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University education in Somalia: Quality or quantity?

Editorial Team



Students at Mogadishu National University. Photo l Ilyas A. Abukar.

There has been proliferation of universities in Somalia as guns continue to fell silence and relative stability returns to the Horn of Africa nation.

Business people, Non-Governmental Organisations and religious bodies have taken advantage of a lack of central authority that could regulate and accredit the education sector and started their own universities as businesses. There are calls to reduce the number of tertiary institutions in the country amid concerns that the standard of education has weakened.

Somalia needs universities that produce graduates who would be able to rebuild the country and a shuttered economy, but its universities are mostly commercial focused – competing for students, qualified or not qualified – and at the end, produce half-baked graduates.

There are 100 tertiary institutions across Somalia, with Mogadishu hosting 60% of them, according to Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, a former minister of Education and Culture.

These universities admit students who are not qualified to join any university, compromising the standard and quality of education. Many students securing places at universities lack secondary school education, a number of them “graduating” from private tuition and those who home-schooled themselves.

The education offered by some of these universities is of poor quality that does not meet international standard, and the recipients are students who were originally not qualified to enroll in a university. Majority of them offer social science and business-related courses, although important, Somalia needs science and technology to rebuild from the ruins it is in.

Somali universities admit 50,000 students annually, but the number of students graduating from secondary schools is much less. For example, 27,000 students from 120 secondary schools sat for a unified national examination. In normal circumstance, not all secondary school graduates get admitted to university. In the last three years, students sitting for national examinations jumped from 4,600 to 27,000.

The government standardised and unified the examinations three years ago. Before that, there had been no standardised examinations since the collapse of Somalia’s last effective central government in 1991. This means every secondary school leaver and others – join universities.

“When these students graduate, they are not fit for the market, and cannot compete with students from neighbouring countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia or those from Djibouti,”Hashi said at a educational forum in Mogadishu.

The government said it is working to strengthen rules governing the establishment and regulation of universities, but almost nothing has been done. Few universities are self-regulating.

Employers in Somalia, including international organisations and investors hire foreigners because of lack of skilled personnel. Somalis from the diaspora with foreign university education are returning to the country to fill the vacuum. Still, that is not enough.

“We have had an uncontrolled upsurge of universities, leading to a scramble for students to enroll; thus we have been seeing even those who don’t qualify to join universities enrolled and this has saturated the system and put a great dent on the standards and quality of higher education in the country,” Hassan Ali, a former education consultant at Somalia’s Ministry of Education, said.

Somalia has only one public university – Somali National University which was established in 1970 and closed in 1989 due to unrest that led to the collapse of the government in 1991. It was reopened in 2014. The rest are privately-owned and run.

Somalia’s 30 year-old civil unrest has almost completely destroyed the country’s educational system, affecting the future of millions of school-aged children. The government has initiated a “Go-To-School” campaign to target one million children and youths who were out of school so that they could study and help their country is producing good results, with so many children going to school, although enrolment due to security and Somali’s pastoral economy remain a problem.

Although gains have been made, education in this Horn of Africa nation faces many challenges, including underinvestment. Somalia’s schools are dealing with poor quality of education, insufficient numbers of qualified teachers, and inadequate resources.

Successive governments have always promised to give education the same priority as security, but those promises have not yet been fulfilled and it does not look like it will happen in the near future.

After reforms targeting secondary education, the government needs to look into the university education and bring about reforms.

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