Equity And Quality Assurance In Ethiopian Higher Education

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Developing countries' higher education has re-gained recognition for its role in bringing social and economic development since the early 1990's. More importantly, international organizations and governments of developing countries showed this in their policy documents, as well as in the subsequent reforms and transformation of the higher education sector in the developing world. The World Bank, for instance, clearly recognizes the role of higher education in developing countries for its "paramount importance for economic and social development" (World Bank, 1994: 1). Such kind of policy shifts by the major international organizations together with other global, regional and local pushes have marked major higher education reforms in many part of the developing world ever since the 1990's (Sammof and Carrol, 2004).

Likewise, the Ethiopian higher education is under continuous reforms over the last two decades following the fall of the socialist government (Yizengaw, 2007). The reforms are, indeed, influenced by the policies of the major financing international organization, i.e. the policies of the World Bank (World Bank, 2003, Yizengaw, 2007). The reforms generally aim at addressing problems related with access, equity, quality and relevance, and efficiency among others. These areas are identified based on studies conducted by the government of Ethiopia and the World Bank's researchers which generally characterize the Ethiopian higher education as very limited in its access, inequitable, poor in quality of teaching, weak in its research output, underfunded, with very limited autonomy, with very low level of experienced and qualified teaching staff, inflexible and so on (Yizengaw, 2007; Saint 2004; World Bank, 2003). The present study will therefore look into how the issues of equity and quality are addressed in the Ethiopian higher education sector.

Statement of the Problem

Equity and quality have been and are among the major policy issues which significantly influence higher education policies and practices. Increasing access to higher education through massification of public higher education, diversification and privatization have been considered as a major strategy in addressing issues of equity, The attempts of massification, however, are also considered as major sources of various problems such as those related with quality. Such assumptions in turn have led to a growing concern with the issue of quality and how to assure it. This scenario has also been seen in the Ethiopian higher education sector in the last two decades or so (Assefa, 2008:34, Teferra and Altbach, 2004).

Equity is among the persistent policy issue in higher education. Equity as a policy issue focuses on ensuring social justice and social inclusion in a society (Martin, 2010). This, however, does not mean there is one single agreed upon definition of equity. Nor there is one way of ensuring it. The major international call for the equity of access to higher education was made by UNESCO in 1998's World Conference on Higher Education (UNESCO, 1998). UNESCO bases its call on the declaration of human rights. A decade later, in 2008, OECD came up with a broader concept of equity which goes beyond access. According to OECD (2008), equity refers to having a system with equitable "access to, participation in, and outcomes of higher education based only on the individual's innate ability and study effort" (OECD, 2008:14). Such recent developments transform the issue of equity from equity in access to equity in participation as well as equity in outcomes. OECD (2008) also argues that equitable higher education system recognizes that individuals' potential at tertiary level is not related to social and personal circumstances such as socio-economic status, gender, place of residence, ethnicity, age or disability. However, for various historical, cultural, economic and political reasons greater inequality among various groups has been and is characterising the Ethiopian higher education (Teferra and Altbach, 2004, Saint, 2004). These have made equity and redress a very important policy imperative in the country.

Quality and quality assurance, relatively speaking, are recent higher education policy issues (Martin, 2010). Such policy issues are usually rooted in neo-liberal discourse which aims at ensuring the competitiveness of higher education sectors in a globalised knowledge based economy. In addition to ensuring the competitiveness of higher education, quality assurance systems aim at ensuring accountability of the higher education institutions to various stakeholders (Materu, 2007). Quality is rather an elusive term. It is defined and conceptualized in different ways. The mechanisms to assure it are also different in different systems. However, quality and quality assurance have now become a more dominant policy issue to the extent of influencing the whole higher education policy and practice. The Ethiopian higher education has taken on quality assurance policy with the aim of ensuring that the higher education offered at any institution is up to standard, relevant and of acceptable quality (FDRE, 2003).

The overall issue for the proposed study is examining how these different higher education policy elements are designed in the Ethiopian higher education system. They seem to aim to achieve different and sometimes conflicting interest. That is, as equity aims for social justice and equalization, quality aims for excellence and competitiveness. The other challenge might be redressing historical as well as existing inequalities through various strategies, such as affirmative action, which seem to be considered as threats by some stakeholders. On the other hand, pursuit of excellence and competiveness might lead to a very competitive higher education learning environment which most likely favors those who are the advantageous.

In the contrary, having accountability as impetus for quality assurance, as long as it is not limited to economic accountability, seems to be an advantage for ensuring more equitable higher education system. That is, quality assurance can be used as an instrument to ensure social responsibility. All these assumptions triggered this study to see how these two major higher education policy strands are considered in the Ethiopian higher education policy. The following are initial research question to be answered by this study.

What are the major equity related problems in the Ethiopian higher education?

How the higher education policy in Ethiopia approaches to redress the problems of equity?

Why does Ethiopia introduce the current higher education quality assurance policy/system?

What are the main features of the Ethiopian higher education quality assurance system?

To what extent the equity and quality assurance policy of Ethiopia are compatible/conflicting?


The main objectives of this study will be to:

understand the current equity-related issues within the Ethiopian higher education system.

analyze the policy framework for equity in the Ethiopian higher education.

analyze the impetus for the quality assurance policy.

analyze the current higher education quality assurance policy in Ethiopia.

explore the compatibility between the approaches to equity and quality assurance in Ethiopian HE policy

Significance of the study

Consistent and synchronized higher education policy is believed to be fundamental in order to get what is expected from the higher education sector. Thus, reviewing the equity and quality assurance polices of Ethiopian higher education can be considered as a contribution in this regard. Accordingly, this study will be significant as it may provide useful information about the status of and policy provisions of equity and quality assurance in the Ethiopia. Moreover, it will be useful in providing some information on the policy approaches being complementing/conflicting which might in turn be important in building a higher education system which is socially just and of acceptable standards. Last, but not least, the study can also be used as a spring board for further studies in the area.

Method of the Study

This study will employ a qualitative research method. Qualitative research method is chosen based on the fact that this study tries to analyse entities, processes and meanings that cannot really be examined experimentally or measured in terms of quantity, amount, intensity or frequency. Qualitative research, in general, is made up of a set of situated activities that locates the observer in the real world. It consists of a variety of interpretive practices that make the world visible and understandable (Denzin and Lincoln, 2003:4-5). Therefore qualitative research method will be of great use in order to achieve the objectives of this study.

The study will use both primary and secondary data which will be generated from different policy papers, reports, legislations, research papers and other relevant sources. These primary and secondary data will be analyzed using critical discourse analysis method.