By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
As schools in most nations closed for the summer, many education and research-centers-affiliated web pages have kept busy until end of July, comparing and rating the performances of universities around the world during 2014. While schools have been on holidays since beginning of July, it is our sense and anticipation that most high school completing students the world over are spending their time looking into profiles of the universities with which they aspire to link their future.
We have witnessed on this blog also the very high number of possible students that throughout the year have been consulting what we published here as indicator of the 2013 performances of Ethiopian universities.
If it is what we think they have been doing, we are gratified; our objective has been and remains to help in small ways by inspiring in the students and concerned institutions a sense of competition and comparison in which they could see and emplace themselves within a global context. We want them to become in future better competitors amongst African and world universities and colleges.
In that regard, in what we write our efforts are directed to inducing improvements that individuals could make in our country’s institutions of higher learning – as students, teachers and administrators.
Therefore, encouraged by the responses and interests of readers, for the second time this blog has taken out time to go through the numbers to see the performances and rankings of Ethiopia’s 31 universities – this time around on two metrics – Excellence and Impact.
In reading this table, which we compiled from Ranking Web of Universities (Webometrics), please note that, in all instances, the interpretation is that the lower the numbers next to the name of an individual university or college the better its standing is.
What we reviewed and examined
The starting point for such an exercise in determining results in comparison is to have sense of the size of the pool, i.e., the competitor institutions. This year it is huge: 1,306 African universities and 21,945 world universities.
Given the size of the pool, Ethiopia has only two universities below the 100 ranking (Addis Abeba and Jimma Universities;) and four universities below the 10,000 threshold in the world ranking: Addis Abeba, Jimma, Mekelle and Hawassa Universities.
To the extent possible and wherever the data are available, we have given the performance indicators ranking our universities in Africa and universities around the world.
Moreover, unlike last year’s mono-metric measure, we have provided two tables with two metrics, which we thought would better reflect the standing and assessment of our universities. The metrics we chose are: (a) Excellence and (b) Impact.
When one thinks of excellence, the next thing that comes or must come to mind is the operative verb of this word – excel. In academic circles, excellence is a very common and much respected word and a coveted status. It is not without reason that Aristotle once said:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Put briefly, excellence is testimony to the presence first in individuals and then in institution of skilled individuals in various fields. These people are called lecturers and professors, when we are talking about colleges and universities. They are individuals who are imbued with knowledge.
They are hired by institutions and paid to share the knowledge they have acquired with the novice and those hungry for it – students. By so doing, teachers, lecturers and professors build society – a nation! In other words, schools and universities must always strive to become places of excellence.
The excellence criterion here in the comparison of universities measures the research papers they publish. Out of that are distilled the quality ones, as evidenced by how much those research works are sought by others, cited in the works of other researchers.
In rating universities, this stands out as scholarship, for the outcome of which a given institution has invested its name, its energies and shares its output with the world. The vehicle is the internet. The beauty of Excellence is that not everything an institution publishes would go into earning higher rating.
It is only quality publications that attract other readers, institutions and researchers that return the real points to the university’s credit.
IMPACT, as criterion is more neutral. It evaluates an institution of higher learning through, what the Cybermetrics Lab refers to as a “virtual referendum”. In other words, in the age of internet and the facilitation of access to documents virtually anywhere in the world has become a two way traffic. Much as any institution benefits from virtually receiving documents, information and research outputs, it also publishes its research work by staff, its students and visitors affiliated with the university or college.
The number of visitors to a university’s cyber pages and the documents they are after are indicators of how much the university’s work is sought by the outside world.
There are companies, which do watch what a given university at a given time publishes. They use crawlers and find out and assemble those documents for readers and their own evaluation of how many times it has been used by others. It means that, without consulting an institution or seeking its permission or approval, a given university or college is the subject of evaluation by others – based on its research outputs.
For instance, Webometrics builds its data on the performances of universities and colleges, based on some data it receives from Majestic SEO and ahrefs. Their mission revolves around generating information on information put out by universities and colleges on their web pages for analysis by others.
This helps to answers the questions: What has x college or university published? Who accesses its documents? It speaks to both quality and quantity about a given university or college’s performance. Therefore, the IMPACT assessment is derived by how much it is being sought by others for what it can share or provide.
