Ethiopian Education Ministry Bans Distance Learning

Wondwosen Tamrat and Yibrah Girmay
Wondwosen Tamrat (right), president of St. Mary’s University College, argues the new directive would have an adverse impact on private higher education institutions. Also pictured is Yibrah Girmay, owner of Admass University College.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) scrapped all distance education programmes provided by both private and public institutions in the country; private colleges are also no longer to offer training in law and teaching fields.

The directive, issued on August 26, 2010, which was sent by the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency to industry stakeholders, including 64 private institutions, is to be implemented for new entrants to higher education institutions, starting from the technical and vocational education training (TVET) institutions up to undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Law and teachers’ education programmes are only to be provided by public higher education institutes, preventing the involvement of private institutions in these areas of study, according to the new directive.

The issuance of this new directive caught a lot of private higher institutions off guard, having had no inkling that it was coming, although some had heard rumours about some of the articles mentioned in the directive.

Distance learning education is unnecessary at this stage in the development of the education sector, the directive claimed in banning it. This logic was hard to grasp by a lot of people at the helm of private institutions of higher learning.

“This is ridiculous,” Wondwosen Tamrat, president of St Mary’s College and former chairman of the General Assembly of the Ethiopian Private Higher Education Institutions Association (EPHEIA), said. “Distance learning may be conducted for location, resources, and time conveniences.”

Aside from locally owned private higher institutions providing distance learning education, foreign institutions like the University of South Africa (UNISA) and Open University UK, which offer the same training, have entered the market.

People in the Ethiopian  private education sector
People in the Ethiopian private education sector

“The directive is not clear whether it would be applicable to these international institutions,” Wondwosen told Fortune.

The new directive was sent to all regional states and city councils. It aspires to ensure higher education relevance and quality, its accompanying letter said,which also came as a complete surprise to most of the private stakeholders.

“We did not expect this,” Molla Tsegaye, president of Admas University College, told Fortune. “As stakeholders in the sector, we should have been consulted before all this.”

Mihreteab Workineh, vice chairman of the EPHEIA, which has around 50 private institutions in its membership,was also caught by surprise.

“Our association sternly objects to this,” he said.

Instead of resorting to drastic measures like this to ensure quality, working on the criteria for quality standards should have been a priority, those in the private sector argue.

“It is not about public or private institutions, the concern for quality is our concern too,” Mihreteab said. “That is why we have already devised an audit mechanism to ensure quality education by private institutions.”

The severity of the measures which may improve the quality of education at the cost of existing private institutions was a bone of contention for private higher learning institutions.

“The current inability [of the government] to enforce the quality standards already set should not lead to these kind of measures,” Wondwosen argued.

Particularly, the ban on the provision of law programmes by private institutions of higher learning came as something unexpected by some in the private sector.

“We have participated in the legal education reform programmes, and our college issues a biannual law journal,” Wondwosen told Fortune. “In fact, in this area, it is public institutions that are suffering from a shortage of human resources, rather than the private sector.”

The directive also suspends the provision of new accreditations or renewals to private higher institutions for new regular programmes, until a new quality assurance procedure is devised. This also applies to establishing new institutions or even branches and for requests to increase enrolment capacities.

The directive also provides new conditions for enrolling students in TVET programmes for regular sessions aside from the banning of law and teachers’ education. Only in fields where there is market demand and those approved by TVET agencies with a limited enrolment capacity, will be accepted.

For those institutions with health science programmes, they can only provide training after health bureaus of regional states or city administrations consent to accreditations, the directive also states.

Those in the private sector fear the nationwide implications. St Mary’s University College, one of the oldest private higher institutions in the country, enrols over 75pc of its students in distance education programmes through its distance education centres, which number around 140 across the country.

“It may have an impact on those who are already under enrolment,” Wondwosen told Fortune.

Some institutions might not wish to let such students finish their studies because without new entrants, it could prove difficult to cover expenses such as rent, employee salaries, and the preparation of teaching materials, according to Wondwosen.

“You simply should not close down all institutions altogether in the name of quality,” he said.

The directive, which came by surprise, has shocked the industry for the lack of provision for a transition period in order to devise an exit strategy.

By Mikias Sebsibe, Fortune