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Somali Higher Education: Challenges and Opportunities
In terms of historical background of Somali higher education, Mr. Mustafa A. Feiruz, the Director of Institute of Somali Studies, a research institute affiliated with Mogadishu, described the looming Somali education sector.
Before the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, Somali had only one university with about 4,600 students. The first university was established in 1993, the Indian Ocean University, located in Mogadishu and Galkayo. The era of the higher education revolution started in 1977 with the establishment of Mogadishu University in Mogadishu followed by the University of Amoud in Borama in 1988; Simad University in Mogadishu and East Africa University in Bosaso in 1999. Now the number of universities in Somali exceeds more than 110 universities.
Statistics of the number of students in the universities in Somalia show that there are around 106,000 students from the potential university-age population of more than a million. This shows that despite the number of universities, their capacity to handle large numbers of students is almost non-existent.
Most of the Somali universities depend on student tuitions as their source of funding along with limited funding from private individuals and short-term funds. The only university funded by the government is the Somali National University. With a lack of necessary resources and absence of a national policy on higher education, the universities contribute to peace-building and social cohesion.
It is recommended to develop university capacities in terms of diversification of academic programs. Also, building effective partnerships between official authorities and university departments, developing educational policies and regulations for higher education, supporting university budgets and granting scholarships to students, strengthening the partnership between Somali universities and Turkish universities and enhancing cooperation in higher education and research.
Although there are many universities in Somalia, their capacity won’t exceed 106,000 students. But the number of populations at the age of university in Somalia reaches about 1.3 million.
The Evolution of the Turkish Education System
Turkey has a long history of civilization as our ancestors, the Ottomans have ruled about 600 years. Education in the history of the Turks has passed diverse stages. In the hope that our progress will give opportunities of transfer expertise for our Somali brothers, one of the first modernization efforts in the Turkish education system is the establishment of specialty technical schools. These helped the economies and brought industrialization into the market.
An intensive reform began with the establishment of the new Turkish Republic. This helped increase the percentage of literacy in the new republic. This was based on a principle that ‘education is the foundation of development in a country. Then with their limited resources and capabilities, the new reformists aimed at increasing the number of universities and schools in the country.
One of the challenges of education in the Turkish republic was and still is the size of students and workers in the education sector. There are about 25 million students, but the number of teachers is about 1 million. This forced the policymakers to increase the number of schools and universities. Much of this expansion took place in the AK Party era.
The Turkish 2023 Vision aims to focus on utilizing the potential talents, skills and abilities with regard to ancient Turkish values in the Ottomans and the changing world. With the use of technology, development plans are made according to the skills needed in the world led by knowledge and information.
Education Partnership and Future Opportunities
Mr. Mustafa Efe, senior Maarif Foundation personnel and Director of the Center for African Studies in Ankara highlighted the importance of organizing conferences like the East Africa Development Forum since it will help both Turkey and Somalia understand each other so that future cooperation will be fruitful for both nations.
Since education is vital in every society’s development, Mr. Efe demonstrated the role of the Turkish Scholarship program in helping Somalia. The Turkish model in assisting Somalia is helping the country develop and educate its young minds and not cause brain-drain. For example, there are a lot of bright minds from developing countries who go abroad to study and stay there. There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than those doctors in Ethiopia!
Turkish institutions who are involved in supporting Somali students by giving education opportunities should consider the needs of the country. Mr. Efe highlighted that policymakers and heads of governmental and non-governmental organizations should balance what is needed on the ground with what students are interested in. The case of Imam Hatip schools who only give scholarships in the field of Ilahiyat (Theology) may cause problems in Somalia since Somalis are Shafi and Turkish are Hanafi.
The Turkish scholarship program in Somalia started in 2012, a year after Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Somalia in 2011. The aim of the program was at first to educate Somalis who will work as academicians. Also, the program aimed at strengthening Somali-Turkish relations.
Ahmet Akturkoglu, who worked with the Turkish Diyanet Foundation and is an advisor in the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu for a term, stated that there is is a high school run by the Diyanet Foundation in Mogadishu, a higher education institution, and another one in Hargeisa with the partnership of the Hikma Foundation with about 500 students.
The Turkish Diyanet Foundation is really experienced in providing education in the field of theology, and the faculties of religious studies/theology in Somalia called ‘Sharia’ and the faculties in Turkey are not the same. In Turkey, we give a more comprehensive education in theology with courses in philosophy, leadership, and social structures. These kinds of education are needed in Somalia for the upbringing and educating of its future leaders.
The rector of Red Sea University, Mr. Abdullahi Hassan, also emphasized the importance of higher education in the development and recovery of societies. Decades after the collapse of the Somali government, a new higher education institution was established. The challenges in education are that opportunities in higher education are limited in Somali communities since their income is low, and they can’t afford the tuition fees.
Also, the capabilities of higher education institutions in Somalia to accept an increased number of students is weak. With the absence of state support and control policy, the Somali education sector needs effective reforms.