By Ahmed Mahmoud Elmi
16 January 2016
Somaliland’s Minister of Education and Higher Studies Abdillahi Ibrahim Habane was among 75 students who graduated last month with a masters degree in international relations and diplomacy from the University of Hargeisa, the country’s largest higher education institution. He extolled the virtues of lifelong learning.
Graduation of the first cohort to emerge from the new masters programme took place in the main hall on 27 December, and they were honoured by the vice-president of Somaliland, a small nation that broke away from Somalia in 1991 and is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of that country to its east but not as a separate state.
Minister Habane and a fellow first cohort masters graduate who was a former vice-president, had both previously obtained a postgraduate diploma in peace and conflict resolution from the university’s Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, or ICPS.
The university is working to grow its small current offering of postgraduate courses, including by upgrading diploma programmes.
Speaking on behalf of the graduates, Habane highlighted the importance of education regardless of age, using himself as an example. This is the third time he has graduated, and the second time from the University of Hargeisa.
By enrolling students of different ages – including old people – the university was “setting an example for young generations that education is for continuation and is not tied to age”.
Somaliland is a former British protectorate in the Horn of Africa. Its other neighbours are Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Just four days from independence, it united with Italian Somalia on 1 July 1960. Unity did not last, however, and disintegrated completely in 1991 following a civil war that had erupted in 1988.
Independence for Somaliland was restored on 18 May 1991. Although only recognised as an autonomous region, it is a de facto state with a functioning government, defined territory, population of 3.5 million people and relative peace and stability in a troubled region.
At the restoration of independence, Somaliland did not have any higher education.
With the fall of Somalia’s central government that same year and civil strife that followed, Somaliland’s education was in total ruins and entire generations of youth missed education. Also, nearly all teachers left the country – mainly for Europe and America – leaving behind a vacuum in teaching and skills transfer.
With no outside assistance and limited domestic resources, Somaliland’s education was built from scratch through donations and contributions from the diaspora and business people. At the time, what is now the University of Hargeisa was a high school that was also a home for local people and their livestock.
As peace and relative stability came to Somaliland, education gradually regained shape and the first university was launched in 1998 in Amoud, 123 kilometres northwest of the Somaliland capital. Two years later, the University of Hargeisa was established in the capital and its first graduates were capped in 2004.
The University of Hargeisa, like other public higher education institutions in the country, operates with limited finances, technology and capacity development.
Obtaining adequate qualified lecturers and professors has been a major challenge for decades, and threatens the sustainability of new programmes such as international relations and diplomacy, whose teachers are mostly from neighbouring Ethiopia.
University of Hargeisa President Mohamoud Yusuf has been in office for only two months, following the resignation of Dr Abdi Gaas. He has ambitious plans for the institution.
“For the first time, the university will construct new classrooms and offices without any assistance from outside. A new modern library will be also built soon and students will conduct registration online while for the first time they will get access to online portals where they can view examination results and receive instructions from lecturers,” he said.
These plans are expected to enhance the quality of education and ease the overcrowding of classrooms and congested registration processes.
Despite many remaining challenges, the university continues to grow both in admissions and faculties.
It currently has more than 12 colleges including health sciences, engineering and business administration. The student population is 6,649 and there have been 5,048 graduates since 2004, some 1,300 of them women, reflecting high gender disparity.
Because Somaliland is not recognised as an autonomous state, donors have reportedly found it difficult to provide support to the nation including its universities.
However, Hargeisa has established relations with international universities and has so far partnered with more than a dozen including Carleton University in Canada, Oslo University in Norway, Pretoria University in South Africa, Kings College Hospital in the United Kingdom, Kenyatta University in Kenya and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.
A question of quality
The infrastructure of public universities requires urgent rehabilitation and investment, and a lot should also be done to enhance the governance systems of higher education through the development and implementation of policies that clearly define the means of quality control.
The importance of designing systems and policies to enhance quality was stressed by Naser Mohamed Ali, director of IPCS, in an interview with University World News.
“It is essential to establish a graduate school and develop the necessary policies to organise the different disciplines offered at the university. This is what the university teaching staff and management need to discuss soon.”
With the right policies, the director argued, “many of the problems associated with capacity development, quality and teaching will be sorted out in the near future”.
Over and above diploma programmes, IPCS offers taught masters in international relations and diplomacy, governance and leadership, and project management It is also ambitiously upgrading the diploma programme into a full postgraduate offering in 2016.
Outside of the institute, the university offers a masters in development studies and an online masters in midwifery in collaboration with Dalarna University in Sweden. Eighteen students had graduated from that programme in 2014.
Somaliland’s Chief Justice Adam Haji Ali, who was among the founders of the IPCS and lecturers at the institute, described the struggles involved in producing professionals expected to contribute to foreign policy and country’s quest for international recognition.
“It has not been easy and I know that current students in leadership and governance are studying under a similar setting of limited resources,” said Ali.
Abdillahi Mohamoud Hassan was also among the masters graduates at last month’s ceremony, and outlined the benefits of the programme as a contribution to development.
“We are planning to organise academic papers, forums and symposiums to advocate the case of Somaliland and sell it to the international community,” he said.