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    CommentaryPositive steps to establish a ministry for higher education

    Positive steps to establish a ministry for higher education

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    A semi-autonomous national research council needs to be established under the purview of the new ministry. The council will have a critical role in planning, leading and coordinating research and innovation in priority areas, to realize the envisioned knowledge driven industrial development. Besides serving as a catalyst between universities, industry and the government, the council will raise and distribute research and innovation funds from a central pool, writes Ayenachew Aseffa Woldegiyorgis.

    A proposal to split the Ministry of Education (MoE) in to two is under consideration, according to a report by The Ethiopian Herald. In the current arrangement all levels of education are under the purview of MoE organized into three major categories with a minister d’état for each: general education, technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and higher education.

    Owing to the continued expansion of the sector in the past two decades, the Ministry noted that it has become too big to effectively manage under one organ. There are currently 50 public universities, 1,500 TVET institutions and 40,000 primary and secondary schools across the country. According to the latest report of the Ministry, as of the 2016/17 academic year, the higher education student population has reached 860,378 in all institutions and in all programs. In addition to the higher education institutions, three federal institutions are also under the purview of the minister d’état for higher education. These are: the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA), which is the national quality watchdog, the Educational Research Network Data Center, and the Education Strategy Centre (formerly known as the Higher Education Strategy Centre), which is responsible for conducting research and making policy recommendations in the areas of strategic importance.

    Evidently, the current volume of operation, the anticipated expansion in the coming years, and the imperatives of reform in order to ensure quality, warrant the establishment of a ministry exclusively responsible for higher education. In doing so, however, some important considerations deserve a particular attention.

    Subsuming all higher education and scientific research activities under the new ministry – all federal universities including the two universities of science and technology (which are currently under the purview of Ministry of Science and Technology) should come under the new ministry to ensure better coordination driven by national priorities. This does not include the specialized institutions such as Civil Service University and the Defense University College. This enables better coordination between and across different institutions.

    In addition, a semi-autonomous national research council needs to be established under the purview of the new ministry. The council will have a critical role in planning, leading and coordinating research and innovation in priority areas, to realize the envisioned knowledge driven industrial development. Besides serving as a catalyst between universities, industry and the government, the council will raise and distribute research and innovation funds from a central pool. Doing so, funding instruments can be used to strategically steer researches towards national goals of development as well as capacity building. For instance, certain amount of funding can be earmarked for research that involves collaboration between senior and junior researchers, between different disciplines/departments, between universities from different generations, between universities and industry, between local and diaspora researchers, etc., as it can also be used to encourage female researchers, or those who secure partial funds from external sources.

    Recreating research center for policy and strategy – the fast growing Ethiopian higher education is also challenged by multitude of problems. Achieving high quality education that can meaningfully contribute through research and manpower training needs knowledge based policy directions and carefully studied strategies. This requires restructuring the Education Strategy Center with exclusive mandates for research and development in higher education. The center should also be organized autonomously and staffed with capable leadership and experts.   

    Creating structures for diaspora engagement – Ethiopia has a considerable wealth in its intellectual diaspora. In the US for instance, not only that the Ethiopian diaspora stands out for its educational achievement compared to the general US population, it also constitutes a significant number of highly educated academicians, researchers and professionals.

    In the meantime, while Ethiopia has made substantial strides in engaging its diaspora in the areas of economic and political participation, the effort in higher education system is not commensurate. Currently, diaspora engagement is fragmented and often initiated through informal channels. Such an approach caters only for those who have strongest of conviction and the means to informally reach out to particular institutions. As such the current practice is inefficient and unsustainable.

    There is a strong need to bring this into a formal structure at the highest level, with in the ministry of higher education, which shall cascade down to the various departments within the ministry and to the individual higher education institutions. The structure should emphasize on tapping the potential in the diaspora, particularly in areas of science and technology, where there is a chronic shortage of expertise locally. It should also organize mechanisms to work with various civic and professional associations in the diaspora that can contribute to the development of higher education in all dimensions of teaching, research and community services.

    To be sure, these are by no means all the important issues that require special attention. Other areas that deserve similar attention include: reorganizing the cost sharing system to increase recovery of loan and reinvest in improving the sector, establishing/strengthening communications system and the regular publication of data – particularly through better use of ICT, enhancing its working relationships with the private sector, and the like.

    Ed.’s Note: Aseffa Woldegiyorgis is a doctoral student of higher education at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. He holds a master’s degree in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE), another master’s in Public Administration (MPA) and a BA degree in Business Management. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

    Contributed by Ayenachew Aseffa Woldegiyorgis

     

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