Universal Journal of Educational Research 5(4): 591-599, 2017DOI: 10.13189/ujer.2017.050408http://www.hrpub.orgThe Public-Private Divide in Ethiopian Higher Education:Issues and Policy ImplicationsMulu NegaHigher Education Policy and Quality Assurance, Institute of Educational Research, Addis Ababa University, EthiopiaCopyright 2017 by authors, all rights reserved. Authors agree that this article remains permanently open access under theterms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 International LicenseAbstract This article explores the current issues on thepublic-private divide in the Ethiopian higher educationlandscape and their policy implications. It criticallyexamines issues related to legal and regulatory frameworksin order to understand the public-private divide in theEthiopian higher education context. The article is based ontwo premises. The first pertains to the idea that public andprivate higher education providers are commonly required tomeet the quality and relevance imperatives of their salientstakeholders as stipulated in the higher educationproclamation. The second concerns the argument that anenabling policy and legal framework is crucial for the privatehigher education sector to play a key role in addressing thesocial demand for higher education, and thereby contributefor the socio-economic development of a country. Thisarticle draws mainly on secondary sources of data fromofficial government documents including policies,proclamations, pertinent national and international researchreviews, national and organizational level plans andstrategies, statistical abstracts and reports as well as keyinformant interviews to analyze the issue under study. Thefindings revealed that the private higher education providersare playing a significant role in addressing the unmet socialdemand for higher education through increasing access andthereby creating employment opportunities. However, theexisting playground/rule of the game is not fairly treatingboth public and private providers in terms of studentadmission, quality regulation and other policy incentives. Itis argued that the government should create a fair and robustlegal and regulatory framework to maximize the benefits ofboth public and private providers in terms of improvingaccess, relevance, and quality education. Finally, policyimplications for improvement of the current status of privateproviders are suggested based on the findings.Keywords Higher Education, Legal Framework, Public,Private, Policy, Quality, Relevance, Stakeholder1. BackgroundHigher education has long been regarded as a public goodin terms of producing enormous externalities, benefiting notonly the individual, but also the society at large. The socialbenefits/externalities of higher education cover economic,political, social, cultural and technological aspects such aseconomic growth through innovation and technologicalchanges, increased productivity and tax revenues, politicalstability and social cohesion that are widely acknowledgedas core reasons for countries to invest on higher education.This paradigm has been influencing public laws and policiesin higher education throughout the world for a long time.However, many higher education systems across the globehave gone through significant changes in relation to sourcesof funding, governance, institutional arrangement andregulation over the past several decades. The main drivingforces for such changes include, among others, theincreasing social demand for higher education coupled withinadequate government funding, the rise of market ideologyand competitiveness, and new technologies. Thesedevelopments challenge the long-cherished and wellestablished view of higher education as a public good and theway it was governed, provided, and financed, particularly theoverwhelmingly public responsibility for higher education.In relation to the market paradigm, discussions on the privategood focuses on the individual benefits of higher educationthat include market benefits such as higher earnings,increased employability & social status of graduates,increased productivity and non-market benefits, amongothers. This paradigm has created conducive environment forthe creation and growth of different forms of private highereducation providers across the globe. Though private highereducation has been common worldwide for many decades,modern private higher education was a phenomenon of thelate 20th century for Africa in general and sub-Saharan Africain particular and Ethiopia is not an exception.Overall, the higher education landscape of manydeveloped and developing countries has now changed andcharacterized by the public-private dynamism. Thepublic-private divide has been a fundamental area of debate
592The Public-Private Divide in Ethiopian Higher Education: Issues and Policy Implicationsin the analysis of higher education organizations, nationalhigher education systems and their political economy [1; 2].The debates on the distinction between public and privatespheres are grounded on issues related to legal ownershipand responsibilities, role of the state, and the social characterof the outcome of higher education, i.e., what constitutes thepublic versus the private good. These issues have profoundimplications to the role of legal/policy, regulatory andgovernance arrangements for a given higher educationsystem.Hence, this article aims to explore the current issues on thepublic-private divide in the Ethiopian higher educationlandscape and their policy implications.2. The Research AgendaThis article aims to examine the issues and challenges,particularly the influence of the legal and regulatoryframework on the public-private divided in the Ethiopianhigher education landscape. It is based on two premises. Thefirst pertains to the idea that public and private highereducation providers are commonly required to meet thequality and relevance imperatives of their salientstakeholders as stipulated in the higher educationproclamation. The second concerns the argument that anenabling legal and policy framework is crucial for the privatehigher education sector to play a key role in addressing thesocial demand for higher education, and thereby contributefor the socio-economic development of a country.Accordingly, the article attempts to answer the followingquestions: What are the major issues/challenges in the public –private divide in the Ethiopian higher educationlandscape? How do the existing legal and policy frameworksinfluence the divide? What are the implications to maintain a balancebetween the public and private spheres in addressing theunmet social demand for higher education?3. Theoretical FrameworkThe focus of this article is on the current issues about thepublic-private divide