Last month the Agency issued warnings, closed others and sued colleges for violating rules
The Higher Education Relevance & Quality Agency will conduct a nationwide audit of private colleges to assess whether or not the institutions meet human, material, financial and curricular requirements of the law.
The Agency will begin the audit beginning June 8, 2019, and it is expected to be finalised before the beginning of the next academic year. This comes months after the Agency audited 167 private college and university campuses located in Addis Abeba and its surrounding areas.
The Agency, which is mandated to regulate higher education institutions, will examine whether the institutions comply with the requirements for libraries, ICT, laboratories, classrooms and teachers and staff as set by the regulatory body.
In addition, the audit will also examine if there are any students enrolled who have not completed the necessary qualifying courses at the schools and will look into students' scores on their national matriculation exams.
"We will not only be assessing the documents of currently enrolled students but all documents of students that have ever graduated from private higher institutions," says Andualem Admassie (PhD), director general of the Agency.
The audit will be carried out across all 174 private higher education institutions found throughout the country where around 94,692 students are enrolled. There are 50 public universities and 462 technical and vocational training institutions that are not affected by the audit.
A few months ago, the Agency conducted random inspections on private colleges and universities in Addis Abeba and its surrounding areas with a much narrower scope than the current plan.
"In the previous inspection, we only asked for the institutions to submit their legal documents," says Andualem.
The initial inspection of 167 entities found major problems in 46 of the institutions, including 27 institutions that were operating without accreditation.
Other violations included expired accreditation certificates, establishing new locations without notifying the Agency and misusing higher education titles without merit. The Agency proceeded to take corrective measures on 24 institutions, issuing warnings, closing others and suing three of them in court.
With the hope of creating a clean slate for next year, the Agency has entered into a contract with nine media companies to publicise the findings of the audit. The acquired data will also be entered into an open-access database created by the Agency and Ministry of Innovation & Technology. The database will contain the registry of all legitimate graduates and students of private institutions in Ethiopia.
"What the Agency is doing will shed light on the part of the education sector that is losing public trust," says Tirusew Tefera (Prof), a lecturer at Addis Abeba University's College of Education & Behavioural Studies for four decades. "The audit should be carried out transparently by experts in the field so that disputes may not arise."
But Tirusew suggests that it should discriminate when it comes to the students.
"All the students should not be shovelled into a single category," said Tirusew. "There are students who were fooled by the private institutions."
The Agency agrees with Tirusew.
"There are students who knowingly enrolled in these institutions without meeting the qualifying minimum points, and the Agency is prepared to strip them of their credentials," said Andualem. "But we will approach the situation differently involving graduates of unaccredited institutions who otherwise fulfilled the minimum criteria."
The Agency is in discussion with the Ministry of Science & Higher Education on how to treat these graduates.
"We are currently considering the experience of other countries, and these graduates could end up taking additional courses or may have to sit for exams to earn their credentials," said Andualem.