Authors: Shimelis Tsegaye
Owing to the raging surge of globalization that engendered the inescapable phenomenon of universal interconnectedness among higher education systems as well as among employment markets, academic institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to persevere as suppliers of knowledge that has a global appeal. The situation has posed a threat to their very survival in the social Darwinistic sense of the term in an academic world littered with soul-searching curricular innovations and incredible research breakthroughs. Employment imperatives of today‟s globalized world seem to cater only to the individual who happens to know all possessing a scholastic résumé that sounds like a recipe for divinity. The cultivation of an individual of that caliber requires among others resources the most critical of which is finance. Therefore, the way higher education is financed, and in a sustainable way, becomes a cause for considerable concern for governments and citizens alike. The same concern by the Ethiopian government metamorphosed into the recent introduction of a cost-sharing scheme in one of the country‟s oldest universities-the AAU. But the question is that any fee-charging higher education system is expected to live with a number of hard choices and to fulfill a plethora of apparently politically unpalatable demands. Some of the critical exigencies that are the natural antecedents of a non-free higher education system include the notion of the university as a market-driven institution and the accompanying principles of competitiveness and competition. Other equally crucial imperatives that are the corollaries of a fee-charging higher education system and that determine the system‟s relationship with society include the issues surrounding university autonomy, accountability, social responsibility and transparency. A public that pays for its own education or the education of its sons and daughters demands-and rightly so- a university to be in a position to develop techniques of management, administration and self-verification which balance university autonomy with the obligation to be accountable to society, to demonstrate efficiency in fulfilling its mission and transparency in its manner of achieving it. In brief, a form of “social contract” has to take shape between the university and society. The other highly sensitive issue that invariably arises in the governance of a higher education system that charges fees is that of academic freedom. Here, academic freedom should not be construed to refer only to the academic community. It should rather be seen as part of a broader human right- that of freedom of information and expression. In situations where there prevail instances of muzzling of legitimate student voices and police harassment of students on accounts of their political persuasion while they bear the brunt of the economic cost of running the system itself, the above otherwise colorful virtues lose any of their values. With that theoretical background, the paper attempts to make a preliminary assessment of the changes that are currently taking shape or that signal future direction in the areas of academic freedom, quality, efficiency, accountability and social responsibility following and concomitant with the very recent institution of the cost-sharing scheme at the AAU. It addresses the question of whether the university is trying to put systems of service delivery that guarantee these democratic values. It also tries to see if the scheme has fulfilled one of its major objectives of having graduates who will volunteer for rural engagements through government placement in return for free education services. More specific issues like the sufficiency of the country‟s financial infrastructure to ensure effective loan recovery as well as the underlying considerations that led to the determination of the monthly installment amount and the repayment period will be discussed vis-à-vis prevailing local economic demands and constraints. Finally, the paper makes feasible suggestions of how to go about ensuring these values so that the cost-sharing scheme operates to fruition while at the same time securing sufficient additional funds towards delivering educational services of standard quality.