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Suggestions for improving the higher education status in Somalia

By Ahmed Mohamud Osman and Cigaal Yassin


Education is one of the key areas that receive a top priority in the national policy of any country. This is because education reflects the culture, language, values, and identity of a nation. It is believed that the degree of development and quality of higher education resonate with the state of well-being and the social status of a nation.  Following the collapse of the central authority and the destruction of the county’s infrastructure, in Somalia, for a brief period, formal education came to a halt. Fortunately, there has been a rebirth of the education field throughout the country thanks to the efforts of the Somali Diaspora and the initiatives of local organizations and individuals.

To date, the number of students enrolled in higher institutions is probably about 15-fold compared to the number of students enrolled in the only university existing in the country in the former regime. But this expansion came at a prize, deterioration of the quality of education.  Here, we suggest some measures aimed at improving the higher education sector in the country.


The different historical stages that the Somali educational system has undergone, starting from the pre-colonial period, through the colonial era, the subsequent civilian governments, and the military regime were analyzed and discussed in (1). Also, the outbreak of the senseless civil war, followed by the collapse of the central authority in 1991, leading to the destruction of the country’s infrastructure and, especially, its impact on  the educational facilities such as buildings, laboratories, and libraries, were reported before ( see reference 1 and the references therein).

Despite hard times and many sufferings, thanks to the endurance of the Somali people, initiatives of local organizations, support of the Somali Diaspora, some international organizations, the courage and entrepreneurial capacity of some individuals, there appeared slowly the rebirth of education in the country after 2004, and, even earlier, in some relatively stable regions, like Somaliland and Puntland. At present, there are many educational institutions, including universities and institutes at a Diploma level throughout the country. A study performed in 2013 showed circa 13-fold increase in the number of students enrolled in the higher education sector in the country compared to the number of students enrolled in the only existing university (The Somali National University) before the civil war (2). Because of the further increase in the number of higher institutions established since then, this ratio could be estimated to be more than 15-fold.  This rapid expansion of higher education in the country has come on a prize: the deterioration of the quality of education (2). Here, we suggest some measures to improve the status of our higher education.

Discussion on the suggested measures

The Ministry of Education of the Federal Government has recently nominated a committee of national accreditation board. This nomination is a positive step in the right direction. However, it is not clear whether the Ministry has consulted with the state members (FMS) in the formation of this relevant regulatory organ. Such a consultation would have facilitated and paved the way for the easy implementation of the programs of this board. This board is expected to evaluate the quality of every university, examine the nature and the quality of the programs provided by each university, and exercise control on the proper execution of these programs.

However, other crucial measures are needed to put the higher education of the country on the right track. One of the important measures needed is to reorganize and shrink the number of universities in the country. More importantly, each university should specialize in a specific field of education and, therefore, the same faculties now dispersed in different institutions must be united. For instance, faculties of medicine now existing in different universities should be united in one university, depending on the number of students available in each town. Of course, there would be exceptions because of the large number of students present in some areas, as the case is in big cities; different universities teaching the same programs might well co-exist in these cities.  An advantage of the unification of faculties teaching similar programs in one university is that the number of qualified lecturers would not be scattered in different institutions, thus avoiding the dilution of the expertise required for effective teaching.

Another important goal could be the unification of the curricula of similar programs provided in all the universities in the country. For example, students following a course in medicine should have the same program throughout the country. Of course, this must be the case for every program. Furthermore, there should be a strategy in improving the qualification of the lecturers within the country through seminars, workshops, etc., or outside the country via scholarships. Also, the creation of scientific research centers in the country would contribute to the growth of the skills and the research capacity of the different categories of university staff, i.e., lecturers and technical personnel. Such research centers would appeal to qualified Diaspora who would very likely return to serve our beloved homeland.

Ultimately, these scientific research centers could play a significant role in our scientific output and technical knowledge. Further, the Ministries of education at the federal level and member states as well as the universities must set a strategy for acquiring laboratory facilities and chemical reagents for the universities and secondary schools. In the absence of laboratory facilities, namely laboratory instruments, glassware, and chemical reagents, practical demonstrations for the scientific subjects are impossible. There is no need to emphasize that students understand better by doing experiments. In other words, without practical demonstrations for the scientific subjects, the quality of the teachings of these subjects would be seriously undermined. Besides, significant research activities in the universities would not take off without proper infrastructure, i.e., laboratory facilities, chemical reagents, and qualified personnel.

To better control the quality of the higher education in our country, we do believe that public/private partnership of the institutions would be inevitable.  Even in economically advanced countries, the government controls the education sector. There are advantages associated with this public/private share ownership. First, the quality of education takes priority and not profit. Second, the government can support students from low-income families, and the burden of the educational cost would be shared by both the public andprivate partners, a factor important under the present economic constraints. Because of thiswe suggest that the accreditation board, now nominated by the Ministry of education, should be public funded for carrying out their activities rather than charging the universities for eventual expenses. The latter option would only aggravate the already critical situation of low-income families as, ultimately, the payments of these expenses will fall on their shoulders.

Finally, without strengthening the primary and secondary education sector, higher education would continue to suffer and is unlikely to make significant progress. Therefore, it is equally necessary to improve the quality of education this sector by unifying the syllabus, providing trainings to teachers at the different levels of the basic education, and making more textbooks available in the Somali language.

We strongly support the idea that the medium of instruction in these schools must be Somali. It seems that the Ministry of Education of the Federal Government is of this opinion, too. Foreign languages such as English and Arabic languages should be studied as languages from the second year of the primary level and not used as medium of education. That was the case with the former central government, where the Somali language was the medium of instruction from primary up to secondary school level, except in few specific schools, like Gamal Abdi Nasir secondary school in Mogadishu, where the Arabic language was the medium of instruction. Using our mother tongue, as the medium of instruction from elementary to secondary school level, values not only the flourishing of our rich language, but also strongly helps our growing children to concentrate on understanding the different areas of knowledge instead of struggling with the study of foreign languages, a practice now common in our schools. As stated above, relevant foreign languages must be an integral part of the syllabus and taught simply as languages.

In sum, to reorganize and readjust our higher education system, radical measures are needed to be taken. The currently nominated national accreditation regulatory organ is one of these needed measures, but the success of this board depends on the priorities chosen, the source of funding for their expenses, and the implementation of their programs in the member states.

Other important steps to be taken include reorganization and reduction of the number of universities in the country, unification of the curricula of similar programs, raising the standard of qualification of the university lecturers and the technical staff, creation of scientific research centres, acquisition of laboratory facilities (i.e., instruments, glassware  and chemical reagents) as well as strengthening the lower education by unifying the syllabus throughout the country, using Somali language as a medium of instruction from elementary to secondary school level, and the most importantly introducing the public/private ownership system in the higher education sector at least in the short-term period.

Dr. Ahmed Osman
A professor of Biochemistry, academician and researcher. Currently, he is the Director of International relations and Quality Assurance at the University of Health Sciences Bosaso Puntland State (Somalia).
E-mail: [email protected]

Cigaal Yassin Hassan
A PhD candidate of Health Economics at University Putra Malaysia (UPM). Currently, he is the Vice Rector in charge of academics at the University of Health Sciences Bosaso Puntland State (Somalia).
E-mail: [email protected]



  1. Abdi. A.A. (1998)Education in Somalia: history, destruction, and calls for reconstruction, Comparative Education 34 (3) pp. 327- 340.
  2. The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (2013), The State of Higher Education in Somalia: privatization, rapid growth, and the need for regulation, Mogadishu, Somalia.

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