Double standards in education

Despite competition from private universities, public universities in Ethiopia are still considered to be the best, both in terms of quality of education and employee benefits. Part of the reason for this is that private providers don’t have the same scope of opportunity as public universities.

In theory, private colleges and universities should be able to compete on equal terms with public universities. However, according to NAI researcher Getnet Fetene, this is not the case. Instead, the government applies double standards. On one hand, it encourages private initiatives, but on the other, it remains suspicious and does not want private universities to train professionals such as lawyers or teachers.

– It's about control. The government does not want students to learn something that does not comply with the ruling party's views in relation to law and teacher development. Moreover, while public higher institutions have a free ride to open any programs they wish, private providers must comply with the stringent requirements set by the crediting agency. Otherwise, they are out of the market, Getnet Fetene says.

Only the best brains get places at public universities

These double standards mean that state universities remain the first choice for students. One must do well in an entrance exam to gain a place at public institutions, regardless of whether one is rich or poor, while private providers only require that fees be paid and a minimum pass mark. Another advantage to public universities is the cost-sharing provisions, which mean that students only start paying for education once they have completed their studies and begun to work. The private alternatives are costly, and accessible to only a small number of Ethiopian students.

It is not only students who prefer public universities, but also academics, despite the much higher salaries offered by private providers.

– There are other benefits in the public sector. Better working atmosphere, job security and freedom to engage in consultancy work are seen by many seen as more advantageous than larger pay cheques. Also, the possibilities for international networking are important. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity for short-term employment at NAI if l worked for a private university, says Getnet Fetene.

Fair treatment improves the quality*

In his research, he is mapping what private providers think about the opportunities allowed by the government and tries to reveal the double standards in practice. Fairer treatment would probably improve the quality of private education. However, Getnet Fetene notes, in some areas public higher education are very likely to remain dominant.

– Private investors are less inclined in capital-intensive programmes such as agricultural schools or courses that require laboratories. They prefer economics, social sciences and other subjects that basically only incur the cost of the teachers’ salaries, Getnet Fetene observes.

Private Higher Education in Ethiopia is part of the project that Getnet Fetene is working on while at NAI and will be presented at the Crismo-seminar 22 October.

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