Universities in Eritrea

About universities in Eritrea

Higher education in Eritrea, sadly, is minimal and dwindling. Of the few colleges and universities that exist in this small, unstable East African nation, some of the most prominent are under direct assault from a government that sees them as a threat. Other schools lack the resources and independence to meet the needs of their students. In 2005, Eritrea’s authoritarian one-party government went so far as to shut down a major campus in the capital, Asmara. Students were ejected from campus and barred from attending classes, and those who were set to graduate in that year never got the degrees they had earned.
Eritrea’s problems in the area of higher education have their origins in the decades of violence that have gripped the country for over 50 years. A protracted war of independence, which had begun in 1958, finally ended with Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991. Unfortunately, independence did not stop the violence. Continuing tensions with neighboring Ethiopia and political violence within Eritrea itself destroyed infrastructure (of which there was little enough already) and took thousands of lives, compromising the stability that is necessary for the construction of lasting institutions.
Following the war, Eritrea’s universities provided much of the expertise and skilled labor that were needed in the process of reconstruction, helping to design new roads, buildings, and basic utilities such as electricity and running water. The government gladly took advantage of the universities during this time period, but quickly determined that intellectuals, professors, and student organizations were a threat to the authoritarian president’s grip on power. For the last decade or more, it has been extremely difficult for anyone in Eritrea to obtain a creditable post-secondary education in their own country.
Efforts are being made to fix the broken system of higher education in Eritrea by building new educational institutions and providing funding for students. Recently, the African Union decided to allocate millions of dollars in funding – no small amount for the cash-strapped AU – in order to help Eritrea develop a self-supporting system of colleges and universities. It is too soon as yet to tell whether their efforts will make a difference, and experts disagree on the probability of success. Part of the problem with this approach, according to many inside the country, is that primary and secondary education systems are too flawed to create much demand for higher education. Fewer than 50% of Eritrean children of school-age are enrolled in a primary or secondary school, and the numbers drop off sharply as children get older. With very small numbers of qualified graduates coming out of Eritrea’s secondary schools, it is difficult to generate momentum and encourage them to attend college.
Ultimately, change in Eritrea depends on political change: until the Eritrean government decides that universities are an asset rather than an enemy, there will continue to be few or no opportunities for students to learn the skills and knowledge that they will need to rebuild their damaged nation.

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