Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning

Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning

Eyualem Abebe (PhD)

Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, The University of Edinburgh ,

Ashworth Laboratories, King's Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT

Scotland, UK

†††† Email: or

†††† The writer was an assistant professor at Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia.

First and foremost I would like to express my appreciation to those especially who started this discussion forum and to those who brought the issue of Brain drain (migration of intellectuals) to the forefront of the discussion, as it is the currently singularly most damaging insurmountable problem of not only Addis Ababa University (AAU) but also of almost all Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning (EHIL). Experience shows that only very few EHIL have managed to minimise the migration of their academic staff to an insignificantly low level, and even these institutions are by no means immune to the problems of staff shortage faced by AAU.


Before I indulge into the main issue of migration of intellectuals, I would like to clarify on what AAU has come to represent within the last four years and what it used to be before that. AAU before 1996 used to include many EHIL situated out of Addis Ababa, and these were referred to as 'satellite' or 'peripheral' colleges. Awasa Agricultural College, Gondar Medical College, Bahir Dar Teachers College and others were once satellite colleges, and graduates from these colleges have indeed received diplomas with the emblems of AAU on it. Th reason why we are raising the issue of migration is mainly because we all want to solve some of the problems our country is facing.

Generally our concern and contribution, most often, is closely related to our former attachments and contact be it at the personal or institutional level (and in this particular case being an alumni of the home institution). Alumni of the satellite colleges of AAU prior to 1996 may also want to contribute as those of us who graduated from the main campuses (Addis Ababa) of AAU want to do, but the exclusion from AAU would be a major hindrance for them, as the majority of graduates in Ethiopia are from main campuses of AAU; one can not underestimate the effect of sheer number on impact.


Moreover history shows us that one of the major sources of the problems faced by development of Ethiopia as envisaged by the former king was his perception and too much emphasis on developing a central-'light'-of-knowledge from which all the rest of Ethiopia would absorb from through gradual diffusion (Please see 'The Ethiopians" - by Professor Edward Ullendorff). The results, as we know, were on the contrary, rural Ethiopians started flocking to the capital believing that 'the asphalt in Addis Ababa was made of gold'. There is no need to repeat that mistake, (in an exaggeration) we could be the first to learn from history. Resources, in many instances, may limit the scope of action, but I would take it a reserve force and alternative if we also discuss about plan and help concerning other EHIL. I have taught at Bahir Dar Teachers College (BDTC) for as long as I have worked in Ethiopia. In these 15 years there has been a high tendency to move to the main part of AAU situated in the capital. The current staff composition of the departments of Geography, English, Mathematics, Chemistry and others of AAU are witnesses to this fact. This shows that peripheral EHIL are staff reserves for AAU, as most are poorly equipped and badly managed to hold their staff for long. Raising this issue at this late time, I understand, may have disadvantages in that it may take us back to a wider discussion as to some of the already agreed upon issues and associations this forum has created, but the advantages may outweigh this fact for the following reasons. Firstly it may help us embrace those who want to contribute and may have been unintentionally excluded by the restriction of the discussion to AAU sensu stricto. Secondly the benefits that may result from future discussions concerning the fate of those forgotten EHIL will undoubtedly be gratifying in that they are institutions no one (including the ministry of Education) cares about. It is the duty of Ethiopians in Diaspora that have more exposure in terms of higher institutions to show the importance these institutions by raising issues pertaining to them. All Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning are decaying or are being destroyed at alarming rate, but the way the destruction is happening in the periphery is indescribable and we should heed to the out cry and hear the untold stories of these EHIL secondarily if not at equal terms with the giant AAU.


Therefore the following discussion is not restricted to AAU sensu-stricto, i.e. the post-1996 AAU, but AAU sensu-lato, as it used to be before 1996. In fact I will try to emphasise on all EHIL in Ethiopia instead of only on AAU. Please allow me to indulge into a more general issue first.


  1. Preamble


The role of education in the initiation for betterment of the quality of life, recognition of drawbacks and hindrances in the actual process of development and in the formulation of possible remedies can not be overemphasised. Among educational centres, higher institutions of learning are seen by the society as role models of innovation and change at large and are expected to play the critical role in promoting sustainable economic, social and cultural development (UNESCO, 1998). Seen within the light of this critical role they are endowed, higher institutions of learning carry a lionsí share of the load of responsibilities. Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness that these institutions are far from achieving their intended goals. At most they are said to be in crisis (Scott, 1984), entangled in a net of constraining problems including financial, standard maintenance, relevance, equity and others (World Bank, 1986; UNESCO, 1998). Because of the high cost incurred in running these learning institutions, such a failure especially in developing countries where the pay off from these institutions is expected to be substantially higher (Psacharopoulos & Hinchliffe, 1973), is too expensive to afford. As a result possible reasons for their failure need to be critically assessed to be able to improve their current situation.