In explaining this, Webometrics states:
The indicator is the product of square root of the number of backlinks and the number of domains originating those backlinks, so it is not only important the link popularity but even more the link diversity. The maximum of the normalized results is the impact indicator.
What have we learned at this point?
This year, we would reserve judgment about changes in any direction. The lack of specific data about an institution do not allow us to pronounce ourselves whether the minor changes we note in either direction represent improvements or deterioration. We did not want to second guess what is constructed on the basis of detailed data, which we have not seen and considered.
As simple as it sounds, the small changes we notice could simply be the effect of overall movements in the numbers (the pool) or due to other factors we do neither have the time nor the resources to investigate at this stage. It could also be new entrants being stronger or weaker than existing competitors.
This restraint on our side, however, is not subject to situations where the picture is too glaring for silence.
On the surface of it, for instance, the change this year in the numbers and standing of the Mekelle Institute of Technology seem to indicate a stride. Nevertheless, this conclusion requires caution. For a start, the sum total of its overall standing has been inconsistent. One indicator of this is the fact that the university has moved up on the Excellence metric, while it has become a laggard on the Impact ranking. Similarly, the same is true also on its Openness metric and its Presence ranking, which we consulted to proof our initial conclusion.
This latter two we have not utilized in our assessment, since one of the two can terribly skew the picture. They strictly are linked to the organization of web pages – which simply measures how strong the standards of a university’s networks are, i.e., for instance, whether Google could easily counts and picks documents and makes available during searches. It also involves issues around domains, filing protocols and standards, etc. This is to determine how much attention a given institution has paid to be present in cyberspace and be of relevance.
We did not think, we should work on the Presence and Openness metrics, simply because our universities are poorly-equipped and poorly-endowed in both the equipment they have and need and the limited tech savvy manpower they have.
During this exercise, looking from the surface, we could not be indifferent to the painful state of Ambo University – the site of massive bloodshed and massacre by the TPLF security forces in April/May 2014 of university students and detentions of faculty. We do not have all the information, but what happened in that campus is a crime against the nation and its future.
From the scant information, we could glean, in the 2014 ranking of universities, Ambo University, relative to its earlier standing has been relegated this year to the bottom on the Excellence metric. Its saving grace is the Impact ranking, which remains intact – at least for now – as derivative. It is not clear whether this totally is the impact of the criminal, shameful and cruel destruction it has been subjected to, which far away from campus still is continuing against individual students and faculty in birth areas of the students.
There are also weird movements, if, for instance, one considers the case of Admas University. It is an institution, which is at the bottom of the ladder this year on the Excellence metric. It suddenly moves eight steps up and to the middle on the Openness measure. The question is why a university should find itself all over the map, when subjected to different assessment criteria.
If we look to our universities across metrics, we would note that those above ten ranking order, their movements are limited for almost all of them when evaluated against different metrics. The only exception here is also Jimma University – on the Presence measure – which is explained below.
Another interesting story is that the example of St Mary University, which is ranked 24th out of 31 Ethiopian universities on Excellence. On Impact, its position improves to 16th position. However, when it comes to Presence, it shoves off Jimma University from its second place – one of our consistently second best university to the 9th position and takes the second place, right after Addis Abeba University. This is unrealistic.
The Presence metric measures an institution’s presence on the web pages. This means that Jimma University, relative to St Mary’s, has weaker cyber presence and weak internet services. Or internet companies, such as Google, might have imposed restriction against Jimma University, possibly for non-conventional filing systems, which the university should carefully examine.
Our universities and colleges
Given that our country is one of the oldest states in the world, still its situation is a bit tragic. This is more so, when we see our young institutions struggling, of course, just as beginners and the country constantly running to remain in the same place. This is not refusal to acknowledge that today the country has 31 universities under the TPLF, if the issue is numbers and buildings, but not education – quality education.
Number is not necessarily what Ethiopia needs today. Rather it is good schools qualified teachers and universities with qualified faculty, good books, laboratories, improved and adequate internet services – the latter’s speed embarrassingly being only comparable to 17th century ‘truck’. On top of this, the political system in our country has been infected with the disease of turning everyone into enemies and by denial to teachers and students of their dignity and willingness as the nation’s future, which is under serious threat by impediment to their quests.
