Governance Reform in the Ethiopian Higher Education System

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Pinni B building auditorium 1096, address: Kanslerinrinne 1



Doctoral defence of M.Sc. (Admin.) Yohannes Mehari

Governance Reform in the Ethiopian Higher Education System: Organisational responses to business management tools in the Case of Mekelle University

The field of science of the dissertation is Administrative Science.

The opponent is Professor Vincent Lynn Meek (University of Melbourne, Australia). Professor Seppo Hölttä acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

Governance Reform in the Ethiopian Higher Education System: Organisational responses to business management tools in the Case of Mekelle University

Changes in the socio-economic and political development of many countries have often resulted in changes in the governance arrangements of higher education institutions. The quest for efficiency, accountability, and transparency, which are the results of the changes in the external environment, have forced universities to adopt organisational strategies and management structures that are popular in business organisations. This development has brought enormous pressures to universities in their efforts to balance the pressures and requirements of business management tools with the internal values, beliefs, norms and practices of the universities.

At the core of the process of adopting externally-driven business management tools are the perceptions and responses of universities and their academic units towards these tools. This study thus sought to understand and interpret the perceptions and responses of Mekelle University and its basic academic units to the pressures and requirements of BMTs. The study was guided by resource dependence and neo-institutional theories for understanding the organisational response of the case university. Qualitative data were used, including semi-structured interviews with key informants at the organisational level and members of the academic units, documents and archival data found in the university and from other major stakeholders. All the collected data were analysed thematically.

The findings show that the BMTs are externally initiated and largely perceived as inappropriate tools for the culture and practices of the university and its basic academic units. As BMTs are initiated by the government, which is the sole funder of the public universities in Ethiopia, MU complied with the pressures, requirements and demands of the government to adopt these tools. However, as BMTs are largely perceived as inappropriate by the academic community to the university’s values and norms, and their adoption is felt to be accompanied by an absence of quality and committed leadership at all levels of the university, MU and its basic academic units symbolically complied with the reform tools in order to insure survival and legitimacy not to improve efficiency and effectiveness as is envisaged by those who mandated the implementation of the tools.

Moreover, this study indicates that most of the interventions and programmes crated by the university following the adoption of BMTs are not structurally integrated with the values, norms, practices and policies of the university and its academic units. In other words, the results demonstrate that there is little evidence to support the government and the university’s claims that the adoption of these BMTs brought radical organisational changes in the university’s and basic academic units’ work processes. In general, the leadership of the university is in a crossroad keeping the right balance between the values and norms of the academics, and the external pressures to adopt BMTs as tools for radical organisational change in general and instruments for efficiency and effectiveness in particular.

Therefore, the study recommends that major academic reform initiatives should be internally driven rather than imposed from outside. The university should have meaningful institutional autonomy to assess its internal and external situations and to come up with relevant reform agendas that take into account the basic characteristics of the university and the external environment’s demands. Moreover, the findings of this study suggest that the university needs to introduce sustainable internal capacity development programmes and due focuses on establishing higher education study centre to have comprehensive understanding about the dynamics of change in universities. In general, the study call for much more nuanced approach by all stakeholders if reforms have to serve their purposes.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2202, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2016. ISBN 978-952-03-0207-8, ISSN 1455-1616. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1702, Tampere University Press 2016. ISBN 978-952-03-0208-5, ISSN 1456-954X.

The dissertation can be ordered at: Juvenes e-bookstore or by e-mail:

Additional information

Yohannes Mehari, puh. +358 45 205 8255,