Universities of Science, Technology to become Centres of Excellence


They will now become research institutions under the Ministry of Science & Technology




For Elebetel Temessgen, who qualified in the national university exam from Hailemariam Mamo Preparatory School, in Debre Birhan, she had to take one more entrance exam, which she also passed successfully to become accepted to the Addis Abeba University of Science & Technology (AASTU).

AAUST and the Adama University of Science & Technology (ASTU) have been separately brought under the Ministry of Science & Technology (MoST) as research oriented institutions to support Ethiopia’s industrial ambition.

Elebetel said she heard that AAUST, separately administered by the Ministry of Science & Technology (MoST), offers a better chance of giving scholarships for students. AASTU is also closer for her to her hometown.

As part of the already concluded Growth & Transformation Plan, it was in the minds of policy makers that the country needs a dedicated institution that can produce technology, engineering and applied sciences graduates which can support the industry sector, which the government wishes to become a locomotive of the economy.

This is a special arrangement made as per the government direction to separately treat this institution, said Mahamouda Ahmed Gaas, state minister for Science & Technology.

Realising this, the government has already started to treat two universities separately – the Addis Abeba University of Science & Technology (AAUST), which was established four years ago along other nine universities under the Ministry of Education (MoE). Similarly, Adama University of Science & Technology (ASTU), which was established as a technical college 14 years ago with the support of the German government and then re-established in 2006 as a University.

These two institutions were initially responsible to the MoE; now they have both been transferred to MoST. Close to one billion Birr has been allocated for the two universities.

Subsequent to this, an entrance examination was introduced in order to take approximately 3,000 qualified students who have already qualified in the national university entrance exam. The students were equally assigned to ASTU and AASTU.

As per the announcement, more than 5,000 students were registered to take the exam in 17 stations across the country. Out of the registered number of students, 4,500 students actually took the exam. This was done in addition to what MoE had assigned. The students selected one subjects of three options – Information and Communications Technolgy (ICT), Applied Science and Engineering.

Previously, the number of students to be enrolled at AAUST was around 1,300 but because of the push from MoE to increase the number so as not to affect its desired enrolment number, it was decided to add 200 more students. AAUST already has 2,000 students who registered in the same fields last year.

The exam was prepared just for the purpose of identifying those students who had passed the national 12th Grade exam inappropriately by cheating, said Nurelgne Tefera (PhD), president of AASTU during his interview with Fortune. The examination was the same type they had taken as the original entrance exam when they completed the 12th Grade and covered five subjects including Maths, Physics, and Chemistry. Each test consisted of 30 questions. The results were released online after a review by MoST.

Having earned a grade of 63pc and receiving the result online from AASTU’s website, Elebetel is preparing to join the university and study Engineering.

Located on the outskirts of Addis Abeba, adjacent to the Kaliti Correctional Facility at Klinto, on 156ha plot of land, AASTU has more open spaces than those still under construction. It was established with the assumption that it would enrol 30,000 students during the first Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP I).

That was too exaggerated and too ambitious, said Nurelegne.

As Fortune observed on its visit to the premises of the university, there were unfinished dormitories for student boarding, lecture halls and offices here and there. In addition, the main cobblestone road stretching from the gate to the buildings is still under construction, making it feel as if the institution is still being established.

Before its transfer of accountability to MoST under directive 314/2014 issued by the Council of Ministers, the construction work was being administered by MoE, under the auspices of Addis Abeba’s housing construction agency.

Following its establishment in 2011, the institution was under establishment for two years. It had also sent the then students in Health Science and Medicine to Saint Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, an institution established with the same aspiration to create a Centre of Excellence under the Ministry of Health.

In comparison to other new universities that were established at the same time as AASTU, the construction progress is very slow, said a source at the university. The university was soon able to transfer the contract administration to itself. According to a source from the AAUST, the institution handed the project over to 30 contractors at predetermined prices but their performance is still not satisfactory and some contractors have even broken their contracts.

Moreover, the laboratories that are in place are not adequate for the kind of work for which they are intended, according the same source. Nurelegn says that it was because of the slow progress of the construction work that the university was not able to set up the laboratories properly.

“For now we mainly focused on finishing the ongoing construction,” said Nurelegne. “We cannot take any accountability whatsoever for things that happened before us, and we decided not to begin a new construction till the already commenced ones are completed.”

The university is recruiting lecturers mostly from Japan, with classes scheduled to begin by April, 2016. Lecturers at this university will have a better salary scale than other faculties, Nurelegn says, with reference to lecturers at the Addis Abeba University’s Institute of Technology.

This difference especially in benefits may create a situation where lecturers will want to leave the institutions under the MoE and to join the new institutions, he says, appreciating the idea of establishing a centre of excellence, which is accountable to a Ministry other than the MoE, which already has a lot in its hands.

The idea was adopted from the Korean Advanced Institute of Science & Technology which was established in 1971 with the help of the United States as a research oriented science and engineering institution.

However it would be better for MoST to select the already existing universities; establishing a Centres of Excellence in each institution based on their comparative advantage, instead of including all fields of study in science, technology and engineering within a single institution, said the lecturer.

“For instance we can make one university to be a centre for one field,” he said.

In terms of enrollment, after five years the university plans to accept 4,000 students a year.

Now ASTU has started transferring its existing students to other nearby campuses in Asela-Arsi.

ASTU is following the South Korean model on how to transfer the students to become the helpers in the industry sector, according to anonymous source. The Korean model had the institution linked to giant electronic companies like Samsung. ASTU has lecturers and its president from South Korea.

Adama is structuring its laboratories with an investment of five million dollars in order to have a full ICT laboratory. It also recruits lecturers from India, and some 50 are expected from that country.

Another source, from the Higher Education Relevance & Quality Agency (HERQA) told Fortune that in 2007 the universities had conducted a quality audit. Following that, ASTU was expected to have its report so the Agency could follow up, but ASTU failed to submit its report. According to the source, who requested to remain unnamed, there has been no audit since 2007.

ASTU’s officials declined to respond to Fortune’s questions.

“The students we trained may not have an impact for the second GTP but will have to wait till “the third GTP”, said Nurelgne.

Let us assume if this plan realised and the government produces well-trained and educated professionals, the case is that the government needs to have a parallel growing industry and private sector that can absorb this professionals, the lecturer at Addis Abeba advised.



By DAWIT ENDESHAW
FORTUNE’S STAFF WRITER

Published on Sep 14,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 802]


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