Monday, October 22, 2012

Somaliland: gross corruption and maladministration of higher education

Somaliland: gross corruption and maladministration of higher education 
By Mowliid Abdirahman
Oct 21, 2012

Anybody who was following the news from Somaliland recently must have noticed the numerous graduation ceremonies at many of the so called universities in the country.  A gang of ministers, occasionally led by the Vice President, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdillahi (and at least in one case by the President) attended the ceremonies and made keynote speeches. 

Higher education has been growing in Somaliland in the last two decades.  Led in the way by the universities of Amoud and Hargeisa, over a dozen universities established themselves in the country. Beder International University, Horn International University, University of Burao, University of Golis, Somaliland University of Science and Technology, Berbera Marine University, Admas University, Alpha University, Kampala University, Hope University, Fairland University, EELO University, Addis Ababa Medical College, New Generation University and Neelayn University are some of the new universities in Somaliland.

On the face of it, one might be led to belief that the number of universities operating in Somaliland is indicative of a country on track for the development of solid tertiary education and peaceful transformation. However, a deeper analysis of the situation will show a country awash with a tertiary education synonymous with corruption, lack of regulation and opportunism which borders on the criminal.    

Many of the universities were established in a haphazard manner by individuals with dubious educational qualifications, who are more interested in making a quick buck than producing graduates with the right qualification. Some universities are branches of private universities in countries of the region like Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. The only thing that these universities share with their parent universities, however, is the name and everything else remains quite different.  Addis Ababa Medical College, Hope, Kampala, EELO, Fairland, Admas, Alpha and Neelayn universities belong to this group. 

Majority of universities produce graduates with first degrees. Amoud University only recently raised the bar and announced its first intake of students for master's programmes in medicine and law. There was few among the above universities, however, who had institutions that granted good post-graduate diplomas like the Institute of Peace and Conflict studies in University of Hargeisa. 

The growth of tertiary education in Somaliland is attributed in part to the ever increasing number of students graduating from secondary schools and the conspicuous lack of government regulation and oversight in the sector. One can easily rent a house with five rooms, buy plastic chairs and tables, call it a university, and advertise for a list of degree programmes in the local papers.  Majority of universities were established in this manner. And except for very few of them, these universities admit every student who comes their way, regardless of his or her qualification.  A primary schooler can enroll in one of these universities with ease and possibly survive in it. 

The universities lack qualified faculty and majority of 'professors' (as the locals call whoever lectures in one of these) have BA degrees from Indian and Sudanese private universities with some accreditation issues.  In addition, many of the administrative staff in these universities has outside business interests, some of them mixed up with NGO interests, while others have Institutes with same course schedules as those of university departments they administer. No wonder students who graduate from these universities lack education commensurate with the degrees that they are granted.  Thousands of these poorly educated, lost generation graduates with 'run of the mill' diplomas hit the employment (or the unemployable!) market every year. 

Again few universities have well equipped libraries and laboratories. Old books faced out of libraries in Europe and America are sent in containers to stack in the shelves of university libraries. In addition, laboratories for science related subjects are of a lesser quality than those one can expect to find in a proper higher education institution. You will hardly meet students practicing in university laboratories in Somaliland.  

disciplinary and licensing committee for lawyers in Somaliland

A good example of the corruption, mismanagement and the poor quality of education in Somaliland is the law department of University of Hargeisa.  The department was one of the earliest established in the University. It started with one class and few lecturers with LLB degrees from Ethiopia, Pakistan and Sudan. The department grew along the years and graduated over five batches of students.  I was told that at least two of the faculty who lectured in the department in the past had no degrees at all, and were indeed secondary school graduates. I was also told that, although it is difficult to believe and borders on the absurd, the department graduated four mentally ill students with LLB degrees! In addition, 98% of the faculty in the department holds BA degrees. Many of them do not speak very good English, and usually conduct lectures in Somali contrary to university instruction guidelines. 

In a given year, courses provided in the department depended on the availability of the faculty and course content changed with change of faculty. Thus students might learn the tax laws of Sudan one year and the tax laws of Pakistan in the next.  

The dean is absent from the department in most of the time and is always engaged in outside business activities that implicate the resources of the university. He wears many hats and is a member of Law Reform Commission; the Chair of the Disciplinary and Licensing Committee for Lawyers; and a member of the Anti-piracy Committee. The time spent in all these activities is ultimately deducted from the required working hours in the department.  Thus, responsibility and administration of the department devolves to an associate dean who holds the fort by himself. 

The president of Somaliland nominated a higher education committee in 2011 to improve the status of higher education in Somaliland. Strangely enough, the committee included the presidents of universities which the committee was supposedly set up to regulate! No wonder the committee proved to be dysfunctional. 


  • The government of Somaliland should develop a higher education policy to guide the growing demand for higher education in the country. The government should also strengthen the capacity of the higher education committee and bar university presidents from becoming members in the committee. 

  • The government should review licensing procedures as well as the licenses of existing universities.  It should also revoke licenses granted to opportunistic, private universities from neighboring countries. 

  • The government needs to reduce the number of universities operating in the country to four (maximum) and to provide financial support in terms of capacity building, research and development.  

  • University entrance exams need to be strengthened and competitive. 

  • The government should conduct an external audit of the curricula of universities. 

  • The government should establish vocational schools in the regions. Every student who graduates from secondary school need not enroll in a university.  

Mowliid Abdirahman


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