After years of civil strife, Somali university engineering programs are stronger than ever. The Somali areas (Somaliland, Somalia and Punt land) now count approximately twenty engineering programs offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. The variety of degrees offered underscores the strength of Somali engineering: electrical, telecommunications and civil. Over the past fifteen years, multiple universities have been established or re-opened. Engineering degrees and the skills they impart are particularly important in this part of the continent given the need to rebuild and renew infrastructure. As such, the demand for engineering and qualified engineers is growing and Somali engineering faculties are responding to the challenge.
Somali regions endured over a decade of civil strife beginning in the late 1980s. Every institution of higher education which existed during these times closed due to violence, destructions of facilities, general instability and the accompanying lack of funding and state support. Hence, Somalis currently need professionals to rebuild infrastructure and institutions. According to Professor Abdi DahirDirie, an advisor to the President of Mogadishu University (MU), one of the key missions of Somali’s engineering faculties is the development of indigenous scientific knowledge that encourages research and imparts priority skills. The engineers currently being trained at Somali institutions represent a direct and tangible link to the region’s future as they will literally build and re-build.
Revival and Regeneration
Given the chaos of the past the two decades, the strong rebound of Somali engineering programs is remarkable. Currently, the number of universities and engineering programs surpasses anything prior to the upheaval. The cases of two universities in Mogadishu are telling.
Officially opened in 1972, but dating back as an institution to the 1950s, Somali National University (SNU) was historically the largest and most famous Somali institution of higher learning. The university consisted of thirteen faculties offering degrees in multiple disciplines including engineering. Prior to the beginning of civil strife in the early 1990s, the university had a teaching staff of 700 and a student body numbering in the thousands. However, fighting between warring factions in 1991 severely damaged the university and SNU suspended classes indefinitely. SNU’s existence was snuffed out for over two decades until November 2013 when the Republic of Somalia announced that it would revive SNU. In partnership with the University of Alberta and the United Nation’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, SNU reopened its doors in August 2014 and again boasts a Faculty of Engineering.
In contrast, Mogadishu University (MU) did not exist prior to the crisis. Indeed, MU was born out of the crisis when a group of Somali academics decided to address the lack of educational opportunities. Planning took place in 1993 and, during the height of civil strife in 1997, these academics opened MU as a non-governmental, non-profit institution. For the past decade and a half, MU has thrived. According to Professor Dirie, MU now offers degrees from nine faculties including the Faculties of Engineering and Computer Science and Information Technology.
Variety of Programs and Skills
Along with degrees in basic engineering, certain Somali faculties’ offer multiple specialized degrees in mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, computer and civil engineering. Some institutions offer degrees specifically designed to provide expertise in infrastructure. For example, the Engineering Department at Addis University College in Burao offers degrees in Architecture and Urban Planning Technology and General Drafting Technology. Hargeisa University’s (HU) Civil Engineering Faculty designs their undergraduate degree to impart transport, water supply, sanitation, construction, structure and town planning skills. Engineer Hassan JamaDerie, HU’ s Dean of the College of Engineering, noted that HU offers rigorous five-year undergraduate engineering programs in which students are expected to work at least part time on campus or in the community on engineering-related projects. This ensures they have the commensurate skills required to join the workforce when they graduate. Engineer Hassan added that HU only accepts qualified students with top grades and intends to keep classroom numbers small in order to provide top-quality skills. Because of HU’s work program, engineering students will actually mix cement and build citiesnot just study in classrooms, said Engineer Hassan.
Multiple faculties combine engineering programs and instruction with information technology and computers science, such as Somali International University’s (SIU) Faculty of Engineering and Computer Technology. SIU’s engineering faculty houses the Departments of Civil Engineering and Computer Science and offers graduate and undergraduate degrees. Gollis University (GU), a private university in Hargeisa, provides courses in surveying for university students as well as surveying classes open to qualified students and professionals. GU engineering students often work with industries and construction firms to build and re-build roads, bridges and buildings, thus acquiring hands-on experience in everything from surveying to construction management to mixing cement. As part of the university’s efforts to enhance and rebuild infrastructure, GU’s program ensures students will graduate fully prepared to participate in the workforce as civil, telecommunication and electrical engineers.
Many Somali universities and tertiary institutions have obtained top-quality academicstaff. This is largely due to a combination of their access to local, national and international funding, the strong demand for engineering and qualified engineers, their respected status in the region, the return of qualified Somali engineers from other countries, and their connections to other higher education institutes throughout East Africa, North America and Europe. For example, Hargeisa University (HU) offers three distinct undergraduate engineering degrees: telecommunications, electrical and civil. The faculty boasts over 400 full-time undergraduate engineering students and 45 lecturers from around the globe. HU’s curriculum matches that of Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar Universities in Ethiopia. HU sends undergraduate engineering students to Bahir Dar University for their fifth and final year of training so they can utilize state-of-the-art labs there. Amoud University (AU), in the Awdal region, boasts of academic staff from the US, the UK, Bangladesh and the Sudan. Gollis University (GU) offers undergraduate degrees in multiple engineering disciplines and a Master’s in Engineering Management. It currently has 600 undergraduate and 20 graduate engineering students. GU actively collaborates with international institutions including Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University and India’s SSM College of Engineering and boasts of lecturers from the US, UK, Canada, Uganda and Kenya.
Somali engineering faculties offer specialized courses as well as hands-on learning designed to develop professionals with the skills to rebuild the region. Gollis University’s (GU) Faculty of Engineering is one such institution. As part of the GU’s assistance to students and to vulnerable groups (returnees, Internally Displaced Persons, and poverty stricken families), it works to train students to build affordable housing. In fact, GU encourages its students to build pilot module project houses for its academic staff and students. Specifically, GU’s research department has designed a series of build-it-yourself houses to be assembled with local materials. Each house can be built for as little as USD 600 and are built of readily available resources.
Similarly, Hargeisa University aims to train its engineering students in affordable construction techniques on its own campus. Students are expected to assist in the construction of new buildings and improve existing structures. According to Abdirashed Ibrahim Abdirahman, HU’s Director of ICT Services & Distance Learning, this type of training will give engineering graduates the ability to produce high quality, low-cost buildings.
Competition for talented engineering students is growing. As part of Gollis University’s (GU) efforts to attract quality students and staff, it recently completed a state-of-the-art telecommunications lab in partnership with Nationlink-Somaliland. This lab is the only one of its kind in this region and aims to provide practical training. This year, GU also opened a civil engineering testing lab which provides students, staff, NGOs, and businesses with the opportunity to bring soil, concrete and structures for tests which determine if the materials and products meet international standards.
Not to be outdone, Hargeisa University (HU) is in the process of opening the largest Somali electrical engineering lab. HU will also begin offering Urban Planning courses in early 2015. According to HU’s Engineer Hassan, town planning is a critical skill given the need to rebuild and the expansion of cities and towns. Town planners are extremely scarce, and HU aims to rectify this by training students. HU also intends to offer an Industrial Engineering program later this year.
Limits to learning
Despite the positive developments, Somali engineering programs experience difficulties related to the recent upheavals. Some suffer from limited infrastructure, lack of qualified lecturers and lack of university-level students. This is particularly true in the south and southwest where the situation remains unstable. But even in stable areas, challenges remain. For example, Kownayn University (KU), a private institution in Mogadishu founded in 2013, planned to offer a Bachelor’s in Information and Communications Technology during 2014. However, the number of qualified students proved insufficient to begin the program. KU plans to offer the degree program during 2015 pending the required student numbers and qualifications.