  1. Brain Drain


"Brain drain" (as has also been presented by other writes for the newsletter) is the term that, most often, denotes migration of the highly trained manpower from developing countries often to developed countries. Awareness to the problem of Brain Drain and extensive research on its reasons, economic implications and possible solutions has taken place mainly in the early seventies (Psacharopoulos & Hinchliffe,1973; Bhagwati, 1976; Krugman & Bhagwati,1976).


Scott (1970), cited in Krugman & Bhagwati (1976), grouped potential reasons for skilled migration into four categories. These are income differentials, professional opportunities, living conditions, and working conditions. Whatever the cause of movement of the most trained manpower from developing countries, IT IS UNDESIRABLE for the countries of origin in that it has negative economic impact and internal diffusion is inhibited at the outset seen from the point of view of education (Bhagwati, 1976).


Free movement of labour force is closely related to the more recent phenomenon of globalisation, thus the recent neglect of the issue of Brain Drain by researchers. Axford (1995) and Kaul (1996) have lightly discussed the migration of workforce in relation to globalisation. The former, citing Handy (1994), argues that "...intelligence is the new form of property and the basis for wealth creation", seemingly giving more emphasis to what developing countries lose when their trained man power migrates. The latter, however, argues that migration could have beneficial effects on both the sending and receiving countries by indicating the contribution of workersŪ remittances to the economy. Nonetheless, understanding the magnitude of the problem, UNESCO (1998) has stressed on the need for further study to understand the causes and effects of Brain Drain, and to create the conditions for the smooth return of professionals to their home countries.


An aspect of migration that was given relatively less attention and on which only limited research has been done is migration to other developing countries within the same continent, and within regions of the same country. This latter type of migration which is also referred to as job turnover, is studied more recently relatively more than the others. In a study of professors and lecturers of a Norwegian university, Manger & Eikeland (1990) concluded that the considered professionals were triggered to leave their university mainly due to non-conducive collegial relationships. Economic gain such as salary had no effect on the mobility of the staff. Nevertheless it would be naÔve to expect the same in developing countries.

  1. Staff Development


The writer believes that one of the humongous obstacles to Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning (EHIL) is lack of vision in staff development and complete absence of attempt to harmonise staff needs with the institution's and country's needs. "Staff development" has been interpreted and understood in various ways. A definition most accepted by researchers in the field is " a systematic attempt to harmonise individualsŪ interests and wishes, and their carefully assessed requirements for furthering their careers with the forthcoming requirements of the organisation within which they are expected to work" (Warren-Piper and Glatter, 1977). ACFHE/APC (1973) had suggested that development of the staff is not only about the individual but also the organisation he/she is expected to work, and staff development is the means to avoid the conflict of interest between higher institutions as an organisation and their staff. Without staff development progress is limited in any organisation. It is a process that serves a guard against stagnation and missing out on new fields and opportunities (Rizk, 1992).

UNESCO in its conference on higher education (1998) has underlined the importance of setting a vigorous policy of staff development to the well being and healthy functioning of higher learning institutions to live up to the expectations of their respective societies. According to the declaration by UNESCO, "adequate provision should be made for research and for updating and improving pedagogical skills, through appropriate staff development programmes, encouraging constant innovation in curriculum, teaching and learning methods, and ensuring appropriate professional and financial status, and for excellence in research and teaching..." and "experience outside the institutions ought to be considered as a relevant qualification for higher educational staff". To this effect, "states, including their governments, parliaments and other decision makers, should establish clear policies concerning higher education teachers".

  1. Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning;


4.1.  General :

At the moment all eighteen accredited Ethiopian higher institutions of learning are public, i.e. they are funded by the central government, their programs as well are mainly designed and controlled by the government. In addition, there are few regional colleges that are financed, guided and controlled by the respective regional states. These colleges differ from the eighteen in that their goals, student screening and other administrative aspects are region-specific. A more recent phenomenon in various parts of the country is the tendency to establish private colleges, although all except one are not accredited hitherto. Therefore the following discussion concerns only the national and public ones.


