Guest blogger: From Massification to Quality Assurance in Ethiopia

Ayenachew Aseffa Woldegiyorgis

Ayenachew Aseffa Woldegiyorgis

In this guest entry, Ayenachew Aseffa Woldegiyorgis examines recent change of focus in Ethiopian higher education, where after decades of focusing on expansion, concerns of quality have become high on the agenda.

Ayenachew has studied Management and Masters of Public Administration (MPA). For over eight years he has taught at Unity University and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Currently he is a student of Masters in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE) at Danube University (Austria), University of Tampere (Finland), Beijing Normal University (China) and University of Osnabruck (Germany). 

The past fifteen years are marked by a massive expansion in the Ethiopian higher education (HE). The number of public universities increased from just two by the end of 1990s to 32 in 2013. Total enrollment has increased from 42,132 in 1996/97 to 319,217 in 2010/11 and it is targeted to reach 467,445 by 2014/15 (MOE, 2005; 2010a). Yet, as much as it is hailed for its success in the massification, the government has been equally criticized for immensely neglecting quality. Recently the government has admitted to this  problem and declared that it has redirected its attention from expansion to quality assurance.

Ethiopia’s quality endeavor is now faced with a complicated set of challenges and requires a well thought out, comprehensive strategy and strong commitment. On one hand, the issue of quality has been long neglected implying that the problem has accrued over the years and the reform effort has to begin from almost zero. On the other hand, the very nature of quality assurance in HE is complex and demands multidimensional and concurrent attention on the various determinants. The overall strategy for quality should focus on (but not be limited to) the following major and interdependent challenges, each one of which can be further analyzed in greater detail. 

Availability and distribution of qualified academics

There is a chronic shortage of qualified teaching personnel in the labor market. As a solution, besides hiring expatriates, the government has recently launched central hiring where by large number of fresh graduates are recruited every year and assigned to different universities. While this seems to be solving the supply problem, it is a huge compromise on quality. Cumulative grade and political commitment are the two most important factors considered in hiring. No rigorous assessment, not even a proper interview, is made to determine the interest and capacity of the candidates to the job. In fact, many new recruits take the teaching job as way of escaping unemployment and/or harnessing opportunities for graduate studies. The recruits are first given weeks of training, rather orientation, on the political ideology and policy directions of the ruling party. Then, the Higher Diploma Program (HDP) is provided to train them with pedagogic skills. Yet HDP is neither provided before the new recruits begin teaching nor it is consistently done.

In terms of composition, the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) recommends a qualification profile for university academic staff of less than 20% first degree holders, about 50% Masters Degree holders, and about 30% terminal degree (PhD) holders. In practice, studies show that as of 2010 only 8% of the academic staff had PhD and more than half (in some studies 70%) are undergraduate degree holders. Besides, Addis Ababa University alone accounted for about half of the PhDs compared to the other 21 universities which have 95.2% of the undergraduate degree holders (c.f. Areaya, 2010).

Dissatisfied and unmotivated staff

The academic profession is immersed in a lot of problems resulting in low satisfaction and absence of motivation among the professoriate. Low remuneration is top of the list.  A person in the private or nongovernmental sector can earn more of that earned by an academic of the same educational background and years of experience. The ever increasing inflation has made it impossible for academics to live on their salaries. The options considered viable are either to burden themselves with more than one job or to leave the academic career. The working conditions, particularly in the emerging universities, is characterized by poor infrastructure, low (or no) internet connection, lack of teaching aids in the classroom, large class size, inadequacy of laboratories and equipments, poorly equipped and often crowded offices and lack of personal working computers (laptops). In addition to this, the working load of the academics has significantly increased as the growth in the number of students is not matched with that of the teaching staff. The student-to-instructor ratio has increased from 13.7 in 2002/2003 to 28.0 in 2008/2009 signifying that the instructors’ workload had doubled within six years (MOE, 2010b).

These issues, coupled with structural and policy problems along with low participation in institutional matters, fragility of academic freedom, job insecurity, unattractiveness of career path, excessive focus on teaching duties than research and service, add up to the dissatisfaction of the academics. University teaching is among those jobs hit hard by both internal and external brain drain.

‘Quality’ of the quality agency

HERQA was highly focused on auditing and taking corrective measures on private institutions while there is no evidence that the public universities are any better than their private counterparts. As of 2008/09 the number of public universities audited for quality was only 20%.  The agency itself is critically limited in its capacity. Lack of autonomy, shortage of skilled manpower, lack of institutional experience and operational inefficiency are among its major problems. Besides the universities do not have a well established internal quality assurance and self evaluation system.

Institutional Autonomy

Regardless of what the higher education proclamation says, public universities are still under direct and strong influence of the government. They are not autonomous enough to make decisions of their own with regard to financing, staffing, appointment of officeholders, or even setting their own mission and vision. The internal management of the universities is filled with tension in what Ashcroft described as “control versus autonomy, modernization versus ‘government knows best’, democracy versus the need to control dissident voices” resulting in a dilemma for managers having to address both overt and covert agendas. The lack of mutual trust between the government and university officials has rendered the latter unable to decide without the fear of their decision being overruled. The university board, the highest decision making body according to the 2009 proclamation, is directly and indirectly appointed by the government. The involvement of stakeholders other than the government is largely limited.

In Conclusion

The transition from massification to quality assurance needs a comprehensive strategy, which, both in policy and practice, sufficiently addresses all the relevant issues, and sufficiently engages all stakeholders. While the government remains having an irreplaceable role, it has to be noted that quality assurance, unlike massification, cannot be achieved by the single (no matter how) strong arm of the government.


  • Areaya, S. (2010). ‘Tension Between Massification and Intensification Reforms and Implications for Teaching and Learning in Ethiopian Public Universities’, Journal of Higher Education in Africa, Vol.8, No. 2, pp. 93-115
  • Ethiopian Ministry of Education (2005). Education Sector Development Program III, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education
  • Ethiopian Ministry of Education (2010a). Education Sector Development Program IV, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education
  • Ethiopian Ministry of Education (2010b). Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2008/9, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education



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