Rich Education Sector’s Poor Output

Last month, it was reported that the Federal Auditor General found a 64 million Br audit gap in Meqelle University’s financial statement for the 2015/16 fiscal year. It was said that the university had given salaries that were too high, mismanaged properties and funds and had unaccounted for expenses.

The University’s management team defended themselves on the various points raised to the best of their ability, noting the need for a decentralised means of procurement that has led to the transactions that the committee could not account for. They made many good arguments, but their points are negated by the fact that there are too many examples of mismanagement in our public universities.

Just in the past fiscal year, the Auditor General likewise reported that of the 20 billion Br worth of audit gap that was recorded in public institutions, 3.7 billion Br is from 10 public universities including Addis Abeba University (AAU).

Management is a significant issue that haunts public universities, which is all the more unfortunate when it reaches the education process.

It is unfortunate, for the government has been adamant in sticking to its pro-poor policies. Education has been one of the focuses for the authorities to scale up development, pouring money into the construction of schools and universities. In this year’s budget, education has received 43 billion Br from the federal government.

Some of this has gone into higher-learning institutions, most of them state-run, which are currently hosting over half a million students. With emphasis given to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the government has tried to see a skilled human power come and participate in the nation’s structural economic transformation – one that would catapult it into industrialisation.

The result has been less than satisfactory. Taking note of this, the authorities have tried to move pieces around to address some of the complications. Such efforts have ranged from teacher training to the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) introduction of an exit exam at universities. The latter should serve as an indication that the authorities are sceptical that students coming out of universities are still equipped with the necessary tools to join the workforce.

What ails universities the most is the lack of flexibility. It should be noted that the management of higher-learning institutions has to abide by curricula’s prescribed for them by the Ministry. If it is not that, then they also do not have much choice in selecting the sort of students they desire.

Instead of bringing this flexibility, the authorities have prefered to throw large doses of money into the sector in the expectation that they would somehow make them work. But higher learning institutions grapple with the sort of financial regulations that the Meqelle and Addis Abeba universities are facing.

This is not to mention that student admissions are shrouded with nepotism or that, despite the large amounts of money afforded to the universities, hands-on skills development remains middling. Teachers are likewise unpunctual and often have other jobs that lead them to miss classes.

It is the practices and policies ascribed to higher learning institutions that have to change. The government should start by throwing out its quota of assigning students to studies. This hurts the appetite of students that want to learn and thrive. When students are allowed to study subjects of their choice, no matter the government’s dream for industrialisation, they would be more likely not to cut classes or drop out.

Ensuring that politics does not figure into the nomination of leadership at universities is another crucial factor. Meritocracy should be the only determinant when it comes to the choice of university presidents, management staff or teachers.

Some of the common problems seen in the public higher education system, such as academic corruption, student-classroom disproportion, questionable quality of teaching staff, long breaks between classes, improper allocation of departments for students, and non-demand-driven curriculum changes are as evident in private institutions.

Teaching materials and facilities are poor and academic corruption is widespread. Academic dishonesty is perhaps one of the major problems here. It can be cheating on exams, improper grading, inefficient means of measuring students’ know-how, inadequate credit hours for courses and tardiness.

There are ways of addressing this though. It can be a robust assessment by the authorities of the teaching process and facilities, and development of teaching staff.

Ethiopia is trying to reach the heights of development, but a subsistent challenge has been the immense shortfall when it comes to the availability of skilled human power. Without it, citizens would be condemned to low paying jobs and, the nation to an uncompetitive economy.

While it is admirable that the government has put great focus on education and drawn out detailed strategies for developing it, such as an ongoing five-year development plan, the infatuation with quantity needs to end. The authorities must see to it that the budgets they allocate are responsibly utilised, with the ultimate goal being a better education. In the instant that it is not, such shortfall must be held accountable.

By Belay Abera
Belay Abera is a public health professional and researcher. He could be reached at

Published on May 05,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 940]



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