Somalia’s Higher Education, What Is It Good For?

Somali National University before the civi war.

|Guest Essay

With the outbreak of civil war in 1988 and the accompanied collapse of the central state in 1991, social services provision in Somalia had been disrupted. Somalia’s educational system, among many other important pillars, was destroyed. Periods of insecurity and intermittent conflicts hampered the ability of local populations to repair the country’s educational resources, facilities, and infrastructure.

The destruction of this sector went far beyond the collapse of government structures. Somalia suffered a severe case of brain drain as the educated fled the country. This prolonged period of insecurity and instability has deprived a generation of young Somalis of the opportunity to attend school and get formal education. Consequently, Somalia now has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates.

Higher education in Somalia is facing several challenges ranging from insecurity, institutional weakness, staff and infrastructure inadequacies, a lack of investment, and a shortage of educational resources, all of which contributing to the overall quality of education.

This essay briefly discusses the challenges facing higher education in Somalia.

Quality Of Education

Every nation outlines the objectives of its higher education system and the institutional traits that guide the essential qualities expected of its graduates. In 2005 UNESCO created guidelines for “Quality Provision in Cross Border Higher Education”. These guidelines acknowledge that quality differs across nations, but they urge the use of basic global standards to determine educational excellence. Somalia has not yet put national standards and regulations in place to direct the delivery of higher education. Several efforts have been made to date to develop effective standards with measurable outcomes, however, there are currently no countrywide standardised curricula, assessments, data structures, or integration options available at Somali universities.

Institutions are not subjected to any comprehensive national legislation governing higher education. To standardise higher education across the nation, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education is tasked with creating a quality assurance system. So far, due to inconsistent and incohesive ministerial policies at the federal and member state levels, the ministry has only now begun evaluating and registering unaccredited existing universities.

Additionally, another hindrance to the quality of education is the substandard teacher qualification levels, poor pupil supervision and support, and the lack of distribution of materials to support teaching.

The problems with teachers and the quality of teaching are two-fold: first, there is an overall teacher shortage, and second, teachers have low levels of qualifications. This in turn has negatively affected the overall quality of education in the country. It is, therefore, no surprise the never-ending cycle of mismatch between graduates from higher educational institutions and the market needs.

Furthermore, there is an absence of funding for research activities within Somalia’s higher education institutions. Most higher education institutions lack well-resourced libraries, information technology facilities, and research-oriented staff. For this reason, higher education institutions do not qualify as research universities. Not only are the research outputs minimal, but they are also viewed as substandard and rarely make it to prestigious publication outlets.

Commercialisation of Education

Today, there is a growing concern about the paradigm shift within education from service to business. The absence of substantial higher education governance allows raw capitalism to dominate the higher education arena in Somalia as it focuses on increasing the bottom line for its investors.

Because of the commercialisation of education, the direction of education mainly lies in the hands of shareholders. As a direct result, Somalia is producing graduates that are not equipped with skills needed in the job market.

The gap between graduate competencies and industrial/societal needs has never been wider. This has sparked a debate over the value of college degrees in Somalia. University graduates are increasingly becoming less optimistic about their future in terms of employment and the contributions they can make within society.

As an ode to its utter uselessness and as a symbolic gesture of wasted time and money, some in a state of utter hopelessness, have been seen recording themselves on social media burning their university degree certification.

Incoherent content

The curriculum which controls teacher training and the content taught in schools, is at the root of Somalia’s educational problems. There will be no order in the education system, nor will there be provision of quality education if the curriculum is not redesigned. As it stands, the involvement of several opposing players in the curriculum and assessment processes create incoherent national tests and teachers training.

Language as a medium is one of the most incoherent and contentious aspects of the curriculum. The fragmentation of the medium of teaching in Somalia precedes the political upheaval of 1991. The current education system is reflective of the uncoordinated and sometimes conflicting medium of instruction of the pre-1972 era before the adoption of the Somali language.

The inability to establish a single national language of teaching stifles the creation of a consistent curriculum and the training of qualified teachers. Failure to address these incoherences and misalignments can trap the country in a state of perpetual mediocrity, low accountability, and high educational inequality.

Demand vs Popular

Societies take immense pride in its high-level human workforce. Graduates are expected to leave colleges armed with a core of relevant knowledge and the capacity to use this knowledge.

Most graduates in Somalia are generalists with broad socioeconomic knowledge but no specialised technical skills. There is a clear discrepancy between the aptitudes of many graduates and what the market requires.

The trouble is that private universities frequently offer courses that appeal to students rather than what the market requires. Few universities provide degree programs that are popular with students yet are essential for the country. For instance, fisheries and agriculture are highly relevant, yet very unpopular. Whereas business administration is the most popular degree program among students nationwide, and yet there is no demand for it.

As a result, despite high youth unemployment, significant technological and human capital is imported from neighbouring nations. We import workers from Kenya for our hotels and for the entire hospitality sector. We have physicians and engineers, but the technical workforce that allows the work to be done or does the actual hands-on labour comes from other countries.

Most university curricula do not encourage aptitude for problem-solving, critical thinking, creative writing, or other creative skills. To address these issues, institutions must reconsider their curriculum and make it more relevant to the local context. Graduates must be required to have minimum set of skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, the capacity to work in a team, interpersonal skills, and being fluent in their chosen foreign language.

The disparity between higher education in Somalia and its socioeconomic progress has placed doubt on the relevance and the impact of Somalia’s higher education institutions. The mismatch between knowledge gained from higher education institutions and the soft skills necessary for society to positively drive its quest towards socio-economic development maintains this scepticism.

Finally, the higher education sector in Somalia has seen substantial expansion, given the initial circumstances and recent history of the country, this quick expansion has many positive features, but it also raises major questions about the quality of education offered. Considering the seriousness of the challenges facing higher education in Somalia and the limited engagement and control of governing bodies, this concern necessitates a prompt response.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication. 

Jibril Kadie
Jibril Kadie
A passionate social development advocate, Jibril is a Mogadishu-based writer, researcher, and strategic management practitioner.

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