Jared Odero, Ph. D. Candidate
In Response to Commentary by Damtew Teferra on the World Bank Education Sector Report
July 2004


1. The Ethiopian Delegates

I share your concern that the Ethiopian delegates who met the WB representatives comprised +IBg-non-heavyweight researchers+IBk- within the country+IBk-s HE. Coming from Kenya, which has faced similar situations in the past, I suspect that your higher education system has been politicized -- meaning that academic staff positions are probably offered according to one+IBk-s loyalty to the government of the day. In case this+AKA-is correct, why would it be a problem? Again, going by what the Kenyan HE experienced in the 1980s-1990s, such academics are normally not competent enough to promote research. They are often only interested in maintaining their positions for self-gain. When opportunities like those of meeting the WB arise, these are the same people who are selected to +IBg-represent+IBk- the country+IBk-s interest. Unfortunately, they also lack the right language to use when negotiating with the seasoned, one-track minded WB representatives, who always prescribe the same remedy for all the universities in Africa namely, cost effectiveness, privatization of services in the name of cost-sharing, efficiency of delivery etc. Trips to the WB are thus hurried and the rest of the time is spent by these delegates to sightsee+AKA-and shop for their families.+AKA-So what do they end up bringing back home? Policies that dictate their country+IBk-s HE landscape for decades until things get out of control, and the WB again adds the +IBg-same dose or higher+IBk-, to treat the ailment it had created. Although the WB says that it nowadays undertakes thorough country studies through its Education Sector, together with local academics and government representatives, many of the institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa have not shown any significant improvement in research output (if this exists at all) since the WB recommended reforms in the early 1990s. One of the most appalling recommendations that almost killed HE was the re-allocation of public funds to basic education, which some studies claimed would yield social returns in the poor countries. [Refer to studies by Psacharopoulos formerly at the WB].

Political interference in many African universities is due to some of the structures inherited from the colonial type of HE. For example, many Anglophone public universities still have the head of state as the chancellor. Using Kenya as an example, the immediate former president Daniel Moi, remained the chancellor of all the public universities during his 24 years as president, until the new government that took over in 2003 scrapped off this tradition. He had no HE qualifications, yet presided over all the graduation ceremonies, was awarded excellent academic honors and was also instrumental in appointing political loyalists to head these institutions. On two occasions, he directly used a populist move to recommend a double intake of students who had missed admissions in public universities. For almost five years, this action affected all the processes of learning. Today, the Kenyan public universities+IBk- chancellors are either academics or well educated and prominent businesspeople, who are appointed to help in mobilizing funds and to promote scientific excellence at these institutions. It is too early to say whether there is anything they have accomplished within one year, given that these institutions had become plagued with corruption and nepotism in academic placements.

Government leaders in Africa need to detach themselves from direct governance of the public universities by allowing them some autonomy in leadership. A lot has been written about the supervisory role of national governments, which also encourages academic freedom among researchers. Due to the hostile academic atmosphere experienced between many institutions and their governments, a lot of progressive researchers have left for better institutions elsewhere, thus adding to Africa+IBk-s perpetual brain-drain.

2. The WB and its Bitter Prescription

After reading+AKA-bits and pieces+AKA-of the projections for Ethiopian HE by the WB, I can foresee Ethiopia swallowing the same bitter pill that was prescribed+AKA-for Kenya, Uganda and scores of other countries in the 1990s, to streamline their HE systems. As mentioned above, the WB language is cost-sharing, efficiency of delivery, privatization etc. Towards the end of the 20th century, information and communications technology (ICT) was added as a springboard for African universities+IBk- participation in the global knowledge economy. The main talk from the WB was how ICT would jump-start this idle giant+IBk-s (African continent) economy to match the likes of the former Asian Tigers. ICT would help Africa to +IBw-leapfrog the stages of development+IB0-. The WB baby, the African Virtual University (AVU) was launched to propel these dreams and completely transform the HE landscape. Through this project, the +IBg-hungry brains+IBk- of Africa would be fed with education any time anywhere. Seven years later, I must+AKA-admit that HE in Africa has seen very little transformation through ICT; at least not in the highly expected proportions predicted then by the WB. Yes, any WB representative reading my comments will say I am pessimistic, but having read the initial feasibility study papers on this project in 1997, I could not help but feel that Africa was being given false hopes. Sub-Saharan Africa is still far from partaking in the global knowledge society via ICT. Imagine+AKA-applying ICT without telecommunications infrastructure! Anyway I will leave this angle for another discussion.

I have not read much about Ethiopia+IBk-s HE structure but I am sure that appropriate reforms suitable for encouraging research are necessary, in order to improve and open for more collaboration with other institutions regionally and internationally. This has to be done mutually with all local and external stakeholders agreeing for the common good of the country. However, the heavy-handed nature of the WB as seen from countries that have undergone SAPs (structural adjustment programs) clearly shows that their recommendations often fail to meet the local needs during the implementation stages. Obviously, there are several internal and external factors which I will not discuss in this space.

