Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
It was three weeks ago that the Higher Education Relevance Quality Agency (HERQA), established in 2003 as a body responsible for guiding and regulating the education sector, executed penalties against nine educational institutions, which were found to be below the required quality standards.
Among them were four health education colleges, including Hayat Medical College, Bethel Medical College, Africa Health Science College, which have been giving courses leading up to the degree, Doctor of Medicine, and Atlas Health College, giving qualification in dentistry. These institutions have been barred from receiving new students for one year in the mentioned fields, for admitting more than the permitted number of students.
However, for a fourth year student at a medical college, the damage is already done.
“I am a fourth year medicine student and I do not think I have received a well-qualified education so far,” he said.
His complaint begins with the fact that the Agency failed to make surprise visits to the educational facilities it visited for regulatory purposes.
“What my institution does is prepare students which will guarantee it to cover its misdeeds and irregularities in order to abuse the sample made by the agency in order to collect information from students, he explained.
Sometimes the students also intentionally cooperate with their colleges to cover their defects, because these students themselves are admitted without having fulfilled the standards for entry, he stressed.
During the preclinical stage one of medical colleges barred from making new admissions, had failed to provide basic equipment necessary for its 120 students in its medicine courses only. A simple illustration is that each student is supposed to know how to take a blood sample and identify the bacteria which causes tuberculosis, he said.
“However, due to the reason that all students who were supposed to have firsthand experience of how to treat such cases, did not, we were unfamiliar with the process during the clinical stage; this has shocked and surprised those physicians who were assigned to guide us,” he noted.
One doctor had a similar experience of unpreparedness among his students. Tadesse Getahun (MD), who works at Yekatit 12 Hospital recounted an experience of students assigned to the hospital for practical experience in February this year. He found the students lacking in basic knowledge of bacteria, which they should have learned in theory.
“The students most of the time refrain from mentioning the reasons why they did not have such knowledge,” he said.
One explanation is their own weakness in acquiring knowledge or they are not educated about it at all. Having many private educational institutions is not a problem as long as they have the quality, he added.
According to national accreditation and quality improvement standards for a medical degree programme, there has to be an adequate supply of functional laboratory equipment to learn essential competencies with a ratio of one piece of equipment for six students in each lab session. This was part of the standard that was produced in 2014 with the financial aid of the USAID.
This seems to be the case shared by a former nursing student of the defunct Central Health College (CHC). Now studying midwifery in a government owned centre, she complained that the nursing course she had taken and graduated from, had gaps in accessing practical accessories. This student did not even touch a vaginal speculum, used for post abortion care, until after she had graduated.
“It was when I was preparing to take the certificate of competency (COC) and receive mentoring from individuals that I got to see one,” said the nurse now studying midwifery.
The standard requires access to two speculums for each student. Not accessing basic equipment or faced with a limited number had a dual impact: The students fail to get good hands-on experience and the teachers face the challenge of testing to see how much their students know.
“We studied most of the practical studies with illustrations given by lectures based on assumptions that the equipment is there, when there is actually none,” she said.
Moreover, though the same standard recommends an adequate supply of textbooks in a ratio of 1:5 students and reference materials in a ratio of 1:15 students relevant to the course, the medical student complained that there are cases where only six books are available for all students of the course. Again even though accesses to services are supposed to be available 24 hours a day, it is only up to 6.00pm in the evening that libraries are opened.
“I tried to have access to the books mostly by purchasing from the market which is too expensive, ranging from 2,000Br to 3,000 Br. I often ask for help from friends,” he said bitterly.
The agency knows that there are gaps in the implementation of control and monitoring of these institutions, said Tarekgne Geressu, communications head of the Agency.
Health education colleges were not the only institutions which the agency penalised during the latest report.
These institutions specifically violated the agency’s student registration submission criteria and the types of courses they should include in their curriculum. Some were also found offering courses for which they did not have the Agency’s approval, according to the report.
One of these institutions, Nile College, which has existed since 2002, and is located in Mekelle city, was penalised for not having permanent lecturers and receiving students who do not fulfill the entry requirements.
The college loses permanent lecturers because of the high turnover which affected not only Nile but also other colleges, claimed Areya Teumay, dean of the college.
“In order to punish others, we need concrete evidence and they should come up with that,” said Tarekgne.
The college, in its regular and Distance Education programme, had a roll of approximately 400 students, the majority of them taking Accounting courses with the remaining pursuing Management. One hundred of them will graduate this year.
Deputy Director of the Agency, Tamrat Motti, admitted that it has shortcomings.
The Agency only has a limited staff members and while the number of education institutions has reached 100, the number of campuses stands at 140.
“We have also now come to consensus that there are limitations in the inspection process. For example, the Agency rarely does surprise inspections of institutions because of the staff limitation,” Tamrat said.
The Proclamation on Higher Education has gaps in way of make liable, those who violate the law and cause disruption in the education system, said Tarekegne.
A new amendment to the Proclamation, which will clearly state penalties, has been already submitted to the Ministry of Education (MoE) and other education institutions, added Tarekgne.
According to this year’s report, the Agency has given new licences and renewed existing ones for 52 higher private education institutions, as well as penalising the offending nine.
The agency is yet to distribute the publication of its new standards for institutions, which is expected to guide them.
“For now we only prioritised courses related to health. In the future we plan to prepare standards for other subjects such as engineering,” said Tamrat.
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