Andualem Admassie

Unearthing the Decomposing Corpse of Educational Quality

Andualem Admassie (PhD.) is the Director General of the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA). Before assuming his current position, he served as Ethio telecom’s CEO from June 2013 to July 2018.
He was also its Chief Internal Audit Officer and Chief Human Resource Officer. Andualem earned his B.Sc and MA degrees in business education and education leadership and management from Addis Ababa University . He did his PhD in Business Administration from Bulacan State University, Philippines.
Andualem has taught in several higher education institutions including at the International Leadership Institute (ILI), Ethiopian Civil Service University, Ethiopian Defense Command, and Addis Ababa University (AAU).
Andualem used to deliver consultancy and training services in collaboration with Crown Agents Advisors to the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority, Ethiopian Civil Service University, and other top officials and offices.
EBR’s Kiya Ali sat down with him to learn about the current state of higher education in Ethioipa.

The number of private higher education institutions that deliver service without accreditation is said to be on the rise. What are you doing to solve this problem?
Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) doesn’t classify higher educational institutions (HEI) as private and public. We know both of them as HEI and treat them the same way. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s talk about them separately.Currently, there are 238 private higher educational institutions and HERQA has the authority to give them accreditation and reaccreditation. After these institutions get their accreditation, they should respect the law and work accordingly.

This, for instance, means if one institution gets permission to educate at Shiro Meda area, it cannot deliver service in Addis Ketema. The same is true for departments. The accreditation serves for three years and reaccreditation will be valid for 5 years. Before accreditation is given, there are things HERQA considers such as the capacity of the campus, availability of library and laboratory and the profile of teachers. Then, in the process, their teaching methodology and exit profile will be evaluated. Thus, the main mandate of HERQA is to ensure relevance and quality of education and give accreditation to institutions that fulfill all the predefined requirements.

Relevance is related to the capacity of the economy to accommodate graduate students and avoid graduate unemployment. So, it considers the demand of the economy. For instance, the 70/30 education policy has created a problem. Currently, there are many engineers and doctors who are unemployed. This is clearly a policy problem. As a country, there is shortage of doctors while at the same time there are unemployed doctors. Similarly, the country needs engineers but there are unemployed engineers. The country is not properly manufacturing steel and imports it with so many difficulties. So, having many civil engineers before building the capacity of the country to manufacture steel, which is the main input for construction, creates a problem. Similarly, having so many medical doctors before building enough hospitals has no point.

When we come to private HEI, they are many in number and it is hard to control them under the current structure and capacity of HERQA. All the 238 institutions have different campuses and departments. If we assume that each university has 10 campuses and departments, the number becomes more than 20,000. Hence, it is difficult to control around 20,000 programs at each campus manually. Unless the system is automated, it is almost impossible to monitor all existing HEI under the current capacity of HERQA.This problem has numerous consequences. The first one is that there are campuses that compromise the cutoff HEI entry point and admit grade 10 students for degree programs without asking for Certificate of Competency (COC) results. The other one is that they do not have it in them to fail students even when they get below standard grade point average (GPA). They consider students only as a source of income. Teachers’ profile and inputs like laboratory and library also make up another part of the problem.
There are 50 public HEI and they have similar problems with private ones. Public HEI in regional states open branches in high schools located in Addis Ababa and teach technology. I can site an example. At Dagimawi Menelik Secondary School, students learn computer science. How is it possible to educate technology related courses at high schools that do not have relevant laboratory and library? On the other hand, regular students who are assigned by the government to study at the main campus in the regions do not get proper education since their teachers are not available regularly to teach their class. The teachers teach both in Addis Ababa and the main campus in the regions. Hence, serious action should be taken to improve the situation both at the private and public HEI. If everyone is committed, it is possible to change the current situation. The burden of changing the situation should not only be left to the government. The society should take part of the responsibility and make sure that the HEI they intend to join is accredited.

Some public HEI run by the government also violate financial laws by partnering with private institutions to teach different programs. It is clearly a crime. The money they collect in terms of registration fees, tuition fees and the like goes to individual pockets. Moreover, teachers leave regular students at main campuses for weeks and come to Addis Ababa. This affects the normal teaching learning process and quality of education too. As a result, unlike previous years, most foreign countries are not willing to employ Ethiopian graduates when they go abroad.

