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EPRDF’s Mistakes: Part II – Higher Education

by Aklog Demissie ([email protected])

This is second part of a series that highlight political and policy based mistakes by the EPRDF government. While the main aim is raising awareness of the general public, policy makers and politicians from EPRDF can see it as an independent view into their system and opposition parties can use it as a basis to build their campaign activities.

Before the current EPRDF government usurped power in 1991, Ethiopia had two higher education institutes, Alemaya and Addis Ababa University with an enrollment ratio of around 0.3%, among one of the lowest in the world. After the EPRDF took over the country, there was a sense of hope from the university community that academic freedom will be granted and that the universities will be free from political interference. But all hopes were dashed after the EPRDF government meddled in the university structure even from its early days in power and fired 40 university professors from Addis Ababa University because of their different political opinion than the regime.

Afterwards under a tight control of the government in their internal affairs, the number of universities blossomed through out the country to reach 14 by the end of 2003 and 23 by the end of 2009. While this rapid expansion of the universities was done based on number of population and even distribution of universities across all regions, there were a few that were started due to political pressure from the public. But even in those cases, the main issue remains the people’s commendable apetite for a higher education institute and the governments willingness to establish them. This was a positive move by the government to increase investment in construction and higher education, increase enrollment rate and create a skilled man power for the country.

But building universities without a proper management, qualified personnel and national agenda is useless. All the universities including the once famous Addis Ababa University are focused on accommodating all the students who are flocking in masses. Rather than focusing on delivering high quality education and problem solving researches, universities nowadays are concentrating on building dormitories. Thats why out of the top 100 universities in Africa, there are only 2 Ethiopian universities in a list that includes 6 Kenyan universities. The government turned deaf ear to repeated plea by academicians to halt the expansion of the number of higher education after the first phase of expansion and focus towards enhancing the quality of the already existing universities. After the number of universities increased to 14 in the first phase, what the government should have done was improve quality of accommodation, teaching and research on these universities as a means to gain insights before building more. But the government opted to start a second phase by building 9 more universities and ignore the deteriorating quality in already existing universities.

A recent study identified that the quality of Ethiopian higher education institute is depreciating in an alarming rate due to a number of policy related issues. The main problem stated is absence of competent structured management and lack of motivation, direction and vision in the existing system. Most university presidents are hand picked by the government after proving their loyality to the ruling party. This will shield them from any criticism from their subordinates. Following the ethnic based ideology of the ruling party, the current universities and research centers in Ethiopia are starting to include the ethnic background of academic and administrative professional as an informal criteria before he/she is hired by the departments. This top-to-bottom level political interference at all levels of the academic institute is also obstructing national unity on higher education policies and candid discussions abut problems engulfing the institutes.

Another big problem facing the universities is lack of qualified instructors mainly due to unfavorable working conditions and mass exodus on university instructors to Europe and USA. It is a widely known fact that instructors joint universities to make their escape from the country easier. And further affecting quality of education, the universities begin new departments with one digit instructors without any clear vision, mission or research outlook and advantage to the country. Contrary to international practice, there are even post graduate programs in Ethiopia without a single supervising professor or ongoing research in the department. The international standard of operation of the universities is completely ignored in Ethiopia and this has led to the flooding of the job market with many unqualified graduates. At the time where the government is vociferous about the prospects of Ethiopia becoming a middle income country in the near future, it seems to forget that foreign investment in a country is directly related to the existence of competent qualified graduates.

So the government or the opposition should think of better ways to manage the universities than the current situation where a lot of country resource is being wasted under the auspice of HIGHER education.

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