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Friday, March 13, 2015

It seems that the Revolutionary Democrats are lumbering for yet another big investment push in the education sector. Their recent announcement of a plan to build 11 new public universities across the country certainly is something that took everyone by surprise. It not only is such a bold promise, but also brings the age-old debate on higher education back to the policy space.
Improving access to education has been the policy prerogative of the ruling Revolutionary Democrats. They have been firm on the agenda regardless of the vicious critics their very calculation has exposed them to. Of course, it would be naive to conclude that their policy presumptions have only been economic.
The technocratic approach to development that the Revolutionary Democrats subscribe to advocates for selling development solutions as economic remedies. It is after peeling the economic rationales away that one could see the political imperatives of the policy measures. It is no different with higher education policy.
Before 1991, Ethiopia had less than five full-fledged public universities. It took almost a decade for this number to increase to eight. In the late 2000s, though, the government put a big push in the sector and managed to add 21 new public universities. Hence, the total number of public universities reached 32.
The latest decision to add 11 new universities will take this number to 43. This, in rough calculations, means that there will be a public university for every two million Ethiopians. Not only would this take the total number of higher education students to the order of over a million, but it will also provide opportunities for hundreds of thousands of high school graduates to join universities each year.