What is the solution for these problems?
The public shouldn’t be a willing victim. So, everyone has to make sure that the campus he/she is about to register at has an accreditation. The media also has to create awareness on this issue. Currently, we are discharging the responsibilities of the police. These days, quality and relevance have become luxury for us. We are encouraging illegal institutions to become legal. Some of the HEI don’t even have a proper license. They just have import export license. Although corruption is a serious problem everywhere, when it comes to education, it is equivalent to destroying generations and the country. So, investors who are involved in education have to be cautious of their actions and become responsible. Furthermore, the government has to change its structure. There is no structure like HERQA in the world. We are accountable for the Ministry of Science and Higher Education (MOSHE). MOSHE administers 50 public universities while HERQA has the mandate to monitor MOSHE despite reporting to the Ministry. This is contradictory and affects the independency of HERQA. We report to the organization that we monitor. We have informed the government of the predicament and are waiting for their response. HERQA should report either to the parliament or to the Prime Minister. This is the international trend.

The other point is that public HEI open new departments without our permission. We just have the power of auditing public HEI. Professors open some department but after graduation, students find it hard to get employment since the relevance was not studied beforehand. There was such a case at Arbaminch. In addition, employers have to scrutinize students’ educational documents before employing them.

If you go to some regions, you may find out that their cabinet is full of graduates from HEI that are not accredited by HERQA. If we collect such educational credentials and make them irrelevant, there will be some government offices which will be totally shutdown. Automated system is vital to avoid similar problems in the future. The definition of quality has to also be clear. We define quality as fit for the purpose.

Is HERQA efficient?
It is hard for me to say that HERQA is efficient. For instance, it doesn’t have the power of shutting down an unrecognized department found at public universities, despite the compulsory nature of the decision as a final solution. We have such power only on private HEI. To describe HERQA as efficient, it first needs to have full power as per its mandate. The other point is that it has to have regional offices and structures. In addition, the human capital of this organization is not efficient. We have the leftovers instead of the cream. It is painful.

What are you doing to improve the human capital of HERQA?
We are in the process of implementing an automated system. We have been working on it with the Ministry of innovation and technology over the past 11 months.We have also employed 40 new employees who have masters and above. We have also asked the government to reform the structure of HERQA as we want to have regional offices. We are also working with consultants, establishing partnership with different organizations and providing training for our employees to develop their capacity.

Is the prerequisite to open HEI updated and does it consider future trends?
The entire prerequisite to open HEI is predefined and up to date but it is not exhaustive. There are some areas that we are working onto define the prerequisites on such educational endeavors as online learning and PhD program.

Are government HEI that work in partnership with private institutions to provide education legal?
They are illegal. There is a proclamation on public private partnership (PPP). The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has the mandate of monitoring its implementation. The proclamation provides that a board consisting of seven Ministries and two private sector representatives would decide on the establishment of a PPP after receiving a feasibility study from a government organization that intends to venture into one. Upon acceptance of the feasibility by the board, bid would be floated and the winning private company would be presented to the board for confirmation. However, none of the government HEI have passed through this process. This is clearly a violation of the law and thus such schemes are illegal. PPP is important but it has to pass through the proper legal procedures.

When you finalize the automated system, only those students who graduated from accredited universities will be included. So, what will be the fate of the other students and the PPP schemes so far?
The Ministry is currently preparing guidelines, rules and regulations on the implementation of PPP. Therefore, PPP will continue. The fate of graduates from such universities is our headache. The problem is not only related to graduating from HEI based on PPP agreement. There are also students who have gone on to earn degrees and masters despite their failure to fulfill the entry requirements and later got employed at government organizations. Some of them are even promoted. We will bring this case to the relevant government bodies including the Prime Minister and proceed according to the decision they pass. We are also studying the trends in other countries to handle the case properly. The case has to be handled with caution. Otherwise, if we start to take action now, some regions will cease to operate. We had plans to sue the main actors but there are not enough courts and prisons to accommodate them. Every private actor in education is involved in it. Only those HEI that have been established recently might be clean from such cases.

Private HEI divided their registrar into two: A and B. Registrar A is open to anyone and they will let us check this one since only clean bills are found here. The documents of students who don’t fulfill the entry requirement or those who graduated from departments that are not accredited are found in register B. Though we are worried about the past, if we find such cases in the current and the coming years, we will automatically shut down the institution and bring the case before court.

