Planning for a differentiated higher education system

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The Ethiopian higher education landscape is in a critical need for distinction and an ideal opportunity has emerged with the establishment of the Education Development Roadmap (2018-30), which acknowledges the benefiting of driving quality and competitiveness with reference to programme offerings, functional focus, institutional status and student composition, combined with the nation’s fifth Education Sector Development Programme or ESDP V (2015/16-2019/20). However, strategies are essential as to how this can be realised.

Despite of the two decades of change and transformation, the higher education framework in Ethiopia still comply with similar patterns and trends. There is limited differentiation among public universities in their missions, visions, governance structure, student admission policies, core activities and the disciplinary mix which characterises their programme. The resemblance also include research engagement and output.

The residential framework remains the prevalent design across the public sector. Further, regardless of their differences in resources and capacities, public and private universities are required to deliver the fundamental undertakings of teaching, research and community services.

The primary justification for this similar scope is due to the fact that the development of the Ethiopian HE system over the last two decades is not supported by the features of an individuated system, even with early calls for such a system.

However, the present advancements both at national and institutional levels demonstrates the sector’s keenness to take on board a new frontier of a more distinguished HE system. Among the most distinctive remarks of this readiness are the strategies integrated in the nation’s fifth ESDP V and the recently established Education Development Roadmap.

Ethiopia’s new Education Roadmap has acknowledged the values and need for a distinguished HE system. Further to recognising the perks of  advocating institutional quality and competitiveness, the roadmap illustrates the need for planning multiple directions of “differentiation” based on programme offerings, functional focus, institutional status, student composition etc without implementing regulations on the paths to be sought after. This policy can be deemed as a critical initial move towards nationwide planning and institutional actions.

However, no distinctive strategy or system is implemented to regulate such a system. The new Education Roadmap fails to demonstrate what course the differentiation should take, how and when. Given the demand for such a system, the next move should place emphasis on detailed planning by looking into both international and local experiences that can result in effective lectures.

Several practical proposals have been made since before the early 2000s, towards the development of a unique system in Ethiopia. At present, Ethiopia desires to become a middle income country by 2025 and hopes to leverage on higher education to reduce poverty and develop its economy. The shift in its agriculture-led economy to an industrial one is therefore dependent on the existence of an educated workforce that can contribute predominantly in technology transfer and knowledge creation.

All in all, a differentiated HE system should be undertaken to meet the overall national vision of improving local development and initiating an internationally competitive labour force that supports in the present shift towards the development of a knowledge society.

The corresponding growth and experiences attained over the last two decades illustrate the alignment of Ethiopia’s development strategies with the tenacious growth of its higher education sector urge for a holistic vision and strategy that should lead the future advancement of institutions, their systematic deployment and utilisation.

The option of a detailed national subsystem of differentiation should not place emphasis on certain institutions; but rather on how all institutions within the system are classified and utilised to react to nationally-envisaged goals and to regional and international positioning.

The project requires in-depth review of current institutions, their related strengths, aspirations, institutional cultures, resource and location advantages and the significance of a differentiated system. The task demands expert knowledge, long-term vision and the engagement of relevant stakeholders.

Regardless of the choice of execution, the system’s achievement would be dependent on its primary objective, that is the smooth integration of the components of access and excellence.

Source: University World News 

Participating in the upcoming QS-MAPLE 2019 under the theme of “Promoting Research in the Middle East and Africa” from 22-25 April 2019 in Dubai, UAE.