2013 performance ranking of Ethiopian universities in both African and global metrics

11 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

Amongst 974 African universities, Ethiopia’s oldest institution of higher learning – Haileselassie I University (HSIU) – rechristened Addis Abeba University (AAU) after the 1974 revolution, has in 2013 been recognized as Africa’s 30th best university, according to the research group Ranking Web of Universities.

Equally important is also Webometrics’ placement in its global ranking of AAU at the 2,600th place amongst 11,994 universities around the world. The scores by this same research group, based in Spain, have AAU closely followed by Jimma University as 39th, while globally recognizing it as the 2,977th best university.

Two of these universities being the oldest institutions, there is no doubt about it that they are better organized, their institutional strengths able to escape extraneous diversions and, therefore, enabling them to become relatively better functioning. Today, the AAU has 10 colleges and seven institutes and 13 campuses. On the other hand, the JU boasts of six colleges and institutes, sprawling on 167 hectares that houses the Colleges of: Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, of Business and Economics, of Natural Sciences, of Public Health and Medical Sciences, of Social Sciences and Law and the Jimma Institute of Technology.

Out of the first ten places for best African universities of 2013, the first three places are claimed by South Africa’s universities, followed by Uganda’s Makerere University as 4th. Then come again three other South African universities in the 5th to 7th places. The remaining three places are shared between Obafemi Awolowo University of Nigeria in the 8th place, South Africa’s Rhodes University at 9th and Cairo University as the 10th.

In the ranking from 11 to 20, the University of Dar Es Salaam, American University in Cairo, University of Nairobi, three other Egyptian universities – Manoura, Ain Shams and Assiut – and the University of Ghana are the most prominent.

Main entrance to the Sidist Kilo Campus of AUU. Credit: AAU webpage

Regarding the methodology employed by Cybermetrics, Spain’s partly state owned research group – affiliated with Consejo Superior de investigaciones Cinetficas (CSIC) – performance of universities, or impact, as the group prefers to call it, has been very important criteria.

Its objective is to promote academic web presence in support of the “Open Access” initiative. This aims at significantly increasing the transfer of universities-generated scientific and cultural knowledge to society at large. What it does is not evaluation of websites, their design or usability or the popularity of their contents, as perceived by their visitors.

Instead, it says “Web indicators are considered as proxies in the correct, comprehensive, deep evaluation of the university global performance, taking into account its activities and outputs and their relevance and impact … Webometrics is a ranking of all the universities of the world, not only a few hundred institutions from the developed world. Of course, “World-class” universities usually are not small or very specialized institutions.”

How reliable is this assessment of our universities? The only way to find reasonable confirmation of Webometrics finding is to look into other assessments and methods by other research groups. One group this blog has checked out and felt comfortable with is University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP), located in Turkey.

As a matter of fact, URAP has also come up with the same conclusion, in its evaluation regarding Ethiopia’s universities from purely academic performance angle. Accordingly, AAU is ranked the 1,220th best university and Jimma University took the 1,961st place, amongst 2,000 best universities from around the world. This makes huge contrast seen against the 30 universities Webometrics has picked from 974 in Africa alone.

While this is encouraging, nevertheless, URAP’s is merely an acknowledgement only of two universities as the best from Ethiopia in its 2013 ranking – for a country that has been boasting of several centuries of civilisation and history. In 2011, the Addis Abeba University’s performance had gone down, as was the case in the previous years since the 1990s. two years ago, its placement by URAP at 1,162nd place is indication of that, its scores much lower. AAU should be congratulated for improved performance to return to its former glory, even getting better recognition by performing better results.

URAP’s 2013 ranking is based on six academic performance indicators. Amongst these, research and publications constitute the basis of its ranking methodology. Quality and quantity of publications and international research collaboration performance are also important indicators.

Jimma University (Credit: JU's FB)

Jimma University (Credit: JU’s FB)

It must be relaized, however, that relative to the performance of a number of East African universities, the fact that only the two oldest wo institutions in Ethipia are relatively doing better should be taken as signal that the claim by the regime of expanding university education needs to be backed with what and how an actual university must be provided for and allowed to flourish, despite the country’s resource constraints.

There is no doubt that the number of Ethiopian universities has increased astronomically under the present regime. Several buildings have been sprinkled around the regions. The inescapable fact is that it is not buildings alone that make a university or the educated person. Higher institutions of learning in earnest need qualified teachers with second and third degrees, researchers, books, functioning computers, efficient and reliable Internet connection and well equipped laboratories. To state this is not politics; but to convey the frustrations of many students that the ones that are standing in many regions cannot be considered universities.

Mekelle University (Credit: MU's webpage)

Mekelle University (Credit: MU’s webpage)

Consder this. Of the 30 Ethiopian universities Webometrics has picked out of Africa’s 974 universities, unfortunately 28, possibly 27 other Ethiopian universities – to leave out Mekelle university – have trailed down the line both in their African and global rankings. For instance, the gap between Africa’s 30th – the Addis Abeba University – and the third ranking best university, Mekelle University, while well-funded is 125 universities. Its standing as Africa’s best is 155th best and at 7,939th ranking amongst the world’s best.

When it comes to comparison of AAU’s standing and that of Ethiopian Civil Service College, another well-endowed institution for the officials and political cadres, the gap is even 458 universities. The Ethiopian Civil Service College stands as 488th in Africa and 15,943rd in the world, notwithstanding the contrast is between a university and a college. There is also the Rift Valley University College, whose distance from AAU is as enormously further away as 943 universities, with its ranking as 973rd in Africa – second from the last but one in Africa – and the 21,248th in the world in the eyes of Cybermetrics.