It is possible to prevent future faults by taking action. The hard part is finding a way to handle past mistakes. It is difficult to clean over a quarter of a century of mess within a short period of time. For instance, there are 12 colleges in Gambella and none of them have accreditation. Members of the regional cabinet may have graduated from these colleges. The same is true in other regions.

Isn’t the government accountable for all these mess?
The government is accountable for all the damages. The public pays tax and in return expects protection from the government. The government could reduce the risk by creating awareness. Besides, it was supposed to discharge its responsibility properly. There are government university Presidents who are involved in trade. I don’t know how it works. HERQA by itself is accountable too.

There are unfit nurses and doctors as a result of the poor quality of education. This is very dangerous. Compromising the quality of education is enough to demolish a country. Corruption is an additional factor that exacerbates the problem. We have fired some of our employees who happened to be owners of colleges involved in corruption. Of course, they were not going to shut down their own colleges as a result of poor quality or lack of relevance.

Most of the time, the audit system focuses on finance related issues. But there are problems on human capital and laboratory equipment especially in health related departments. How are you planning to fix this?
All HEI, both private and public, are audited every five years. The audit report would then be published into a book. The process of auditing includes around 10 parameters. There are quality audit directors at every public HEI. There is an on and off trend in private HEI in relation with setting up an audit directorate. So, we do the auditing properly. Yet I can’t say that it was fruitful since HERQA hasn’t taken measures based on the audit result.

University graduates whose GPA is above 2.75 can be lecturers. However, these teachers themselves are victims of poor quality of education. Hence, how can they provide quality of education? How are you planning to disrupt the vicious circle?
The number of teachers who don’t have enough knowledge about the subject matter they teach is increasing. There was a research conducted on this matter on 10,000 high school teachers whose GPA is above 3.75. These teachers sat for an exam on the subject areas that they teach at high schools. The physics teachers, for instance, sat for a physics exam prepared for the respective grade they teach. The result was very shocking. Only 0.5Pct of them got above 50Pct.

The problem is reflected on department heads as well. This shows that the whole system is affected. Do you have a clear plan or road map to deal with this problem?
You can find university Professors who have served universities for many years. However, it’s probably been long since they published a research. In other countries, university teachers are obliged to publish research every two years. Otherwise, they will leave the institution. The other disappointing fact in our country is that a teacher teaches multiple courses. To deal with this problem, we are working to include the profile of teachers on the automated system that we are working to implement.

Moreover, having a strong professional association in place could be vital in combating problems such as teachers who sell their CV for private HEI during supervision by HERQA. Such an association can recognize best teachers in their respective fields to create competition. Had there been an association that would certify teachers after evaluating their competency, the problem would have reduced. However, we might sacrifice a generation before we clear the problem.

Instead of sacrificing a whole generation, isn’t it possible to fix the problem?
It is possible to fix the problem and change the current generation. But it is costly.

So what will be the fate of this generation considering the youth comprise of 60Pct to 70Pct of the Ethiopian population?
It is possible to work on the current generation but it takes up to five folds of the energy and cost needed for the new generation. However, it is possible to upgrade the generational knowledge through capacity building. Training is a short term method to fix the problem. For long term development, we need policy and institution.

Whose responsibility is formulating such policies and building the institutions?
It should be a collaborative work among many stakeholders including HERQA.

Do you think raising the number of years spent in HEI by one year is relevant? How?
It is very important. In the first place, it was wrong to reduce the year from four to three. There are controversies surrounding some of the courses such as history. However, we can get to a consensus through discussion.

Moreover, shouldn’t agreeing on our history precede teaching the course in HEI?
There are a lot of aspects of our history that we all agree on. The problem is that political leaders pick a single event and use it to mobilize people. That is the problem. But we have plenty of pleasant history and we can teach them that.

But history is fact. Therefore, the bright as well as the dark side of it should be told. Wouldn’t teaching only the good part create biase?
There are history books that have recorded both sides of the story. They can be used as a reference book. However, when you put history under educational curriculum, it should focus on things that enhance the social integration and bond. The rest could be found on reference books.

What is the root cause of the quality problem?
When we come to public HEI, the main problem is that they don’t focus on their core business. They prioritize construction and other issues. On the other hand, private HEI prioritizeon the ways of covering their development cost and maximizing profit. The FX grading system that allows students to retake exams also compromises quality. Hence, the quality issue is mainly related with institutional efficiency. EBR

9th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2020 • No. 84

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