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Burgeoning higher education in Ethiopia beset by shortcomings

10:05 24 January 2022 Author :  

Higher education in Ethiopia is beset by low levels of quality, relevance, and academic freedom, despite an unprecedented expansion of state and private higher education and rising enrollment, according to experts.

The world marks International Education Day on Monday and Molla Tsegaye, head of the Ethiopian Private Higher Education Institution Association, which represents 117 private universities, colleges, and vocational training institutes, told Anadolu Agency that Ethiopia is in the midst of an expansion of higher education.

Landmark expansion

“By all accounts, the pace of expansion of public and private higher education, which began in the 1990s, was overwhelming,” said Tsegaye. “Ethiopia, which had three public universities at the beginning of the 1990s, enrolling some 18,000 students, has now 306 private higher education institutions and full-fledged five private and 55 public universities.”

He added that the private sector and government have continued to invest in higher education. “We expect more public and private higher education institutions to join the sector.”

Ethiopia’s higher education institutions offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Distance, evening, and online classes are offered. Since 2003, the cost of learning at government institutions is based on cost-sharing.

Students cover 15% of their tuition fees while the remainder is covered by the government.

According to official figures, there are currently more than 450,000 students enrolled in higher education, while 25 million pupils are enrolled in primary and secondary education.

Pressing limitations

Educators, stakeholders, and the government know about the multi-dimensional problems of the higher education system and have agreed on a national road map, said Tsegaye.

“One of the measurements of success is student enrollment, which has significantly increased over the last two decades,” said Tsegaye. “But still, it is only 12 to 13% which is way below many African countries.”

“Ethiopia is planning to increase this to 22%, and equity in access is our preoccupation,” he added.

Tsegaye said quality, relevance, and learning outcomes in higher education are some of the most fundamental problems created with the expansion.

“Quality is a problem but there are several measures that were put in place to enhance it and increase the relevance of courses and learning outcomes,” he said. “It is a progressive evolution that takes time.”

According to researchers, quality in education has been compromised by a lack of qualified instructors and the infrastructure development of classes, libraries, and electronic networks that lag behind the growth of institutions.

Academic freedom

Mekuria Mekasha, a journalism and communications instructor with Addis Ababa University, told Anadolu Agency that academic freedom at higher education institutions is a direct outcome of the existence of a functioning democracy in the country.

“On many occasions over the last three decades, students and instructors were imprisoned and/or dismissed for exercising academic freedom,” said Mekasha. “However, over the last three years of Ethiopia’s reform, we have been witnessing academic freedom.”

He said despite commendable improvements, with a fear of the past, lack of adequate forums for academic self-expression, and a shortage of research funds, academic freedom has yet to become the soul of the academic establishment.

“What we gained seems to be irreversible but it requires time to reach a convincing and sustainable level of academic freedom,” he said.

Tsegaye agreed.

“Currently, the political thought control administrative structure in the establishment has been removed,” he said, adding that unlike in the past, no one tells researchers what subjects they can look into and which they cannot.

In this regard, what is fundamental is academic autonomy that would close the door to government and private investors’ infringement on the independence of academic functions, Tsegaye added.

“Ethiopia will put in place institutional and financial autonomy at higher education establishments which would improve the overall functions of the establishment,” he said.

He noted, however, that there is a long way to go before achieving largely improved higher education in Ethiopia./aa

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