The eighteen Ethiopian higher learning institutions can be grouped in to three main categories: These are 1) Addis Ababa University with its various faculties, schools, institutes and a college, 2) Alemaya University of Agriculture with its faculties and schools, and 3) The remaining twelve colleges, three institutes, and one school, which the government has decided, and is currently organising them to a number of regional universities. Consequently, recently the programs and some of these peripheral colleges including Alemaya University of Agriculture have been redesigned and expanded according to government plan.


With respect to autonomy, all institutions are closely regulated (and controlled) by the Ministry of Education, i.e. the government body in charge of all educational affairs, including accreditation, in the country.


4.2.  EHIL's Goal:


Ethiopian higher institutions of learning are established with the general expectations that are common to all African universities, i.e. they are to address the problems of poverty, social disorganisation, low production, unemployment, hunger, literacy, disease that is the problems of underdevelopment (Mosha, 1986) and with the specific objectives; to train and produce qualified manpower required for economic and social development, conduct research and disseminate results, and provide community services.

No doubt Ethiopian higher learning institutions also share the immense contributions made to society by other African Universities: "producing manpower that currently fills many strategic positions in government, industry, the public, and private sectors; integrate different sexes, social and economic, tribal and religious backgrounds, and develop research and consultancy skills". However, seen within the light of the current serious socio-economic problems of the country, the notion that Ethiopian higher institutions of learning have succeeded in achieving their ultimate goals and in fulfilling social expectations is difficult to accept. We can not overlook the fact that their weakness, undoubtedly, is a monumental witness to the failure of a generation.

4.3 Staff and their academic qualification in EHIL


Looking at the staff composition, currently except for Wondo-Genet College of Forestry, Jimma College of Agriculture, Ambo College of Agriculture and Kottebe College of Teachers Education, all the remaining fourteen institutions are supported by expatriate staff. Among these fourteen, those with high proportion of expatriate staff (about 15 %) are Bahir Dar Polytechnic Institute, Arbaminch Water Technology, Dilla College of Teachers Education and Health Sciences, and Nazareth Technical College. The remaining ten colleges have expatriate staff ranging from one to 12 per cent with a mean of five per cent.›†† Stressing on the profile of qualification, only Addis Ababa University has a third of its staff trained to a PhD level. Jimma Institute of Health Sciences (22.3 %), Alemaya University of Agriculture (21.2 %), and Awassa College of Agriculture (18.5 %) follow it. The remaining 14 institutions have an average of seven per cent of their staff trained to a PhD level. Institutions whose staff is particularly high in the number of first degree holders are Mekelle Business College (75.7 %), Nazareth Technical College (55.1 %), and Addis Ababa Commercial College (50.6 %).


4.3.  Constraints in EHIL:


Higher institutions of learning all over the world are facing problems and hindrances of one type or another. Likewise, African universities are hindered from realising their intended goals by the serious problems they are facing. The general scenario in which these institutions are trying to function in the different African countries is more or less the same. The main problems are shortage of human, financial and material resources; inept managerial and administrative machinery; political turbulence and blind ideological commitments, and lack of direction (Mosha, 1986).›†† Ethiopian institutions of higher learning are not only non-immune to the "plague" that has crippled other African universities, but also they are chronically debilitated until they have currently become functionally inactive, and in some cases "dead", in their attempt (not as high as to improve or achieve excellence in their various programs but) to maintain a fair standard of teaching-learning process and research atmosphere.

All funding of the Ethiopian higher institutions of learning comes from the central government through the Ministry of Education. Financial problems, therefore, need to be recognised and addressed by the proper authorities. The solutions to these problems in any case are within the scope and capacities of the Ministry of Education and the writer believes that it only takes the will that MOE that currently lacks.


What at the moment could be out of the control limit of the Ministry of Education is the human resource. Quality professors, highly trained and experienced researchers and consultants have been leaving their positions in higher learning institutions. Also, staff members of peripheral colleges do show a tendency to move to those situated closer to the centre. Furthermore a significant proportion of the staff in most institutions has been targeting positions out of the country. This kind of migration from peripheral colleges to the centre and finally out of the country has not only made many positions vacant but also currently irreplaceable. The measures taken to alleviate the shortage of staff seems to be inadequate to solve the problem as such. This is mainly because those that move out of the country are the ones that can compete in the international market and succeed in securing positions. Consequently, as Mosha (1986) commented "a number of universities are left with newly graduated staff who lack experience, or old and bogus professors whose marketability elsewhere is low". The impact of such a staff on the quality of education need not be over-emphasised.

