKA- Consequently, Dr. Teferra+IBk-s assertion that +IBw-The Bank team should itself have at least requested, if not demanded, a competent counterpart+IB0-? is uninformed by the reality of development practice in these circumstances. Moreover, he appears to be calling for the kind of heavy-handed World Bank intervention in national affairs that he has disapproved of on other occasions.

The final misunderstanding is that research is an independent variable within universities that can be manipulated at will.+AKA- In fact, research does not exist in isolation from strong graduate programs.+AKA- Research is an integral part of graduate programs and the academic staff who teach them.+AKA- For this reason, it would seem a questionable strategy to call for greater emphasis on research, as Dr. Teferra does, without first assuring that an essential foundation of good quality graduate programs is in place.+AKA- That this is generally not the case in Ethiopia explains why current research output is limited.+AKA- Indeed, the Ministry of Education reports that just 9 percent of all university staff possess Ph.D. degrees.+AKA- It is for this reason that the World Bank report places much greater emphasis on the need to develop graduate programs than on the need to produce research.+AKA- If the first is achieved, the second will follow.+AKA- It is important to get the sequencing right, or one may run the risk of fostering more research, but of poor quality and limited utility.

Sizeable gaps frequently exist between academic understanding and development practice.+AKA- This need not be the case.+AKA- Indeed, it serves neither academia nor development.+AKA- It is my hope that dialogue between these two spheres may lead to increased understanding and collaboration between them for the benefit of all. Creating this possibility is the real contribution of Dr. Teferra+IBk-s commentary.

+ACo- Higher education specialist for the World Bank and co-author of the referenced report.