"Higher Education in Ethiopia is rather blooming" an Open response from the Office of the Minister of Education
WIC Sep 14, 2000
First of all, the Ministry of Education thanks the citizens who have expressed their concern about the current status and future development direction of higher education in Ethiopia. Many of the issues raised by Helen G. on September 5 and by
Addis M on September 7, 2000 are of paramount significance. However, it is equally important to understand the real situation what the Government and the Higher Education Institutions are undertaking individually and collectively.
The major points raised by Helen revolve around governance and management of Higher Education Institutions and staff benefits.
As indicated in the 'open letter' the Ministry did not neglect or care little about the affairs of the HEd institutions. On the contrary, it is striving towards enhancing the capacity of the institutions to self-governance and effective management. There are
several joint meetings and tailored workshops with the leaders of HEd institutions each year-at the beginning of the academic year, in the semester break and at the end of the academic year, to address common problems, seek solutions and foster understandings.
Individuals put to administrative and managerial post in the new universities as well as existing institutions are nominated by the HEd institutions, relevant government institutions and/or individuals. These nominees are selected by the members of the Administrative boards of the institutions whose members include regional Bureau Heads, the Ministry of Education and Heads of the HEd institutions in the specific region. Of course we also believe that it is better to assign senior professionals to such posts whenever possible. However, it also requires commitment to work in these institutions and preparedness to bring change. Committed and devoted appointees do bring a change for the better if given the chance.
Though junior or less experienced, we see great commitment, purposefulness and enthusiasm to work for development in the individuals currently leading in the many HEd institutions, including the new universities. We have seen successful novice leaders in Dila, Jima, and ArbaMinch, to mention but few.
With respect to staff benefits, it is obvious that the salaries of HEd staff are not as much as expected. The Ministry believes that the academic staff should be rewarded with salary and benefit commensurate with their duties and responsibilities.
However, due to the prevailing situation we couldn't revise the salary scale. This was communicated to the leaders of HEd institutions during the several meeting we had with them. In addition to the salary improvement, we are striving towards addressing issues of housing, children's schools, working environment, and other benefits that would create enabling conditions for the staff in HEd institutions in the different regions of the country.
It is true that several staff members are leaving the HEd system due to many reasons, among which the salary scale is the major factor. But let us not also forget that the majority of the staff are still serving the Institutions. Not because they are satisfied with the salary and the meager benefits, but due to their strong commitment and desire to contribute to the nation, and bear with the larger community rather than comparing themselves with the few exceptions. As Helen put it "as long as one could eat a decent meal and could pay bills, survival at higher institutes is not difficult".
The writer also raised the issue of salary benefit for staff going abroad, which we assume is related either to misunderstanding or misinformation of the explanations by the Ministry. The Ministry was elaborating on the duration of the study and the condition of the incentive to be paid. The duration needed a limit, i.e., two years for masters and four years for doctorate studies, considering the budgetary and economic situation of Ethiopia. The salary payment was not restricted to only India, but was also given to trainees who are granted government scholarship that is processed through the National Scholarship Committee.
In any case, higher education in Ethiopia will not "collapse and problems become out of touch" as Helen, stipulated. Rather higher education in Ethiopia is blooming with the utmost support the government is giving and with the deep rooted commitment by the many members of the higher education community to bring change.
Issues raised by Addis M. are related to staff and facilities. the ministry has tried to state the situation with respect to staff salaries earlier. It is worth mentioning that the comparison that Addis M used is unrealistic, in that it tried to stipulate that salaries of academic staff in Ethiopia should be close to international or regional standards. What are these standards? For which economies and people are they applicable? Do we really know the economic and living conditions in our country when we try to compare the MBA international salary with that paid in Ethiopia, or even the salary paid by private/business and non-governmental organizations within Ethiopia with that of the public sector? Let us come down from our high horses of pride and illusion and see the real situation.
The government has allocated a large sum of money to staff development-sponsoring Ethiopians to train for masters and doctorate degrees to support the staff shortage of HEd institution. While sending staff for training the gap is being filled by expatriate staff, mainly by Indians. These Expatriates are serving the sector for a short period of time (the first phase of the project was five years ending 2000), and they are given some benefits. This is by no means a preferential treatment. Rather it is a way of attracting these teachers while we are developing our own capacity. It is good to know that even with these benefits and higher salary scales it has become very difficult to recruit the expatriates in some fields like Engineering (Electrical/Electronics, Mechanical, Textile, etc.), Health (medical and biomedical) sciences, Physics, etc.
With the strengthening and upgrading of the graduate programes at Addis Ababa University, we are trying to build local capacity mainly to develop high level academic staff for the different HEd institutions. As a result the graduate program, which never had any separate budget, is given recurrent and capital budget. With the capital budget it has seen its share of construction and procurement of furniture, equipment and books.
The ministry thoroughly understands the underlying fact that education and specifically higher education is the basis for the overall development of our country. This is the major reason that the people involved in the sector are striving hard to expand and develop higher education. It is not numbers that we are looking into, but also whether these institutions have the minimum infrastructure capacity.
The last five years the government had spent over 600 million Birr on capital investment in higher education. The investment was mainly on construction of libraries, workshops, cafeterias, dormitories, etc, and procurement of books, furniture and equipment. Although not sufficient, the facilities particularly in the new institutions are of high standards. With respect to Addis Ababa University the major investment is on strengthening the postgraduate programs. Areas such as engineering, business and economics, health and basic sciences, etc are given due emphasis.
Of course, Ethiopia's higher education is at a crossroads. It is required to change itself from the elitist approach to mass-quality higher education and to make its curriculum relevant by involving the stakeholders and aiming at meeting the socioeconomic needs of the country rather than focusing only on international similarities. It needs to become cost effective and efficient in its delivery system, become more business oriented and adjust its programs according to the ever-changing socio-economic conditions and market/demand.
Once again the ministry would like to express its appreciation to the persons who raised important points related to higher education in Ethiopia. We at the ministry welcome such initiatives as these will help to see the real situation of the system, provide information as to what is being done, analyze our problems and devise mechanisms of corrective measures, whenever necessary. We hope the debate and understanding that follows will contribute to public awareness and development of the sector to play its role in the socio-economic development of our country. We sincerely hope the debate will continue.