ERITREA: Investing in Higher Education Key to Capacity Development

 efforts on establishing and expanding quality institutions of higher learning in Eritrea started to pay-off
Despite the challenges, the continued efforts on establishing and expanding quality institutions of higher learning in Eritrea starts to pay-off

By Eritrea Profile,

Prof. Tadesse Mehari, Executive Director of the National Commission for Higher Education, gave an interview to the local media on the ongoing endeavors that the Government of Eritrea is making to nurture professionals in various fields of education. Following is a brief summary of the interview:

Q: On the increasing number of graduates and its impact on the nation’s HRD endeavors…

Prof. Tadesse Mehari
Prof. Tadesse Mehari, Executive Director of the National Commission for Higher Education

It has only been 10 years since the establishment of these institutions of higher education and in this relatively short period, they have been making a rather significant contribution. Despite all of our problems, these institutions have been graduating from 2500 to 2700 students in degree and diploma annually, in addition to some postgraduate levels.

Q: On the number of graduates this year …

Although we don’t have the final statistical figures at hand yet, we are expecting for at least 2700 students to graduate this year. We have 59 departments in the degree program, 45 in the diploma and another 12 for the postgraduate program. We also have the medicine and dentistry programs. So the number of graduates is inclusive of all these programs.

Q: On the benefits of having almost eight colleges as opposed to a single university…

It is true Asmara University was the only university and it was progressing well, with about nine faculties (colleges) and some postgraduate courses. But its facilities were limited. We could only accept not more than 1200 students in a given year, and these were students who scored 2.4 and above in the matriculation.

Higher education was confined within Asmara but with the opening of seven new colleges in the 2004/2005 academic year, it was able to be distributed across the different regions in the country.

At present, we are accepting every year between 4000 – 5000 students for degree and diploma programs.
This is four times more than the number of students that Asmara University used to accept. In terms of the overall number of students, we had almost 5000 students, including those in the Paradiso and Halhale campuses. Today we have about 13,000 – 14,000 students in all these colleges, which is almost threefold. Although we cannot say this is adequate, we have at least expanded the opportunities for higher education across the country.

Q: On the gender ratio among students …

There is a positive discrimination policy implemented to encourage female students with access to higher education by lowering by one scale the passing grade. We started with 25% and now almost 40% female students are enrolled. It shows progress but it is not enough for us.

Q: On the location of the colleges and their conformity with the courses they offer …

The colleges were all established in the right place. If we take the College of Marine Sciences and Technology for instance, Massawa was selected as the base location because the college’s courses are directly related to the sea and aquatic sciences.

Hamelmalo was chosen for the College of Agriculture because that’s where the Anseba River flows and has vast terrain for agriculture. Similarly, the Adi Keyih College of Arts and Social Sciences is situated in a historical place because it is the right place for courses like History, Archaeology and related fields.

Q: On the colleges’ partnership with other institutions…

There are two kinds of partnerships: internal and external. Internally, all colleges have strong relations with the line ministries and government institutions. The College of Agriculture, for example, has strong connections with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Halahale based National Agricultural Research Institute.

The course syllabuses, the desired expertise, the curriculum are all drafted in consultation with these internal partners. But that is not enough, and that’s where the external (or foreign) partners come in. The colleges make contact and build up relations with their foreign counterparts. This helps us in having globally recognized and competitive curricula, as well as equally competitive graduates with global standards of excellence. To achieve the latter, particularly in postgraduate studies and medicine, we bring in external examiners from abroad. They help us accredit our curriculum and the aptitude of our graduates.

Q: On the international recognition and accreditation of the Eritrean higher education institutions…

For Eritrea, the recognition and accreditation depends on the program and the achievements of students within this specific program. For instance, the University of Asmara was linked with an institution outside the country. As I said before, we have now partnerships with higher education institutions throughout the world and we are sending many of our students and graduate assistants abroad to complete their Masters or PhD and are often doing better than average students there.

Q: On the number of graduates sent abroad …

We have so far sent about 350 graduate assistants with the aim to train abroad for their Masters and/or PhD. We have also started postgraduate programs locally in Eritrean Institute of Technology and Hamelmalo College of Agriculture with about 60 graduates at Masters level and they are now working with the higher education system in Eritrea and being able to replace the expatriates. And we will further implement to other institutions.

Q: On the availability of online programs…

The only online learning platform we have is for the Masters level at EIT, which is funded by the Indian Government. We have also started peer education at Orotta School of Medicine but it is still at its early stages. We are also introducing tablets for education through the fundraising of the Diaspora with 250 already received. We are also working with introducing the digital library system, which will allow students to have greater access to learning resources.

Q: On the ongoing challenges and plans to overcome them…

One of our main problems is the lack of qualified national staff. We have been recruiting many expatriate instructors. We have also recently signed a memorandum with some companies in Kenya and the coming academic year we will have Kenyan academics teaching here.

We also have several Sudanese professors already teaching here. But this is not sustainable because we need to have our own national staff. So we adopted a strategy of sending graduate assistants abroad for further education so they can return home and assume their teaching positions.

The other challenge is Internet connectivity, which challenges the functioning of the higher education system. In the future we are planning to expand our higher education facilities and increase the number of institutions. We are also planning to implement private higher education system as long as it would provide the guidelines and imperatives given by the national commission of higher education. But although we are facing shortages in national staff, those who are working are qualified and dedicated.

The students are also of good calibers with great ambitious to pursue their studies. Also the role of the Government of Eritrea to allow thousands of students to study for free is also strength.