Mentioning the case of Ethiopia’s International Leadership Institute also serves to shed some light on the strength and weaknesses of our institutions.The International Leadership Institute has ranked 875th in Africa and the 20,459th best in the world. However, seen from the list of alumni, it has trained many of our leaders from the prime minister down to his deputy, the speaker, ministers and regional administrators. This is not mentioned here to disparage the institution, but the focus of the education it provides when ideology and political education are its priority, while in the media the role of institutions is given lip service.

To my mind, the revelation about the state of our universities – compared to their peers – bears testimony to the fact that AAU and Jimma University have a very promising future. This is provided that the institutions continue to exert more efforts, devote themselves to the development of their students and the pursuit of scholarship. The implication of this is caution against headlong dive into politics and ideology as vocation.

Especially in the past several years, the universities had witnessed the efforts of those holding the levers of power within the universities and at the level of the state itself that ought to give primacy to the nation’s long-term interests, instead of their own.

If these adjustments are made, many of the institutions could improve, with AAU and Jimma University raising the standards. They could become inspiration for the remaining others.

Also, this should impress on the state to go beyond the rhetoric and, if need be, taking loans and adequately provide them with essential equipment, staff preparations and the requisite academic freedoms and independence. If the interest of the state remains the control of mind, education would become costly burden on the nation, instead of transformative experience to students. The loans that need to be taken to strengthen the universities could be paid in time; after all Ethiopia has been paying debts for enriching corrupt officials that break state coffers or swindle in the name of development all these years.

Trust me, Ethiopia has reached the crossroads, where it cannot go on telling our children and generations to come about our long history, when that history is increasingly becoming devoid of content, especially good education. Recall in this regard, why a small village known as Timbuktu in West Africa is on everyone’s mouth, when even many people cannot locate on the map the countries of Africa.

Timbuktu is self-made because of its devotion to education – Islamic scholarship in medieval periods. Also recall at the same time, only this year, we saw with disgust on our screens how present generation of Tuareg Muslims found it fit to burn its treasure of books during the few days they came close to total control of Mali.

Although his action is markedly different, I felt the same revulsion, when Dr. Shiferaw Teklemariam, Ethiopia’s Minister of the Interior, went around universities in 2013 “to inculcate the virtue of peace…” He told a three day forum last November, “ongoing efforts to address sporadic conflicts and maladministration are bearing fruit”. Did he confuse the differences between the impact of force, murder and incarceration by the state with his lectures? Even Ethiopia’s foremost ally the United States was openly inconvenienced by the regime’s tipping the balance in the direction of extremism.

His only omission is the failure to mention that university students protested and walked out in some campuses making it impossible either for him and his representatives to address them. Did he stop and ask them what the problem was? Did he ask the students how the rising level of conflictual problems should be addressed? Did he try to recruit students to help him in fighting terrorism? No way!

The students disagreed with the threats and invasive methods he came up with that violate their rights and freedoms in universities; they were ordered, with threats of expulsion, to no longer talk or discuss anything related to religion. Are these university students or toddlers in day care? Is a university a place the state should take for granted or totally keep under its control and mistreat the students in manner that advances its repression of society as a whole?

Moreover, while I am at it, i.e., improving quality of education, I would urge the lessons and recommendation by the World Bank in its excellent study and criticisms of visionlessness in the Ethiopian educational system must be taken seriously. Unless teaching and learning do not improve in the lower grades, students do not bloom like flowers the moment they enter university campuses.

In other words, good educational base in the lower grades is a precondition for the production of all rounded professionals to build our country. Ethiopia would do better trying to create a meritocratic society, instead of cultivating soulless and mindless political cadres to serve as loyal robots.

Once again, regarding methodology a number of questions could arise. One could find fault here or there. That is not very helpful. As for me, I see sense in what both research groups have done. Cymetrics is Spain’s partly state owned research group, affiliated with Consejo Superior de investigaciones Cinetficas (CSIC), and has been responsible for the last several years in developing this more modern methodology. Its methodology has been used to rank universities around the world for a number of years now.

Its objective is stated as promotion of academic web presence in support of ” Open Access” initiative. It aims to significantly increase the transfer of universities-generated scientific and cultural knowledge to society at large.

Cybermetrics La says, what it does is not evaluation of websites, their design or usability or the popularity of their contents, as perceived by their visitors. Instead, it says “Web indicators are considered as proxies in the correct, comprehensive, deep evaluation of the university global performance, taking into account its activities and outputs and their relevance and impact … Webometrics is a ranking of all the universities of the world, not only a few hundred institutions from the developed world. Of course, “World-class” universities usually are not small or very specialized institutions.”

Compiled from Webometrics ranking http://www.webometrics.info/en/Africa

Compiled from Webometrics ranking http://www.webometrics.info/en/Africa

Addis Abeba University (AAU) was established in 1950 as the Haile Selassie I University (HSIU). Its name was changed from HSIU to AAU to signify the political change in the country in the 1970s.

Jimma University has its origin in the Jimma College of Agriculture, the emperor founded in 1952. In 1983, the military regime added to it the Jimma Institute of Health Sciences, comprising two campuses.

*Updated, with added materials and some modifications.

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