In comparison, a few older nations such as Egypt and South Africa continue to make huge gains, as can be seen on the extreme right columns of the two tables below. Those societies have given value to education and scholarship. That is the only explanation why Egyptian and South African universities are globally competitive and their citizens better educated.
Has anyone seen Ethiopia’s latest human development index in the UNDP’s 2014 human development report? It is at the tails end – by miracle ahead of a few fragile states, some of them war fields at present. Why? The present is an enemy of the past and every time there is change of regime the baby is thrown out with the bathwater!
Because of ignorance, every dictator that assumes power begins his first task of “nation building” with destruction of schools and teachers. This has happened under the Dergue, destroying whatever was built by the imperial government. It is now worse under the TPLF, which, if you consider what Meles told former professors that had taught in the Haile Selassie I University in the 1970s and 1980s.
Initially, Meles sought to utilize education and higher learning as his vehicle toward prestige and to ensure TPLF’s continuity in power – not nation building – if one reflects on what he told those professors at A Breakfast Meeting With Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on October 20, 1996 – the minutes of which were prepared and circulated by the noted Ethiopianist Prof Harold Marcus. Anyone interested could see who told lies and blinked first.
The tragedy is that everything those professors, two of them my former educators, had warned Meles have come true. They forewarned him of the danger of the strongman course he seemed to prefer, which they said would destroy academic freedom and dissent within the Addis Abeba University and then within the broader society!
As evidence of fulfilment of that prophecy, recall that Meles Zenawi in one night threw out of campuses over 40 university lecturers and professors. Fortunately, most of these ‘unwanted professors’ have all this long been abroad teaching foreign students, where some of them have distinguished themselves and have been given recognition by foreign universities and governments.
What could one call that kind of madness, I mean, Meles Zenawi’s and TPLF’s enmity to the nation and future of generations. Could it be that, as Ermias Legesse intimated to the Ethiopian people, the generals now in power, etc. they are ignorant and incapable of valuing and respecting education – because most of them are uneducated beyond grade 3 and 4?
Today, we hear of consistent efforts by agents of the regime to recruit as party members young children at the level of elementary, high schools and secondary schools. This would only spoil and destroy their young minds, especially with the poisonous TPLF’s self-serving politics and daft ideology.
In Ethiopia, schools and universities are being seen by the TPLF as enemy camp. Therefore, in schools with good reputation, some ‘mercenaries’ that are willing to give their services to the ruling party or intelligence services are recruited as teachers for some extra remuneration. Their job is not to teach children, but to protect the regime spying on everyone – students and teachers alike.
This is not propitious environment for teaching and learning in Ethiopia. The TPLF is so much preoccupied with its own interest of remaining in power until the Second Coming; its strategy for schools is to somehow repressively keep kids and college students under control. In fact, today in Ethiopia, a student once told me, any university campus is comprised of the mini-presences – in addition to the administrative machinery of a university, college, or schools – of and influence of the ruling party observers unit and the security and intelligence arm, which themselves in some places are the peddlers of hashish and other drugs to students.
Anyone who listened on ESAT to Tamagne Beyene’s interview, he or she would realize former prime minister Addisu Legesse urging the ruling party to take the necessary measures to protect itself against teachers that have lacked loyalty to the party and government. This he was talking in closed party meetings, which was recorded and released on air. Not surprisingly, Addisu also released the information that two-thirds of Ethiopian teachers are members of the ruling party. Nonetheless, this has not stopped either Addisu from accusing teachers of being leaders of rallies and protest marches against it or help the party realize that it is the most hated -a looked down nincompoop.
It goes without saying that some of our universities have relatively done better than last year, although still it is the older institutions that have used their accumulated experiences to improve their performances. Overall, however, the safer conclusion is that Ethiopia’s universities have a long way to go to be recognized as competitors and centers of excellence in the views of their peers in other countries.
The dread that kills Ethiopia’s educational system is the poor quality of education the TPLF experts have pushed down to reap the political propaganda benefits. They are fools, since they cannot understand that an elementary school, high school, secondary school, college and a university with quality education could have been the best credit to any nation, with no need for imposing propaganda on our children and the entire society just to enable the TPLF remain in power as long as Methuselah.
Understanding this takes the appropriate national leadership, which the TPLF lacks, bereft as it is of the ability, desire, state of mind and commitment to Ethiopia’s future.
Excellent UNESCO report identifies heart of Ethiopia’s education problems