The seriousness of the problem of staff migration in Ethiopian institutions of higher learning can be exemplified by taking a college familiar to me, i. e. Bahir Dar Teachers College (BDTC). BDTC is one of the peripheral colleges that has made an immense contribution by training junior and senior secondary school teachers for the whole country. The college has, however, been facing several problems among which, according to the writer, migration of experienced staff is the most serious. A preliminary assessment in the college has revealed that in a time space of 15 years the entire staff has been replaced by new ones. Had the qualification and experience of those staff who left the college and those replacing them been the same, there would have never been any problem, but actually the experienced and well-trained staff have been replaced, in all cases, by much younger and inexperienced staff. This has hindered development in the college with respect to the teaching-learning process and research activities. Experienced staff would be able to play an important role in guiding the younger and inexperienced staff in research and could have led the way in establishing centres of excellence. This did not happen in BDTC for the above-mentioned reason. To my knowledge the problem of staff migration is not unique to BDTC. It has been debilitating almost all peripheral colleges in the country, especially Alemaya University of Agriculture to the point of collapse, and is a serious problem even to the well established Addis Ababa University. (I will come back to the reasons later).


  1. The issue of expectation versus pay-back: A personal opinion:


The two hitherto presented articles in newsletter (I apologise if I have missed others that might had appeared before I joined the forum) seem to have the tendency to attempt to redirect or solve the problems of Brain Drain very well but without addressing some basic issues. Addressing the basic issues, I believe, will bring a common understanding among discussants and will give us a common ground and perspective to view things that are now happening in our country, if we Ethiopian intellectuals in Diaspora are to make a significant positive contribution to the EHIL. This does not mean I disagree with what has been indicated in those three articles, on the contrary: with due respect the views expressed are positive, constructive and may only need to be refined in view of a common good.


There were also some serious views generated through comparison. We, in no way, are in a position to compare the loss of our intellectuals with countries such as India or South Africa. Our situation, understandably, is quite different in its extent. Recently my eyes were caught by the following. The writer was talking about Iraq's situation. "÷the living standards of a once-developed country (Iraq) have been reduced to the level of Ethiopia." (The voteless victims. The Guardian - United Kingdom; May 30, 2001, by SEUMAS MILNE). We, the poorest of the poor in the 21ts century with all the records of the end products of ignorance and poverty (including death from Malaria, AIDS, hunger, malnutrition, fistula, car accident and others) and with probably only one full fledged professor out of the capital, it would be meaningless to compare our position with other countries.


Comparing ours with that of other country's problems only reminds me the case of the crying two children: one because of his mother's death, the other because his mother went to fetch water. So please let us remain focused on the Ethiopian issue and do not let what happens elsewhere distract us. We are below the bare minimum and the ultimate reference of poverty on the planet and we should get that into our heads once and for all.


I personally believe that we need to address basic issues thoroughly, if we are to develop the commitment needed to arrive at a set of goals in our future endeavour to contribute to the betterment of university education in Ethiopia. It will also help us sieve ourselves to the better, and will unite those who strongly believe that it is our responsibility to help EHIL. Organisations/associations that are started with non-committed members as majority may not stand the test of time and hardship. As a result this association/working group would only benefit from having more dialogue. I would like to clearly state that I am not so patriotic as I used to be. I once had returned from a foreign land to contribute in my capacity to EHIL while I had all the opportunity to work and live abroad. But I have very little positive to tell you about my experience of those few years in Ethiopia. In spite of this, I strongly believe, we all have to try our best to help. My reasons -I will try to clarify below.

The history of education shows us that education assisted, through initiation, the social recognition of the individual as capable and responsible members of communities for all kinds of social activities. It was never meant to solely improve the individuals' stature just for the sake of it. Nevertheless the well being of the individual was always sought after, as the individual was, and still is, the ultimate fabric of the entire society. At present education is a basic human right. The UN declaration of human rights states "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory÷. and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.".

In our country education is free (including university education) to those of us who have access to all levels (though there are recent tendencies to introduce a fee-paying system). But we need to ask the questions "How much of the nation's income has gone to higher education at the expense of education at the base, i. e. the elementary and high school?". Seen within the fact that the highest expense in education per individual is always at the university level, each of us who had the chance to join a higher institution of learning (HIL) in Ethiopia, therefore, must have used a few other citizens' chance to go to school at a lower level. This is not only true to our country but is also true to other developing countries for obvious reasons of financial constraints and resource limitations.

Also the relatively recent introduction of modern education coupled with its initially restricted extent limited the accumulation of intellectual wealth in the country. As a result there is a chronic shortage of qualified professionals in every field all over the country, though it is more in the periphery. Due to the low number of professionals, the loss of one professional can be significant and devastating in our country than anywhere else. Unlike ours, most developed countries have created the necessary preconditions to enable individuals to fully cover or subsidise their studies at higher institution of learning. In other cases the country's investment on the individual's education compared to their accumulated wealth has become insignificantly low, and the education of one citizen at the expense of the other never happens. The accumulated intellectual wealth also renders the social expectation from individuals minimal or almost non-existent.