Court, D. (1999)[1] paints a rosy picture of the successful implementation of financing through cost-sharing at Makerere University in Uganda. He explains how Makerere has moved from a once dilapidated institution during dictator Amin+IBk-s rule in the 1970s, to an institution competing to regain its lost glory of the 1950s and the 1960s. This is a WB sponsored report and having gone through it, I felt that it did not bring out the true picture of the students and the lecturers+IBk- environment. I started reading alternative sources of information to capture the real issues affecting this lot. I was shocked to read that many lecturers had to moonlight to supplement their meager salaries, while some female students had to become commercial sex workers to earn upkeep money. In a way, the indulgence of female students in immorality for survival has resulted in a high number of HIV/Aids related deaths at Makerere University. One may wonder what this has to do with cost-sharing. Well, it has a lot to do with the dark side of the WB report which does not say how difficult it is for some students to meet their financial needs, because of the almost zero subsidies from the government.

In December 2002, I was an opponent to a student defending her MA thesis at the Stockholm University entitled: +AKA-A Case Study of the Financial and Living Conditions of Students in their Final Year with Government or Private Funding at Makerere University by Monika Berge (2002). The author had stayed at one of the university+IBk-s hostels for some weeks during her field study, and used both quantitative and qualitative methods for data collection. From her observations, she gathered that students from sound socio-economic background were in a better position to meet their financial needs, and did not have to be worried about alternative ways to earn money. However, some privately sponsored ones from poor background had to look for money using whatever means. The university+IBk-s physical infrastructure was in poor shape and the new buildings were not of high standard. It was common to have electricity failure and water shortages. Many students especially the privately sponsored ones, lived in rented private rooms in the city, with no guarantee for security. The situation is similar in Kenya especially for the students at University of Nairobi (UoN) located in Kenya+IBk-s capital city, Nairobi. In 2003, a large number of female students from various HE institutions here were caught in a police swoop within the twighlight zone. They admitted that they had to engage in immoral acts to earn money for upkeep because they received no bursary or loans from their institutions. Some of these students come from very poor socio-economic background and have no adequate financing. A leading sociologist at the UoN admitted that they were aware of these activities but could not do much to solve them.

Another interesting WB catchphrase is cost-recovery of expenses by universities through repayment of student loans and other innovative ways to generate money. Maureen Woodhall, who has been doing commendable work in financing HE, investigated various mechanisms of cost recovery in Anglophone universities in the 1980s to early 1990s and found them wanting. Poor record keeping due to non-computerization of information was seen as one of the main hurdles. Public universities in Uganda and Kenya have now privatized sections of their services like photocopying and printing to generate income. But the biggest effort for generating income is through the introduction of the so-called +IBg-parallel degree programs+IBk-. These are programs that charge direct user fees to students who have probably not met the cut-off points to join public universities during the direct intake. This is a good idea which offers chances to such students and also retains the taxpayer+IBk-s money in the country when they do not opt for universities abroad. In Kenya, these programs were initiated without expanding university academic staff numbers, so lecturers are poached from mainstream programs and are paid lucratively,+AKA-using money from user+AKA-fees. Students who were admitted with the right qualifications have protested against what they see as a system that favors +IBg-second-class+IBk- students.

According to the WB, one reason for cost-sharing is to ensure that participants pay for undertaking studies that will earn them more personal than social returns later in life. It is therefore supposed to ease the burden of the poor taxpayer from subsidizing the rich students. Thus, it could be argued that it would bring more equality of participation. Looking at the situation in Kenya, there has been a sharp decline in participation by students from poor background since cost-sharing was introduced. Most of the participants come from well-to-do families who can afford to get educated without government assistance. The WB has been admitting its own failures and promising to improve, but these are sometimes very costly blunders that take decades to recover from. See the case of Nigerian WB projects at: http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/bwi-wto/wbank/2000/akuma.htm

For the case of Ethiopia, the concerned people at the universities ought to look at some of the WB recommendations to neighboring countries+AKA-to understand their+AKA-successes and failures. If Ethiopian HE will embrace these prescriptions, then I do hope that it will do so carefully,+AKA-by+AKA-accommodating the needs of all the local stakeholders. The decisions taken will also determine+AKA-how these institutions will contribute to the global knowledge economy.+AKA-


Jared Odero, Ph.D. Candidate,

Institute of International Education

Stockholm University

SE-106 91 Stockholm Sweden

Tel: +ACs-46 8 163208

Fax: +ACs- 46 8 153133

URL: www.interped.su.se




[1] Financing higher education at Makerere: The quiet revolution. Human Development, 143+IBM-146.