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Private higher education institutions have become increasingly visible in recent year, as student numbers rise and institutions multiply to meet the demand. Such institutions are not only playing a role in educating citizens, but are also involved in public discourse across sectors. Contributing to informed and evidence based discourse on Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan was Admas University’s annual National Research Conference, held two weeks ago at Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa.  Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet met with Dr. Molla Tsegay (PhD), Vice Chairman of the Board of Ethiopian Private Higher Education and TVET Institutions Association and President of Admas University, to discuss outcomes of the conference and the state of quality education in private higher education institutions. Excerpts:
Capital: There was a research conference organized by Admas University which evaluated some of the GTP’s successes and failures, could you tell us some of the points?
Dr. Molla Tsegay:
Yes, Admas University had recently organized its Ninth Annual National Research Conference. The major theme of the conference was “GTP One: Achievements, Challenges and Lessons for GTP Two”. Some of the subthemes include: education, industry, business and the Nile politics. The papers presented on education indicated that remarkable achievements on access, equity and efficiency have been recorded in GTP1. The issues of relevance have also been given prominence by regulatory bodies and policy makers especially through the direction of the seventy-thirty (70:30) ratio. Yet, the studies showed that discussion, reconsideration and further research is needed in this regard. The papers also had revealed that quality of education should gain due attention in GTP Two. My personal view on quality is that the government has already stipulated frameworks to assure quality of education at all levels: General, TVET and Higher Education.  These frameworks, I suggest, need to be similarly enacted at both public and private institutions. I don’t fully agree that the regulatory bodies bestow balanced focus to private and public institutions when it comes to quality. Private institutions  have the burden of  passing through different stringent procedures to commence with even a single program, while a mere decision is required to establish a Public University. My other perspective on quality is that it is a process: it cannot be achieved overnight. It also goes with the overall development of our country. The more our country develops, the more concerns on quality are raised so as to meet the standards that commensurate that level of development. Overall, I would say the government is doing its best to address issues of quality education. So we must also ask: do the institutions play their part to this end?
Different issues on industry, business and Nile politics were also raised.
Capital: Annual research conferences are not very popular in many private universities, what should be done by stakeholders to familiarize such events?
Dr. Molla:
Actually, there are private institutions like Admas University that conduct regular annual research conferences. Many of them are seriously coming to the practice, especially these days. What should be done? In the first place, one mission given to higher education institutions is conducting research, organizing forums and disseminating results to concerned bodies. Thus, it is the responsibility of all institutions, be it private or public. Second, the concerned bodies, particularly the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) are following it up meticulously during accreditation and renewal processes. Third, it is a requirement for an institution to upgrade its status, say from a University College to a full University. There is also room to support private higher education institutions to enable them to engage in research. The players could be the government, embassies, various NGOs and businesses so long as it has social and developmental value.
Capital: How do you evaluate the quality  of Ethiopia’s higher education system?
Dr. Molla:
I have already mentioned it. We have reached some levels of quality so far. Yet, we need to work on it more  in the years to come. And we will not give up talking about quality as we are required to fulfill standards that go in line with our level of development. The country will continue to develop; the standards for quality measurement will also change accordingly.
Capital: Some argue that private universities have little concern about quality and receive students with low grades, what do say about that?
Dr. Molla:
Let us differentiate facts from misconceptions. Every year, the government sets requirements for joining higher education institutions. Accordingly, they admit students in line with such regulations. Thus, mentioning the admission of students with low points doesn’t hold water. There could be institutions that violate the admission policy. This is basically up to the governing body to take measures and maintain order. And, it appears to me to be hastily to make generalizations about all private higher education institutions. There are private institutions working seriously, respecting the law of the land and  contributing significantly to the overall development endeavors of the country. They have created meaningful educational opportunities and choices for many individuals.
They have created job opportunities for thousands of citizens. They have been supporting our society through their community outreach services. They are paying taxes and play their part to this effect. There are private universities conducting research, organizing symposia, publishing and disseminating results of research every year without interruption. But, we also recognize the fact that there are also public universities that have not organized a single national conference yet.
Coming to concerns of quality, initially, the fact is that this is not simply left to the institutions themselves. There are regulatory bodies like HERQA that heavily intervene in the works of private institutions unlike to that of the public. Private institutions cannot launch a single program without securing accreditation from HERQA. After that, there are again consecutive renewal requests for a single program. There is a practice of institutional and program audit as well.
Spontaneous visits are done customarily. All these, I believe, focus on assuring quality at private higher education institutions. This is a fact. Such tight procedures do not exist at public universities. So, why do we talk about private institutions only?  For me, this is partly due to lack of information, preoccupations and misconceptions. I haven’t said that there are no private institutions that violate the rules and regulations set by our government. There could be but it is mainly up to the regulatory bodies to detect them and bring them to the right direction. Otherwise, it is unfair to put them in one bottle and induce a unified blackmailing approach to all and damage the private education sector. Above all, I would like to say that there are several concerned owners, leaders, managers, instructors and other professionals who do care for their country, their citizens at the private education sphere. Thus, when we talk about quality, let us talk at national level avoiding the preempted dichotomy. 
Capital: Are students who graduate from private higher education competent in work? What are the areas you would suggest private higher education, institution do more in?
Dr. Molla:
Let me first point out our practices. Both private and public universities use similar curricula, harmonized by the Education Strategy Center.
Private Universities hire capable professionals similar to that of the public so long as the work force exists in the market. The private institutions undergo cumbersome quality procedures in terms of input and process. So, why cannot they produce competent graduates? The fact is that there are hundreds of graduates of private institutions working as leaders, managers, experts, technicians, etc. in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Why? Because they are competent to work in areas they are put in charge. Specifically, we, Admas University, conduct yearly tracer study and our findings show us that our graduates are at least more than average in their competence. We have several graduates working internationally as well. Several organizations also inquire us to send them our graduates every year. So, what I might suggest in this regard is that all private higher education institutions shall carry out yearly tracer study and take remedial measures accordingly.    
Capital: Some say that the current fees of the private colleges and universities are too high for the people, what do you say?
Dr. Molla:
I rather invite you to assess the tuition fee set by private higher education institutions and the tuition fee asked at KG and Elementary Schools. Then you would judge for yourself. The rent for buildings, the costs of various higher educational materials, the salary of the staff, have quadrupled to the minimum in the past consecutive years.
The tuition fee of the majority of private higher education institutions has remained relatively stable considering the paying capacity of our people. For instance, Admas University’s tuition has remained similar for more than ten years. We have made fraction of adjustments only recently which is more affordable to our students comparatively.
Capita l: Anything you would like to add?
Dr. Molla:
Let this year be the year of success to all of us, and to our country in all endeavors.