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Advancing higher education, advancing Ethiopia's renaissance


Advancing higher education, advancing Ethiopia's renaissance

Abay Getaneh  02-25-16

Higher education has been around for decades. In fact, the first University was established about seventy years ago. However, as it is the case with other levels of education, the government’s primary objective was to train manpower for public offices. Hence, the education was designed at a narrow and limited scale of formal education towards nurturing bureaucratic clerks with little substantial merit.

Consequently, the ambition of the student population was largely to secure government employment. Even though limited vocational education was introduced both at high school and college levels during the 1950s and 1960s, the fundamental nature remain unchanged. This perspective was reflected in the speech of Emperor Haileselasie during the inauguration of the then Haileselasie University College, now Addis Ababa University, in 1950:

"Our Beloved people, in contemplating the erection of a monument in Our honor, and We on Our Part, to express Our satisfaction and to recognize this gratitude, have decided that on this same spot, where Our people have resolved to build with the funds voluntarily…While giving this site for the building and establishment of a University, to represent at the same time a monument to your Emperor, for the service and  benefit of your children and the future generations and to stand as a symbol of natural gratitude between your Sovereign and His people, We now lay the foundation stone of the University.”

The situation remained basically unchanged until 1991. Higher education institutions were found only in very few regions. Moreover, they were overcrowded and their research capacity is very low. As a result, as one paper sums it up, the education of the time did little to change trainees’ outlook or help them break the cycle of dependency on the government for employment and develop a capacity to create their own jobs in the private sector. That was fundamentally changed in 1994 with the new education and training policy. As the policy envisaged

Higher education at diploma, first degree and graduate levels, will be research oriented, enabling students become problem-solving professional leaders in their fields of study and in overall societal needs.

It emphasizes the development of problem solving capacity and culture in the content of education, curriculum structure and approach, focusing on the acquisition of scientific knowledge and practicum. The goal for higher education was stipulated by the government as:

“to produce competent graduates who have appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes in diverse fields of study; to produce research which promotes knowledge and technology transfer based on national development and community needs; and to ensure that education and research promote the principles of freedom in exchange of views and opinions based on reason, and democratic and multicultural values”.

Following that policy direction, the government devoted enormous resource and committed leadership into the expansion and improvement of tertiary education.In 1991, the number of universities was two and colleges sixteen. After two decades of investment, now Ethiopian students have access to thirty two government universities and seventy-five private higher education institutes. In 1991, the student intake at tertiary level was less than fifteen thousand, it has now reached about half a million. In 2012/13, about eighty thousand students graduated from government and private higher education institutions. At the same time, about two hundred fifty thousand students are attending in technical and vocational education trainings in 2012/13.

Statistics also demonstrate that access to tertiary education has been improving in the past two decades for both sexes and it also confirms that the role of private owned institutions has been notable. While the total undergraduate enrolment (both in governmental and private institutions and in regular, evening, summer and distance programs) was about half-a-million last year, of which more than one hundred seventy thousand were females. That is about 30% of the total enrolment. Similarly, there has been remarkable increase in postgraduate program (that is a specialized program offered under the schools of graduate studies to students who already have their bachelor’s or first degree) enrolment in the past five years. In 2012/13, the percentage of female postgraduate students was about 20%.

The magnitude of political commitment given to education in the past two decades can be best demonstrated in budget allocation. Just between 2004/05 and 2012/13, the education budget surged from 16.7 percent of the total budget to 25.2 per cent.  As one World Bank report put it:

The strong commitment to educational development since 1994 is reflected in budget allocations to the sector, which increased steadily to reach more than 23 percent of total government expenditures, and 5.3 percent of GDP, in 2009. Both of these percentages are high relative to per capita income by international standards.

Indeed, the rapid expansion in access to and enrolment in education is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to guarantee that Ethiopian citizens have the knowledge and skills to create or find more productive employment.  There are multiple factors that come into play in this, including quality of education, employment opportunities, and the requisite environment to create or expand productive employment. The challenge ahead will be realizing that.




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