Public University Autonomy and Quality Education: Opportunities and Challenges

Consortium of Ethiopian Public Universities (CEPU) in collaboration with GIZ-Ethiopia, STEP, conducted a national conference of public university autonomy and quality education focused on opportunities and challenges at Capital Hotel and Spa on the 11th of June 2022.

Samuel Kifle (PhD), State Minister at Ministry of Education (MoE), in his opening speech said that public university autonomy is needed for successful accomplishment of their mission and goals.

An authorized university has higher responsibility other than the three conventional duties (teaching-learning, research and community engagement), i.e. having the authority beyond the academic freedom, according to Dr. Samuel. “However, it is priory needed to make ready efficient human resources, search scientific solutions for problems including technology transfer and create community links, etc.” he added.

According to Dr. Samuel, an authorized university has four key elements: academic freedom, freedom on organizational structure, financial freedom and freedom on human resource management. These help the university education is specifically prepared for searching realities and facts; to know, to understand and make others understand truth, he added.

As stated by Dr. Samuel, the basic point of making the university self-authorized is making it free from unnecessary and much control system of governance. Every institution including MoE, Ministry of Finance, Civil Service Commission, Procurement Authority, etc. have control hands on universities in one way or the other, he said further.

“Though universities being governed by the formal financial, human resources and procurement systems of the state like other government organizations might have achieved something positive, what they have already missed is extremely much,” Dr. Samuel said.

“A university being authorized does not mean it is being freed from government ownership; it is only making it free from unnecessary and much control system of governance (freedom with full accountability),” he stressed.

According to Dr. Samuel, university independence is one of the steps that the government has taken to ensure the quality and relevance of education and training. The Ethiopian government has decided that AAU has to be an authorized-chartered university in the next one hundred days, he added.

Professor Tassew Weldehanna, President of AAU and CEPU, stated that the university authorization will have a big challenge especially on the university leadership though self-authority is not a new phenomenon as a number of universities in the world including Africa are authorized.

AAU, since its foundation was self-authorized for 25 years (1952 to 1977) during the time of the king, according to Prof. Tassew. “This can be used as an experience and we can also take other experiences from overseas. But the system of authority that we function should be based on an Ethiopian context,” Prof. Tassew added.

There are a number of universities in Africa like in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, etc. for self-authorization to be mentioned and take experiences from.

“AAU was very known, vibrant and influential when it was a chartered university from its establishment. The students’ movement that required ‘land to the tiller’ was one of the cases in point,” he said.

Editor: Abraham Girmay

Photo: Andualem Aseffa