50 new universities in 20 years

Did you know that in Ethiopia, just like in Finland, publicly funded universities let one study for free? Good enough grades make it possible to get into a public university. However, the university and the field of study cannot be chosen as freely as in Finland.

The growth of the Ethiopian network of higher education institutions has been staggering. We met with the representative of the new Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education while on the monitoring mission for our development cooperation project supporting disabled university students. They told us that 20 years ago, the country only had 2 universities, whereas now there are already 50 publicly funded universities, and also a few private ones. Expanding has also brought about challenges, for example in regard to how to maintain the quality of teaching. The unemployment of graduates is also a problem in a country where 70% of the population is less than 30 years of age. In comparison: The median age in Finland is over 40 years, while in Ethiopia, it is around 18.

There are no separate universities for applied sciences, and completing university degrees typically takes longer than in Finland. Evening and weekend classes are common, since some opt to educate themselves more alongside work.

What are student organisations like in Ethiopia?

Ethiopian student organisations (Student Councils), which are similar to Finnish student unions, engage in some activities that resemble those of our student unions. For instance, the organisations get a representative in the university leadership (Senate). However, some of the activities are different, as the student organisations make use of fundraisers and similar methods to attempt to support to those financially less well-off instead of improving students’ livelihood through advocacy work.

Even if the number of disabled students allowed into higher education is low in Ethiopia, there are still considerably more disabled students in universities than there are in Finland. Our partner university Dilla, for instance, has its own student organisation for disabled students. The organisation is cooperating with the disability service centre at the university and with the local student union counterpart. A student union is indeed a good route for disabled students to relay their point of view all the way to the university leadership. On top of that, our project arranges a yearly meeting between disabled students and the university leadership.

The financial assistance that Ethiopian student unions receive from their university is one SIM card, which is around eight euros. Additionally, the university offers premises to the organisations. Other than that, their activities are financed with fundraisers. All in all, local student organisations have very different starting points for their activity than Finnish ones do.

Salla Mäkelä
SYL Development Policy Adviser

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