Ethiopia's social expectation from the educated has not changed much over the last fifty years and can be summarised by a statement I took from Dr. Mesay Kebede's letter to Addis Tribune (The rise of Ethiopian nihilism and the plight of AAU, 15-09-2000 issue). "÷it clearly defined modern education as an assignment, a mission given to the few to return with the secrete machine. ÷ It was rather a mission to salvage by empowering the Ethiopian legacy with the knowledge of machine.". ("It" in the first sentence refer to the popular support in the form of 'illilta').

Did we manage to deliver what was expected of us by our society? What happened in between now and then? Did we make life better for the farmer and the city dweller in those fifty or so years? I feel it is time to ask what our share was in all what happened and what our mistakes and problems are which need to be rectified for the future. There is a tendency to blame the former military regime for what happened in Ethiopia, but it may not help to hang on forever at blaming the 17-year military junta for everything that failed in that country. Instead we should also learn to accept responsibility as a major component and driving force of the system. Failure to do that would only be self-illusion, and that we have had enough. We did so much wrong through the participation of some of us in the most destructive activities governments executed in that country, our present outcry, for the uneducated Ethiopian, is "jiraf erasu gerifo erasu yichohal". I am not only talking of the past, this is still going on and our discussion and strong stand against such individuals/activities should go one step further than what we did and are doing. Only such action may deter future participation of the elite in deliberate destructive activities of governments.


Our delivery to the Ethiopian uneducated, therefore, was the wrong package. On whichever side we stand we all are categorised under the name "Ethiopian educated elite". It is my belief that we, the very people who facilitated the destruction of entire social structure, need to help correct the situation. It is obvious that either we were not courageous enough to face the problems or we had accessible opportunity to be able to work and live abroad. Whichever the case, this apparent freedom and independence compared to those who are within the crippling factors of the country give us the relative ability to help. Consequently it is our moral responsibility to extend our vision and hands to the very institutions that some how managed to produce us but terribly failed as institutions to deliver what they were meant to.

Once we agree on the responsibility bestowed on us, we may need to talk of is, what is needed to be done and what can we deliver within a reasonable time frame. An open discussion on this issue would be helpful.†† For a moment I will detour and comment on some of the raised practical ways of reversing Brain Drain. The UN in the seventies has tried a number of attempts to reverse the situation, but none of the experiments worked due to the complexity and variation of the problem from country to country. As time went by the concern in the issue declined. More recently migration has become an issue in association with the deterioration of life standards in sub-Saharan Africa. The UN started to implement the repatriation of professionals to many southern countries but with special emphasis to Africa. Ethiopia became part of the project in the mid-90s. A few hundred returnees went back, most being from former east block countries. The government welcomed the return of the professionals initially, but as the IOM started discussions seriously the government made agreements almost unworkable. Although a number of the returnee still are within the country, some have left the country within a few years. Why did these people return to their countries from their settled life? And why did they leave their country before they started life there?. These are critical questions to be answered if future attempts are to be successful. (Please refer to Couple's Gift Turns to Sacrifice: Family Frets, Waits in U.S. as Ethiopian Academic Is Jailed Abroad, by Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post, May 31, 2001).


Furthermore this will direct us to focus on the main reasons of migration from Ethiopian Higher Institutions of Learning. Each of us should ask why we moved out? Until now I am not aware of a research done on the migration of staff from EHIL - (I believe) we need to base our action on facts and not on hearsay and that should be the first step e should take as planners. I would like to share what my experience in this regard. A simple survey of reasons at the former BDTC revealed that the main root cause of migration to be mismanagement and poor governance. Nevertheless it is these very people who, according to the research, are reasons for migration of experienced staff that currently administer the university. Though the result incriminated them, the result of the survey was, nevertheless, communicated to the officials. This actually made things so worse that six out of the nine PhD holders in the faculty left within a time span of eight months. If the situation is similar in AAU (which I believe is), where do we start? I guess it would be an issue to discuss in the forum, if we do not consider these facts ahead, our future attempts may be 'pushing a brick wall'. However gloomy the picture looks, we should try to be optimistic. There is no choice. As Helen Keller said "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.". It is "To look up and not down, To look forward and not back, To look out and not in, and To lend a hand." (Edward Everett Hale).



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