Disparity in The Quality of University Education Prevails

The numbers of students enrolling for Higher Education are indeed impressive but quality seems to be sacrificed when one encounters graduates of tertiary education who seem unable to meet the needs of the labour market. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, MIKIAS TESFAYE takes an in-depth look at the poor state of Higher Education institutions and joins the call for greater focus on quality.

As the 2015/2016 academic year begins in Ethiopia, long queues are seen at the ticketing office of Selam Bus at Mesqel Square with parents and students, hoping to get tickets before registration deadlines set by universities expire. Such scenes have become a yearly trend across bus stations, with increasing numbers of university students reporting to campus within similar timeframes. Though the number of universities, lecturers and the size of student enrollment have been registering remarkable increment over the years, legitimate concerns remain with the quality of delivery of education and with its outputs.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told parliament last summer, addressing questions raised by MPs that, the nation cannot go on producing “half-cooked” graduates from its universities. The problem of a rising number of unemployed and unemployable graduates poses a direct challenge to one of the objectives of higher education in Ethiopia – producing experts for the country’s all rounded development, particularly for its endeavours in the manufacturing industry, according to a Ministry of Education (MoE) document.

The quality of higher education has received renewed impetus in the current context where several universities have called on their students to report to campus for the current academic year. A third year Bio Systems Engineering student at Hawassa University was standing in line to buy a ticket when Fortune approached him. He said, while preferring to withhold his name, “each year the number of students seems to rise and the problems start with shortage of transportation.”

In addition to the senior students going back to the universities, fresh students joining universities for the first time are also called to report to universities at this time of year. After taking their exams in June 2015, 12 graders across Ethiopia waited anxiously for their exam results all summer long. The Ministry of Education announced the results in late July. More than 93,400 students, 45.3pc of those who took the exam, scored above 350. The highest entrance mark for the year was registered at 649, with 57 students having scored more than 600 nationwide, according to data obtained from the National Educational Assessment & Examination Agency (NEAEA).

Of all the students who took the exam, 124,227 students scored passing marks. Among these, 86,958 will be assigned to natural science disciplines, while 37,268 students will pursue studies in social sciences and humanities. Medical schools across the country will host 2,500 students in the new academic year.

According to the 2013/2014 Education Statistics Annual Abstract released by MoE’s Education Management Information System (EMIS) and Information & Communication Directorate in June 2015, enrollment in education programmes for three, four or more years, leading to undergraduate degrees and specialisation degrees awarded in Masters and PhD programmes, has been steadily increasing in successive years.

Undergraduate programmes in particular, have seen consecutive growth trends since the 2009/2010 academic year with the number of students growing from 420,387 to 447,693 in 2010/2011, then to 494,110 in 2011/2012, still growing to 553,848 in 2012/2013 and reaching an unprecedented 593,574 undergraduate students in 2013/2014 in all regular, evening, summer and distance programmes.

The latest figures show that the government has surpassed its objective to increase the number of students at all higher learning institutions to 467,000 by the end of the first Growth & Transformation Plan period, according to the 24th Education & Training Congress Report, presented in Hawassa last year.

Similarly, the number of public universities in the country showed remarkable progress both in quantity and equitable distribution across the width and breadth of the country, EMIS records show. Addis Abeba University and Haromaya University were the only two universities in Ethiopia prior to 1991, although there were lower colleges and institutes, which were eventually elevated to university status. The number subsequently grew to 21 universities by 2009. And now the total number of public universities in the country has reached 31, not to mention those which are still under construction.

Notwithstanding the impressive result that has been achieved in advancing higher education in the country, several critical voices are raised in questioning the quality of education delivered at these institutions. Abrham Arona, Policy & Strategy advisor at the Ministry of Education’s Strategy Centre, lauds the various achievements made, but has questions related to quality aspects. Abrham shares the Ministry’s own assessment that gaps remain to be filled with the lack of qualified and experienced instructors.

“There is a particularly acute shortage of lecturers in the fields of Engineering and Medicine,” Abrham told Fortune.

