Since its establishment in 2003, among the most important work of the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) has been the conduct of external institutional quality audits. One of the outcomes of audits is the finding that, despite the efforts of HERQA and others, higher education institutions have made only modest progress in establishing robust and comprehensive quality assurance systems. While higher education institutions have embraced the quality concept, many have yet to develop quality assurance policies and strategies and establish efficient structures that can systematically assure quality. A number of quality-related problems persist. Paramount among these is human capacity. There is a general lack of expertise in quality-related processes in higher education institutions. This also impacts on the work of HERQA as it seeks to recruit credible academics with the necessary combination of awareness and experience to assist it in undertaking external quality audits. While helping to bring quality to the top of the agenda by carrying out quality audits and accreditations, HERQA has learned much in the interval since its establishment.
Until the final decade of the 20th century, higher education in Ethiopia was not given due attention, its curriculum was not always relevant to the country’s problems nor was its capacity in line with the country’s needs for trained individuals (Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Education, 2002). However, actions have been implemented to change that situation. The Ethiopian Government is working to re-align its higher education system so that it can contribute more directly to its national strategy for economic growth and poverty reduction (Saint, 2004). There has been a steady increase in the number of students in higher education. Between 1994 and 2002 alone there was a 45% increase (Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Education, 2002). In December 2001 the government reported that the total number of students enrolled in regular degree programs had increased from 13,347 in 1996/97 to 23,320 in 2000/01. On average the total number of students was growing at 15.0% per annum (Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Education, 2001) It is also stated “because of the two national Education Sector Development Programs, the growth at all levels in higher education, but particularly in the government sector, is the highest of all educational levels-enrolment with an annual average increase of over 33% per year” (Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Education, 2007).
The number of public higher education institutions has also grown from only two universities eight years ago to more than 20 in 2008/2009. More are planned to be established. The Government has also facilitated and encouraged the establishment of private institutions of higher education and there are now more than 60 such institutions.
Sensitive to the fact that expansion of numbers alone would not satisfy the needs of the country, Higher Education Proclamation 351 (Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Education, 2003) made provision for the creation of the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) and this was established in 2003 (Higher Education Proclamation no.351/2003) with the aim of safeguarding and enhancing the quality and relevance of higher education in the country. Its mission includes: ensuring that accredited HEIs are of an appropriate standard; establishing that the programs of study offered by these HEIs are of an appropriate quality and relevance to the world of work and the development needs of the country; and supporting the country’s higher education sector in enhancing the quality and relevance of its education provision.
HERQA has therefore undertaken several activities to date, including: pre-accreditation and accreditation of a number of programs in private higher education institutions; external quality audits in all the public and some private higher education institutions training of its staff, both locally and abroad, on issues of quality and relevance assurance and enhancement; convening of consultative and training workshops with stakeholders (public and private institution leaders, managers and academic staff and representatives from government organizations and professional associations); development of draft benchmarks for selected subjects; and the publication of procedures for external quality audits and accreditation processes.
HERQA is structured in such a way that it can handle its affairs with little bureaucratic red tape. It has developed a flat organizational structure. This has many advantages: it encourages individuals in the organization to cooperate with each other towards achieving the goals of the organization as a whole; in addition, in a rapidly changing context, it enables resources, including people, to be deployed flexibly across tasks.
Currently HERQA has a Director, 9 senior experts, 3 experts, and 15 administrative and support workers. The experts have been grouped in three major sections, namely: a Quality Assurance and Enhancement Team, an Accreditation team, and Administrative Department. Additionally, two small teams work on human resource development and policy and strategy of the Agency. All the experts are accountable to the Director General of the Agency while having horizontal relationship among them at the same time.
Earlier the administrative department was serving both HERQA and another sister organization housed on the same building. Since the beginning of 2007 however, due to the expansion of the work of the Agency and the staff, it has become essential for HERQA to have its own administrative staff. This recent move has helped the Agency to be more effective in facilitating the quality assurance and enhancement services it is providing to the stakeholders.