Higher education in Eritrea, a look at College of Business and Social Sciences

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By Simon Weldemichael

The traditional measure of wealth and economic growth is no longer the ownership of land, factories, and money. Instead, knowledge, skills, and the resourcefulness of people are increasingly becoming crucial to the national economy and national security of nations.

For this reason college education has become more important now than it has ever been. The government of Eritrea is committed to expanding education at all levels as the key driver to building a knowledge economy. Higher education in the country may be relatively young, but it has taken significant steps towards meeting its demands.

Like most developing countries, Eritrea is in need of expanding its institutions of higher education. In 1991, when Eritrea became independent, it had only one institution of higher education – Asmara university-which was established by catholic missionaries in 1950s. The carrying capacity of Asmara University was limited to 1200 students, which was way below the higher education needs of the country. The government made a bold decision in 2004 to expand higher education and, as a result, many colleges were established in different parts of the country. In Eritrea, the right to education from primary to tertiary levels is secured. Eritrea is one of the few countries in the world that provide free education to all citizens at all levels.

The restructuring and reorganization of Eritrea’s institutions of higher education continues to this day. In September 2018, Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Science and the College of Business and Economics were merged to form the College of Business and Social Sciences (CBSS). CBSS, which is located in Adi Keih, is one of the autonomous colleges of Eritrea. CBSS is coping with the increasing demands without further diluting the quality the education it provides. Currently the college is offering twelve degree and four diploma programs to around 3000 students, 47% of whom are women. The departments at the undergraduate level include Accounting, Banking, Economics and finance, English, Eritrean Languages and Literature, Geography, History, Journalism and Mass Communication, Library and Information Science, Law, Management and Public Administration, Political Science and International Relations, Sociology and Anthropology, and Tourism and Hotel Management. The different fields of study are supposed to explore the nature of our society and examine many issues such as social justice, gender equality, balanced development, self-reliance, pro-poor development strategy, safe environment and sustainable development.

Research in social sciences should aim to transform our understanding of how societies function and how they are organized. It should address the social, political, cultural and economic concerns of the Eritrean society. Our institutions of higher education are striving to produce men and women willing to fight an intellectual battle for social justice and self-reliance. College education should enable graduates to think globally and act locally. They should pay due respect to the local knowledge and try to integrate it with the global knowledge to bring practical benefits to the Eritrean society. CBSS is supposed to elevate students to a higher level of inquiry and understanding.

CBSS is working to become one of the leading institutions for excellence in teaching, research and community engagement. In addition to its regular on-campus education, the college has extended its contribution in various places. In collaboration with the Eritrean prisons and rehabilitation service, it offers degree and diploma courses at Tsetserat Prison for the prisoners. It also attempts to extend its support for community development at various levels.

Higher education institutions clearly need well-designed academic programs and a clear mission. The CBSS aspires to become a center of excellence in the fields of business and social sciences by producing highly qualified professionals. The overall objective of the college is to produce high quality human resources equipped with competitive knowledge and skill of administration in the fields of social science. It intends to contribute to the economic growth, societal development and poverty eradication in Eritrea. In order to address the social and economic challenges of Eritrea, CBSS strives to produce productive, intelligent and cautious consumers and producers.

The implementation of that mission, however, needs cooperation of various actors. Most importantly, its success lies in the highly qualified and dedicated instructors, disciplined and hardworking students and proper administration. College administration is a key organ with the responsibility of creating a favorable learning environment in the campus. Administration is the spinal cord of any institution. So in an attempt to elevate the status of our colleges, we should not forget to repair the existing administrative conditions. Professional and institutional system of administration is needed to organize effectively the human and material resources of the colleges. As it teaches, among others, administration and management, CBSS should establish a functioning and effective administration that can serve as a model for other institutions in the country to emulate. To see even a slight administrative deficiency in a college that teaches management and administration is intolerable. Although the college has a working administration, for more efficiency and effectiveness there is a need for corrective government intervention to make the administrative wing more operative.

Higher education institutions rely on the commitment of their faculty. The academic staff of the college is close to one hundred. Their consistent presence and availability to students have an enormous influence in creating an atmosphere that encourages learning. The majority of the faculty, especially the young Eritreans, is working with great commitment. They are full timers and are available all the time on the campus. They work hard to improve their research and pedagogical skills. It would be more productive for the senior staff with higher academic titles to adopt a friendly behavior with the college community. Part time work outside the college leads to absenteeism and lessening of attention. It would also diminish the role they are supposed to play in the life of the college.

Students must learn not only what is known, but also how to keep their knowledge up to date and to refine the local knowledge. New technology-based tools for accumulating knowledge must become central elements of their education, and curricula should be designed in such a way that students learn how to learn. Most students in CBSS have insatiable thirst of knowledge. The library and study-rooms are always busy. To meet the demands of the students the digital library of the college needs to expand and internet network should be considered.

Higher education institutions have multifaceted functions. In addition to education, the college undertakes research and service to the community. Every year students produce many research papers in various fields. Hundreds of research papers have been produced and presented by students and instructors. The CBSS should organize its activity to ensure the sharing of its accumulated knowledge. Dean CBSS Dr. Stifanos Hailemariam said that the vision of the college is to promote economic and societal development, through research and training, to reduce poverty and contribute to the development of Eritrea.

The aim of higher education is to educate students so that they will be loyal to the Eritrean society and contribute their share in the ongoing process of nation building. Eritrean youth that imbibe college education must think and act in accord with the national, ethical and human values. Our college graduates are making a difference in various fields throughout the country. CBSS, along with other sister colleges, is working to produce responsible and productive citizens that could contribute to the development and welfare of Eritrea.

Today’s development is knowledge-based and the creation of knowledge has a higher economic value. The application and production of science and technology have now become the keys to economic growth. So our institutions of higher education must strive to produce productive and competitive graduates that can play their roles in the development of Eritrea. In order to bring practical outcomes, Eritrean higher education institutions must have an intimate connection with the society. The attitude of aloofness and disregard for practical affairs, that is common in ivory towers, should be discouraged.