in higher education. This sectionpresents a brief overview of the key concepts, debates,theoretical assumptions and factors that underlie discussionsabout the public-private divide in higher education.3.1. The Concept of Public and Private Good in HigherEducationThe public-private distinction in higher education hasbeen a fundamental area of debate for several decades. It hasalso been a matter of considerable scholarly interest since themid-1980s, fuelled in part by the growth of private sectors ofhigher education in many areas of the globe . The majorissues of the current debates are related to what constitutesthe public versus the private good that ranges from economicand legal ownership to social/cultural characteristics of thegoods.Traditional conceptualizations of the public-privatedistinctions in higher education were rooted in theperspectives of liberal economics and liberal politicalphilosophy. Both perspectives treat public and private asmutually exclusive concepts, in which the economic notionassociates ‘public’ with not –a natural market and thepolitical philosophy associates ‘public’ with government orstate . In liberal economics, public goods areconceptualized as non-rivalrous and non-excludable goods,whereas private goods refer to rivalrous and excludablegoods . Accordingly, public goods are non-rivalrous,because they can be consumed by any number of peoplewithout being depleted and they are non-excludable, becausetheir benefits cannot be confined to individual buyers . Inliberal political philosophy, the public is associated withgovernment or state (i.e. goods that are collectively producedand/or consumed), whereas any non-state ownership or themarket refers to private. More specifically, the term ‘private’relates to market-type coordination mechanisms: price,competition, decentralized decision-making .From the liberal economics point of view, for the most part,higher education is a natural private good and should bemarketized, whereas in liberal political philosophy highereducation is a public good . The liberal economics viewtends to downplay the potential for collective goods in highereducation and the liberal political philosophy underestimatesthe role of markets. From the liberal economics perspective,the main trust in the market is based on the fundamental tenetthat competition creates efficiencies, cost savings andproductivity gains .However, in recent times scholars have been criticizingthe dualistic nature of the private-public divide in highereducation based on the social character of the outcomes asfollows.In determining the nature of the goods, public orprivate, whether or not the goods aremarket-produced is much more important thanwhether or not they are state or non-state sectorproduced. Though state institutions are – arguably– more open to policy making than are privatelyowned institutions, both state and private sectorinstitutions produce public and private goods, andboth sectors are accessible to policy. Ownershipand policy are only two of the inputs thatdetermine higher education .In this line of argument, public goods are conceptualizedas goods that have a significant element of non-rivalry andnon-excludability (collective goods and externalities), andgoods that are made broadly available across populations,
Universal Journal of Educational Research 5(4): 591-599, 2017whereas goods without such attributes are private goods. Thepublic and private goods are not necessarily zero sum, butrather they are often inter-dependent, in that the productionof one kind of good provides conditions necessary to theother . Regarding higher education, private and publicgoods are produced in the same organizations committed toeducation, research and community services, though they areheterogeneous to each other. In other words, the coremissions of a university- research and teaching areassociated with both public and private goods .Accordingly, the research output of universities-knowledgeis considered as predominantly public good, though there is amoment of excludability and rivalrousability when it is firstcreated and disseminated. Similarly, teaching in elitevocational and university educational institutions wherethere is rising scarcity of places is considered private,whereas teaching in less selective universities (e.g. in equallyresourced universities) is considered as public good. Thisshows that higher education produces a complex andvariable mix of public and private goods, whether itsownership is exclusively public, or mixed, or exclusivelyprivate.The arguments in the preceding paragraphs point to theissues that the debates on the public-private distinctionresonate on whether there are ideal types of public andprivate goods in higher education and the underlyingdifferentiation factors between the two sectors. Asmulti-dimensional and multi product organizations, highereducation institutions acquire elements of publicness andprivateness regardless of how they are governed, financed,owned and functioned. To put it differently, both public andprivate higher education organizations allows for a private aswell as a public benefit on investment in a varying degree,which results in a blurred border between the two sectors[7;8]. Hence, the issue here is what determines thepublic-private distinction in higher education, which isbriefly reviewed in the section that follows.593combined for determining whether institutions are private orpublic . In this regard, emphasizing on the state as apowerful factor, one scholar argues that ‘while public sectorscan be regarded, directly or indirectly, as creatures of thestate, the state also to a considerable extent molds theconditions of existence for privately controlledinstitutions.’. In other words, the amount and kind ofhigher education provided by government (ownership andfunding) is the single most important determinant of the sizeand character of private higher education in each nationalsystem. Accordingly, three basic structural patterns ofpublic-private differentiation have been identified, viz., 1)mass private and restricted public sectors, which isdominated by massive private sector with restricted publicsectors; 2) parallel public and private sectors, in which boththe private and public sectors play a role in providingeducation services and it is characterized by a symmetricalrelationship of the two sectors; 3) comprehensive public &peripheral private sectors, which refers to the peripheralprivate sector in which the private sector plays a very limitedrole. Regarding mass private sector and parallel,particularly in the case of for-profit institutions, the stateimplements strict regulation including detailed and specificrequirements for relevant and quality