He also argued that specialised fields, such as Engineering and Medicine, require specialist instructors which are hard to come by.

Abrham is not alone with this concern, as Sleshi Molla, a lecturer of Philosophy at Semera University told Fortune that the problem of qualified instructors is prevalent. In some cases, most of the teachers, as much as “70pc of the staff in some programmes” are graduate assistants. Sleshi also holds that despite increasing numbers of teachers being employed each year, peculiar challenges at Semera University, have made the job of retaining experienced instructors difficult.

“From harsh environmental conditions to wide-ranging social and family issues, teachers are prone to leave their posts with every possibility that presents itself” Sleshi said.

The Bio Systems Engineering student from Hawassa also believes the shortage of teachers is a huge problem negatively affecting the quality of delivery of education.

“There is a chronic shortage of teachers. The problem is not just in terms of numbers, but also quality and experience. We have had a teacher who came from Arba Minch University to give a two hour lecture per week. It was very difficult to follow the lesson with that much contact with the instructor.”

According to Abrham, among the reasons for the observed shortage of qualified instructors are, better payment elsewhere, lack of conducive environment, lack of incentives such as housing, lack of uniform procedures across different universities and wide ranging issues of good governance.

But the picture shows mixed performance in different universities and even between departments in the same university. A senior lecturer with more than six years teaching experience at different universities and currently serving in Wolqite University told Fortune that the government’s plan to have a staff profile of 0:75:25 ratio (zero number of graduate assistants, 75pc of M.A. holders and 25pc of PhD holders) has made progress with varying results. He expressed that even most of the newly establishing departments in the university are recruiting M.A. holders for their staff.

“Staff are receiving PhD education which will help in realising the goal,” he added.

Betselot Zeleke, a third year graduating class student at Semera University’s English Department also sees no overwhelming problem with the availability of qualified teachers. She holds that most teachers are available throughout the year and some with block courses are present for the duration of the courses to which they have been assigned. The other main factor affecting the availability of instructors with second and third degrees is the limited post-graduate intake capacity in the country, argues Abrham.

The other main set of problems affecting quality of delivery of education identified by the Ministry of Education at the 24th Education & Training Congress, pertains to lagging problems with construction of university infrastructure. Everything from classrooms, dormitories, cafes, offices, laboratories and libraries suffers as construction is delayed or performed with below par quality specifications.

Tarekegn Deresu, Public Relations Coordination head at the Higher Education Relevance & Quality Agency said all higher learning institutions, public or non-governmental, are required to fulfil certain prerequisites to be accredited with teaching licences.

“A library that can accommodate 25pc of the total number of students at any given moment is one of the requirements,” he pointed out.

But having a library building is not going to do the trick, argued Abrham.

“Up to date and relevant books need to be available in the shelves of the libraries for students, which in most cases is not the reality at the moment. Other infrastructure, such as telecommunications need to be advanced in universities to take full advantage of e-library services.”

The problem of laboratories and lab technicians in some universities, particularly at Semera University, remains unresolved. A lecturer at the university, who chose to remain synonymous, claimed that the “university to this day lacks a functioning laboratory.” He added that construction work on the building was recently completed, though the university had been established more than seven years ago. Expensive equipment was covered in dust while students were forced to go to other facilities far away to access laboratories, he continued.

The Bio System Engineering student shared the concern regarding the shortage of laboratories, though he felt his department was one of the lucky ones with better access to a lab, compared to other departments.

Betselot, however, was happy to know that the language lab at Semera University is functioning properly, despite the laboratory for the hard sciences being stalled from providing service.

In light of the growing intake capacity and ever rising institutional capacity to provide education for large number of students, almost all experts Fortune talked to agreed that quality needs to improve at all levels with the culture of quality being promoted. Sleshi and Abraham also underscored the need for enhancement of a sense of national belongingness among all university staff to realise the educational objectives of the government.

As another queue at the NEAEA with parents and fresh students seeking placement replacements lengthened, quality of education for some weighed heavily on their decision to pursue such endeavours in addition to distance from home and weather conditions of universities.


Published on Sep 28,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 804]



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