Imperatives for a functioning information system at HEIs
Aside from their internal needs, the availability and dissemination of a well-functioning higher education management system can also strengthen the accountability of higher education institutions by increasing their transparency in reporting plans and performances.
It appears that despite the importance of an information system at all levels of institutional operations, many higher education systems and institutions are deficient in building such systems and recognising their strategic importance.
The importance of data management and reporting is emphasised in Ethiopia’s Higher Education Proclamation (2009) which stipulates the duties of higher education institutions regarding organising and using institutional information and making available such information to internal and external users.
For instance, the production of reports for the Ministry of Education and other external users such as the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency requires a range of data about institutional profiles and progress on accreditation, quality audit and annual performance.
Accordingly, all institutions are required to establish efficient systems for statistical data collection and information exchange among themselves, their units and with the Ministry of Education to which they are accountable. Higher education institutions are also required to publish accurate, detailed and comprehensive annual educational and financial statistical data at a prescribed date (ie three months) after the end of an academic year.
For most of the Ethiopian universities that have gone through institutional reforms and are using management tools such as the Balanced Scorecard, the availability of an integrated information system appears to be critical. The communication and implementation of higher education institutions’ strategic plans demand various monitoring measures which rely on organised information systems.
In spite of the needs and legal requirements put in place, there appears to be very little development of an integrated higher education management information system that would enhance evidence-based planning and decision-making – both at institutional and national levels.
The majority of Ethiopian higher education institutions are known for lack of operational direction, clearly articulated responsibilities for information management and the absence of comprehensive and integrated information systems. In addition, most higher education institutions do not keep consistent and comprehensive institutional data while many have deficiencies in documenting the progress of their students.
As evidenced in most of the quality audit reports issued by the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency over the last decade, determining the graduation, dropout and attrition rate of students in most universities is not an easy task owing to the lack of coherent data.
Most often, data from different sections in the same institution may not be available or may even fail to corroborate information from a different section. Higher education institutions engaged in the publication and wider dissemination of available data are also very rare. This has created a significant challenge for those who seek to use educational data for a variety of purposes, including research on the higher education sector in general or particular institutions of higher learning.
Source of data
The only organised data about education at national level comes from the Education Management Information System (EMIS) managed by the Ministry of Education. EMIS data is available both at national and regional levels and their publication – which is produced as an Education Statistics Annual Abstract – has served the sector for decades, providing basic information for internal and external users.
The abstract contains summarised information on education data and statistics on subsectors like general education, technical and vocational, and higher education and data on other relevant issues acquired through regional and national channels.
As acknowledged by the ministry itself in 2017, the statistics produced serve as a measure of the achievement of goals set by the ministry and the regional education bureaus, in addition to being used for planning, decision-making and policy formulation. The education progress indicators in the statistical publication are also used to track Ethiopia’s achievement against global goals such as Education For All and the Sustainable Development Goals reported to external bodies like UNESCO.
Since the Education Statistics Annual Abstract collects information on a voluntary basis, there is a problem of under-reporting. For instance, the data from private higher education institutions for many years has been drawn from around 30% of available institutions, due to failures in reporting. The publication of the annual abstract has not been timely due to a variety of challenges facing the unit responsible for publishing the statistics.
Having developed little sophistication over the years, the EMIS remains the only available source to date but needs to address its current challenges and augment its capacity in order to offer detailed information on particular areas of interest.
Towards a better system
The Ethiopian higher education system is growing at a tremendous pace with the potential to become one of the largest in Africa in the coming decade. If such a sector has little knowledge of its progress and deficiencies, it will be seriously challenged in terms of clearly understanding its achievements, the challenges it faces and the mechanisms it should create to mitigate problems.
Hence the creation of an efficient and integrated higher education information management system, both at institutional and national levels, is urgently required. Such a system should be comprehensive enough to address requirements emanating from various stakeholders such as students, teachers, researchers, administrators, employers, policy decision-makers and others.
Considering its importance, it appears imperative that the deployment of resources, skills and continuous support to facilitate the creation of such a system should be a major government concern and priority of institutions and stakeholders. The task may begin by setting clear policy directions, strategies, structures and regulatory requirements which enforce the creation of a management information system across the whole sector at institutional level.
The fact that this need has not been emphasised in the new Ethiopian Education Development Roadmap (2018-30) is a serious gap that should be corrected. Against this background, one will be tempted to challenge the newly created Ministry of Science and Higher Education to take the lead in meeting the urgent need for a robust management information system that will play a critical role in the accomplishment of national higher education goals.
Wondwosen Tamrat is an associate professor and founding president of St Mary’s University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an affiliate scholar of the Programme for Research on Private Higher Education (PROPHE) at the State University of New York at Albany, United States, and coordinator of the private higher education sub-cluster of the Continental Education Strategy of Africa (CESA-AU). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.