The nation's 278th private higher education institution started operations last week following a total investment of about 25 million Br. Business Innovation Technology Systems College (BITS) will provide four technology courses in undergraduate and graduate programmes.
It will teach software engineering and information technology & systems within four-year degrees in its undergraduate programmes. The two-year graduate programmes include information technology management and enterprise systems engineering.
To operationalise the College, which can accommodate 80 students in the regular programmes and about 280 students in the graduate studies and extension programmes, took four years. Feasibility study, construction, curriculum design and managerial preparations were completed before opening its doors.
The College was initiated to bridge the gap between industry and the available education, according to Tesfaye Biru (PhD), president of the College, which built a five-story building that features four computer labs and two libraries. Both the undergraduate library and the graduate library can host around 85 students at a time.
"The industry is lacking IT architects and technology consultants with a combined knowledge of IT and business, and this is the premise behind our choice of programmes and curriculum design," he said. "How do we harness technology to solve our problems? That's the main issue we want to address."
The Higher Education Relevance & Quality Agency awarded the College a three-year license last year to operate at its Yeka Park campus. While issuing the permit, the Agency reviewed teachers' qualifications, availability of facilities such as laboratories, the internet connection, curriculum design, annual plan, and the adequate structure of human resources and academic staff.
The license must be renewed after three years and, pending approval, the College will then be provided with a new five-year license, according to Andualem Admassie (PhD), director-general of the Agency, which licensed 278 private higher education institutions to provide undergraduate and graduate studies.
While applying for the permit, the College also conducted a needs-assessment study and presented it to the Agency, which uses the application to determine whether the College's strategy is aligned with society's needs.
"We invested a lot in student-centric facilities," stated Tesfaye.
The College was ready to welcome students earlier this year, but it did not commence classes due to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It plans to begin classes right away for graduating students, but it is having doubts about starting the undergraduate programme. Twelfth graders have not yet received their matriculation because of postponements due to COVID-19 and the conflict in Tigray Regional State.
Students can register now for the graduate programme through the College's website. It has hired 40 permanent employees, a third of whom are academicians and several are part-time lecturers.
The College's management plans to combine physical learning with an online teaching model due to COVID-19 by splitting lessons in two. While a teacher is lecturing in one class, the rest can follow in the next class online with a facilitator's help. The college is also utilising Moodle learning management software, an easily customisable, multi-functional, open-source software used widely in learning management. The system allows teachers to upload all learning materials and give out assignments and tests.
"Using Moodle can overburden instructors, but we're prepared to cover their cost," said Tesfaye.
"Education is a long-term investment," he added, stressing that they do not expect to recoup their investment in a short period of time.
Fasika Minda, former staff of the computer science department at Addis Abeba University and a PhD candidate in instructional design, development and evaluation at Syracuse University in the United States, confirms a huge gap between the technology industry and the education available in higher institutions.
This can mainly be attributed to the rigid curriculum that does not allow innovative learning to be implemented and students' disinterest in the subjects they are studying, which they joined due to pressure from family or because they were simply assigned, according to Fasika.
"There's a high amount of unemployment," said Fasika,"and at the same time, it's hard for a lot of tech companies to find high-calibre employees."
Re-thinking and redesigning education programmes is key to alleviating this problem, suggested Fasika. As for newly formed institutions, she suggests they should set up centres where they equip students with soft skills that they will need to be competitive in real-world working situations instead of just technical skills.
Fasika raised concerns about innovative colleges' affordability, citing that many are only affordable for a small segment of society. Despite this, she believes the presence of these institutions is important for the sector.
Tesfaye states that the institution will offer a fair tuition fee, although he was hesitant to disclose the actual amount. The College has also put together a scholarship administration unit to award need and merit-based scholarships to students, according to him.