Six Ethiopians started a doctoral course on higher education administration and management at the University of Tampere
Text: Heikki Laurinolli
Photographs: Jonne Renvall
The future of the Ethiopian and East African higher education systems is being built in Tampere as six Ethiopian educational specialists started a five-month doctoral course at the University of Tampere in Finland.
The doctoral studies continue the cooperation with African countries, which the Higher Education Group (HEG) of the University of Tampere started from Uganda in 2010.
“The next step is to start extending the education elsewhere in East Africa together with our Ugandan and Ethiopian partners,” says Emeritus Professor Seppo Hölttä who leads several projects on higher education administration in Asia and Africa.
The six Ethiopians who started the doctoral course in Tampere are happy with their studies.
“We have found the training to be very interactive, interesting and relevant,” says Abbagidi Fadil Jihad, one of the participants, before a lesson where the students give presentations on their dissertation topics.
In May, the students will return to their home university in Ethiopia and continue their doctoral research before returning to Tampere for their dissertation defence.
Global economy will save Africa
Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa was poverty-stricken and full of beggars in the early 1990s when Seppo Hölttä visited the city on his first African tour.
“It was a terrible experience. Until then, I had only glimpsed poverty on television. I came face to face with starving children and I did not sleep a wink in the first couple of nights. I thought that once I got out of there I would never return to Africa,” Hölttä says.
After that, Hölttä has visited Africa for about seventy times. Training in higher education administration started from Uganda, continued in South Africa and now in Ethiopia.
Since the 1990s, Addis Ababa has become so prosperous that the rents in the downtown area are starting to be as high as the rents in Helsinki. Hölttä has observed a similar development trend in Beijing, which he also visited in the 1990s.
“The global world economy will save Africa. We will not save it by our own actions. However, we can support that process by training people and developing universities, good governance and health care, but economic dynamics still remain the most important aspect,” Hölttä explains.
The GDP of Ethiopia has grown by about 10 percent every year for the past couple of decades. The starting level was low, but the direction has been clear. Addis Ababa is attracting businesses and headquarters because the labour costs are lower than in China.
Higher education at the heart of development
Ethiopia is investing heavily in universities. Twenty years ago, there were only a few universities in the country and now there are over thirty. At the beginning of 2018, two new public universities started operations.
“Higher education and universities are at the heart of the economic and social development of Ethiopia. The higher education systems of China and Ethiopia are the fastest-growing in the world,” Seppo Hölttä says.
The huge growth might cause problems if the universities’ leaders and administrators came to their duties unprepared. In addition to Addis Ababa University, two other well-established universities, Bahir Dar University and Mekelle University, have collaborated with the University of Tampere.
The new universities are at the initial stage where the buildings are up and the Rector has been appointed, but there are no students or staff or an understanding about how the university’s operations should be organised. The education provided by the University of Tampere is gearing up to meet this demand.
“We are building leadership in organisations that are fragmented in their foundations. There are different disciplines that have nothing to do with each other. The expertise is at the grassroots level. The professors are arrogant about their own position and do not easily respect the organisational hierarchy. This is the foundation upon which we are developing the universities,” Hölttä explains.
“Our approach is to first help people to understand the organisation and its interaction with the surrounding world,” Hölttä continues.
“Ethiopia needs educational expertise right now because of its huge growth. Higher education and universities play an important role in national development policies. We do not just cooperate in doctoral education; Ethiopians have already completed about twenty Master’s degrees in an Erasmus Mundus Programme,” Hölttä says.
Internationality is not just fundraising
Even though he is retired from his post of professor of higher education administration, Hölttä still continues his training projects.
“It is a unique opportunity when you can do something significant that you enjoy. Half of my heart is in Africa where I can work with people who have similar goals,” Hölttä says.
According to Hölttä, internationality should start from one’s own thinking and examination of values.
“Internationality cannot just be about making money. However, it is good if we can launch transnational education and have a market for it,” Hölttä points out.
There is a huge demand for teacher training and training on sound administrative practices in low-income countries.
UTA’s training projects in higher education administration have been successful thanks to the Higher Education Institutions Institutional Cooperation Instrument (HEI ICI) funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The doctoral programme organised for the Ethiopians will result in double degrees earned at both the University of Tampere and the participants’ home universities.