curricula; pedagogicaleffectiveness, degrees and even classroom conduct under thepretext of consumer protection .Other scholars focus on the importance of legal andregulatory framework as an overarching variable indetermining the publicness and privateness of highereducation institutions. It is, for example, argued thatlegislation and regulations define the priorities and policiesthat not only enact needed changes, but also help shape valueand stakeholder perceptions . Similarly, another authormaintained that in its constitutive guise, among otherdefinitions the law determines which organizations are to bedeemed private and which public, and seeks to delineate theconsequences that follow from each organizational nature,such as the kind of law applicable to each one, their form of3.2. Factors that Determine the Publicness or Privateness access to staff and other resources, and the manner of theirinteraction with the government . In most cases, theof Higher Education Institutionsgrowth of private higher education is linked to the varyingThe public-private divide in higher education varies across degrees of the permissiveness of the legal and regulatorycountries. In fact the balance in the public- private mix is one framework, among others . In other words, some of theof the key elements that differentiate institutions and national differentiation factors for publicness and privateness such assystem of higher education. Many of the discussions on what governance, financing and ownership depend on the way indetermines the publicness and privateness of higher which the legal framework defines what is public and what iseducation dwell on the way higher education is owned, private higher education. This suggests the centrality of legaland policy frameworks in determining whether higherprovided, financed and governed.Many scholars argue that the publicness or privateness of education organizations are private or public in addition tohigher education in most of the world is determined by factors such as the ownership and responsibilities, financialseveral factors including, among others, institutional mission, resources, affiliation and the social character of the outcomessource of funding, orientation, legal and official definition, of higher education.type of governance and form of control [1, 9, 2, 10, 8 and 11].The debates on the public-private distinction have resultedSimilarly, another scholar noted that factors such as the in the typology and taxonomic description of the functions ofposition of the state, ownership, governance, financial private higher education across the globe. In this regard,resources, affiliation and function can be invariably three roles of private higher education have been identified
594The Public-Private Divide in Ethiopian Higher Education: Issues and Policy Implicationsnamely, private higher education institution that aresupposed to provide: 1) better services-elite institutions; 2)different services such as religious providers, and 3) morehigher education and absorb demand that is not met by publicproviders . Similarly, private higher education institutionscan be described in terms of the benefits they generate viz.,distinctiveness from the public sector in terms of programofferings and student experience; providing an alternativebased on heightening the quality of education throughadmission and teaching standards; providing access tostudents who otherwise may not be qualified to attend publicuniversities or denied due to capacity or geographicconstraints ([16, 17].In sum, the distinction between public and private highereducation based on factors such as governance, financingand ownership is blurred. It is argued that the law, insofar asit defines higher education as either public or private, can beconsidered as the only unambiguous criterion for thedistinction between the two spheres compared to otherfactors . In this regard, another scholar on his part notedthat it is difficult to even discuss about private or publichigher education without beginning the analysis with areference, explicit or not, as to which institutions the lawclassifies on either sphere .3.3. Overarching Issues Regarding the Public-PrivateDistinctionThe arguments in the preceding paragraphs suggest thatprivate and public institutions are part of a commoninstitutional setting in which the legal and policyenvironment plays a role, whether implicitly or explicitly, inshaping the dynamics between the two sectors. This suggeststhat both public and private higher education providers areaccessible to public policies and regulations related to theirprovision, funding, credibility, quality and relevance ofeducation. Hence, the rule of the game should be on therelevance and quality of goods and services provided by bothpublic and private higher education providers regardless ofthe ownership, source of funding and governance. In thisregard, one scholar argues noted the following:Higher education institutions may be required tooperate within the framework established bypublic authorities but as long as they do so, it isdifficult to argue that they have to be publicly runand financed. To me, the issue is not whetherhigher education institutions are public or private,but whether they are of good quality, are subject toquality assessment, offer programmes leading torecognized qualifications, offer equal access andensure academic freedom for staff and students. Toparaphrase two dictums of a now outmodedideology, what matters is not the ownership of themeans of education, but whether the cat catchesmice The main issue is thus the extent to which thestakeholders/the public benefited from relevant and qualityhigher education services regardless of the ownership. Thisrequires ensuring a robust legal and policy framework thatfairly treats and incentifies both public & private sectors. Italso involves feedback mechanisms, shared governancethrough negotiated & well defined relationships amongactors & organizations, building trust and accountabilityamong actors and organizations, collaboration andcomplementarity between the two sectors. In this regard, theaim of the government should be to achieve a legal andregulatory system that provides the right balance betweenprotecting the public and encouraging private providers toinvest . In other words, where public policy allowsprivate providers, the prim
public-private divide in higher education. This section presents a brief overview of the key concepts, debates, theoretical assumptions and factors that underlie discussions about the public-private divide in higher education. 3.1. The Concept of Public and Private Good in Higher Education . The public-private distinction in higher education has
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