Why Digitization of Higher Education Should be a Priority for Ethiopia After the Telco Sector Liberalization
The new directions and reform undertaken by the government of Ethiopia (GOE) that liberalizes the telco sector and puts digitization at the forefront of the country’s development agenda have led to much optimism, but uncertainty remains as to their pace and impact that is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and by instances of ethnic and political violence currently happening in the country. With 60% of Ethiopia’s 113 million population currently being under the age of 24, and projected to double by 2050, the high unemployment rate with more than 2 million youth entering into the workforce, restless youth, food insecurity and increasing urbanization is exerting a huge pressure on natural resources, infrastructure, the economy, services, and political stability.
With the fourth industrial revolution and digitization driving all aspects of the global society and economy, if the GOE is to actualize its vision to transition to a more democratic, middle income status by 2025 with a prosperous society, accountable institutions and private-sector led growth, it is vital for Ethiopia to leverage its demographic dividend and digitally transform its economy. Access to affordable, high quality internet services being the foundation of a digital economy, the liberalization of the Ethiopian telco sector happening this year, will therefore mark a major milestone in Ethiopia’s digital transformation journey.
Once high quality internet is widely accessible, higher education institutions have a fundamental role to play in nurturing the development of demand-driven digital and technical skills because of their duty to provide teaching and learning, research, and to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Higher education institutions are the drivers of the technology, economy, social, and cultural advancement of the country through the creation of skillful workforce. Research, that stems from the higher education system also generates knowledge, fuels startup ecosystems, stimulates international cooperation and increases competitiveness globally.
The higher education sector in Ethiopia is poised to witness significant growth in the years to come and will play a critical role in Ethiopia’s digital transformation and sustainable development. However, Ethiopia’s higher education system, which consists of more than 471 universities, 1500 TVETs and over 3 million students, already faces challenges such as capacity, scale, and quality. Higher education institutions have an enormous responsibility to turn the Ethiopian youth explosion into a dividend by bridging the skills-to-jobs gap, developing new digital skills, supporting digital entrepreneurship and creating digital jobs. To achieve the monumental task, universities and TVETs must embrace digitization themselves to significantly increase Ethiopia’s national enrollment rate that currently stands at less than 20 percent, by overcoming physical and resource constrains and democratize learning to all classes of the population.
Digitization would also enable higher education institutions to effectively respond to the increasing pressure they face to enhance their students’ career outcomes. This is done by creating better linkages with the local economy through project-based learning that engages students to solve challenges facing businesses and public institutions. Higher education and job creation governing bodies must therefore work hand-in-hand, and involve private digital platforms providers to avert the prevailing skills-jobs mismatch in the country’s current industrial economy. They must also evolve into technological hubs to provide Ethiopian students with the support they need to turn their ideas into viable businesses, and to cultivate startup ecosystems for the future digital economy.
The historic public-private partnership between MoSHE, Intellimedia Networks, as well as with its local project design and implementing partners Andalem Consulting and United Systems Integrators, is the ideal public sector supported and private sector led framework to achieve Ethiopia’s goal to rip the benefits of digitization in its higher education sector. The MoSHE-Apollo project aims to surf on Ethiopia’s expanding connectivity backbone, to deliver a complete set of digital tools that will not only personalize learning and accelerate the creation of skillful workforce, but also smoothen their effective integration in Ethiopia’s public, private and social institutions. The digital transformation of higher education being inextricably linked to investments in the national IT infrastructure, the GOE’s recent move to liberalize the telco sector and prioritize broadband access to educational institutions and underserved rural areas, is a major step forward in bridging digital divide depriving millions of people access to information, knowledge and networks in the country. The omnichannel delivery capability and dynamic adaptability to local connectivity situations makes the MoSHE-Apollo platform ideal to mitigate inequalities in the spatial distribution of network infrastructure. This enables students to access online educational content on their smartphones in a data frugal manner or access in-app downloaded courses, offline from anywhere.
The project will create data-driven linkage between student skills and interests with industry relevant projects through the delivery of custom-built content, project-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities earlier in their learning journey, in collaboration with public and industrial stakeholders. Students with entrepreneurial aspirations will also be identified at an earlier stage of their tertiary education and will be provided technical, soft skill and startup creation educational content that will enable them to develop their startup ideas. Upon graduation, the project will also link them with innovation hubs, incubator/accelerator programs and startup bootcamps that will enable them to create the industries of tomorrow.
Author Michael Tesfaye Hiruy