Apr 10 , 2021

Half-a-dozen private higher learning institutions have been subject to regulatory action from the federal institution in charge of overseeing higher education quality in the country.

The Higher Education Relevance & Quality Agency (HERQA), under Andualem Admassie (PhD), has imposed measures ranging from terminating new enrolment to the closure of campuses and even the dismissal of students at six private colleges, one of which is in Addis Abeba. The institutions are being subjected to the decision for violating accreditation criteria by offering fields they are not allowed to teach; opening campuses without accreditation; enrolling unqualified students; mishandling files; and in one case, not having any accreditation at all, officials at the Agency claim.

The colleges include Zemen Postgraduate and Rada colleges in Dessie; Siphen College in Addis Abeba; Global Bridge College in Wolaita Sodo; Paradise Valley College in Dilla; and, Great Land College in Nekemte. Siphen is the lone college from the capital as well as the only one that has no accreditation from the Agency.

Established in 2003, the Agency has mandates to take actions when its officials discover non-compliance with laws, regulations, or policies enacted by the Ministry of Science & Higher Education.

The Agency discovered the violations through visits and inspections conducted at higher education institutions in Dessie, Metu, Bedele, Wolaita Sodo, Dilla and Addis Abeba last month.

Those on the receiving end of the regulators' hand believe the measures taken are “unfair.”

An inspection team from the Agency visited Zemen Postgraduate College three weeks ago, checked on documents, and left after giving the college’s academic staff minor comments, according to Mulugeta Chane, academic dean, who claims that the College did not receive a notice from the Agency before the decision was posted on social media. The Agency blames this college for opening a campus without its prior knowledge.

These are frequent problems because the national focus is on expanding education and not on quality, says Messeret Assefa (PhD), associate professor at the Addis Abeba University School of Education & Behavioral Studies.

"The Agency should rather work closely with the colleges from the moment they apply for registration," said Messeret.

A lack of expertise at the Agency and college owners driven by bottom-line profit and lacking a sense of purpose are the real issues between the private higher learning industry and the regulatory agency, according to Messeret.

"The measure taken is not based on proper inspection," said Mulugeta. "We heard that the Agency took action from our students. It would have been better if they had talked to us directly."

The College has appealed to the Agency, claiming that it had not opened any campuses without the Agency’s consent.

"We did give training in different cities, and we posted announcements in the building where we'll start work in the future,” said Mulugeta. "But, we didn't give a course in any campus without the authorities' permission.”

Global Bridge College is also filing an appeal to contest the allegations that it enrolled students before receiving accreditation and mishandled files, according to Million Nane, general manager of Global Bridge Education Services Plc.

Siphen College was denied accreditation on November 5, 2020, and was informed that it could reapply three months later but was found to have ignored the decision and continue teaching, according to Abiy Debay, director for accreditation at the Agency.

"Even mistakes on the Agency's part can't be a defense for teaching without accreditation," he told Fortune.

If the measures the Agency takes are ignored, criminal proceedings may follow, warns the Director.

"People think that the Agency makes excuses to the advantage of the students,” Abiy told Fortune. “It won't happen because the students are participants in the wrongful act."

Students have the responsibility to ensure that a college is accredited before registering.

Academic staff at Siphen College have declined to comment on the matter.

Messeret does not see the dismissal of students and holding them accountable as appropriate.

"If the students are required to ensure colleges are accredited before their registration, the authorities should communicate through media platforms the list of accredited colleges and the disciplines they are allowed to teach," said Messeret.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 10,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1093]

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