Radar | Oct 10,2020
March 12 , 2022
By Shewangezaw Seyoum ( is a consultant that works at the Industrial Parks Development Corporation. Views expressed here do not reflect that of the institution. He can be reached at email@example.com. )
Ethiopia has 51 public universities and hundreds of private ones, not all operational, that work around the hour to afford millions of youth across the country with the necessary know-how before they enter the labour market.
But as the number of students exploded, the universities have been blamed for a lack of quality education and graduating students poorly equipped for the workforce. This is despite the billions of Birr being poured into higher education institutions, especially in the case of public universities, to improve facilities and human resources in the faculty. While the end goal remains elusive, it is also calling into question the financing model and whether it could be sustained.
Ethiopian public institutions of higher education are on a drive to commercialise their academic activities by establishing university business enterprises. In this they are seeking services of consultancy firms to help them in the process of identifying business areas, feasibility analysis and preparation of business plans among others.
Ethiopian higher educations institutions have long been known for their lack of interaction and engagement with their surrounding communities and exclusive reliance on government coffers to finance their activities. Cost-sharing schemes, where students finance their studies on a grant basis and pay back their loans once in the labour force, have been implemented for some time now. But the success of such a scheme is doubtful due to rampant unemployment. That means most students would not be able to pay back what they owed the government after graduation since they cannot secure a job in the first place.
Complicating the matter further, raging inflation for years may cancel out meaningful returns for the universities even if an adequate number of their alumni are able to make good on their debts, given the interest rates on them are in the mid-single digits.
While the present attempt to commercialise their academic activities could be said to be a move in the right direction, it does not go far enough. That is because pursuing different revenue streams and changing their processes might prove helpful in alternative income and resource generation, but it does not address the broader socioeconomic need. In particular, simply selling stuff and services does not help much in a country where challenges of rampant unemployment, stifling foreign exchange shortages and exorbitant prices are prevalent.
In light of this, the concept of most relevance is the entrepreneurial university. Entrepreneurial universities are institutions that are oriented towards promoting staff and students to demonstrate enterprise, innovation, and creativity in research, teaching and knowledge transfer. It is about a mindset focused on innovation and rational risk-taking with the purpose of transforming the old closed educational system of higher education institutions. It also encourages partnerships between academic and private businesses. Such universities will be able to survive and adapt in highly complex and uncertain conditions of the environment in which they operate.
Of course, to be able to deliver such a result, the universities themselves need to be in a good position in terms of staff profile and facilities. The prevailing state of higher education leaves much to be desired as it is marred by lack of motivation to engage in innovative pursuit, shortage of practices and opportunities, and entrepreneurial competence. The issue of paramount importance then becomes how to develop academia's entrepreneurial orientation and strengthen support for institutions and services.
The answer lies in the identification of the universities' role in addition to their traditional missions (education and research), which is to contribute to national economic development through the transfer of research results from the laboratory and shelves to the real world where implementation is necessary.
PUBLISHED ON Mar 12,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1141]
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