Saturday, June 23, 2007

Millennial Challenges: Establishing a Center of Higher Education- the Addis Ababa University Experience of past 50 Years


HIM Emperor Haile Sellassie I on the enauguration of the first University in the country, stated that:

"Our Beloved people, in contemplating the erection of a monument in Our honor, and We on Our Part, to express Our satisfaction and to recognize this gratitude,have decided that on this same spot, where Our people have resolved to build with the funds voluntarily subscribed a statue to Us, that a University be erected and established for the education of Ethiopia's youth so as to allow them and future generations to benefit from this happy event.

While giving this site for the building and establishment of a University, to represent at the same time a monument to your Emperor, for the service and benefit of your children and the future generations and to stand as a symbol of natural gratitude between your Sovereign and His people, We now lay the foundation stone of the University.”


" ..test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

This verse of St. Paul was the founding motto of Addis Ababa University. It was the cradle of wisdom. Prior to 1942 (every date in this document is in Ethiopian Calendar), the number of students graduating from all the high schools in Ethiopia was not more than 70. Nevertheless, the necessity of a higher institution for those graduates was inevitable.

Addis Ababa University, sensu stricto, is not, however, a forth night event. Several colleges and institutions were established way long before the establishment of AAU in its present form. Lets try to track AAU’s history starting fifty years back to date.

Addis Ababa University College-AAUC (1943 - 1954)

The task of establishing a college was trusted to Dr. Lucien Mat, a Canadian priest and director of the then Teferi Mekonnen High School (today’s Entoto Comprehensive). The first ever college in Ethiopian history was then established in today’s Science Faculty (Arat Kilo Campus) and the name "Addis Ababa University College" was coined by this Dr. Lucien Mat who subsequently served the University College as a president during the first 12 years.

Emperor Haile Selassie I inaugurated the University College on the 1st of December 1943. It was inaugurated during a special ceremony by the blessing of the then Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Abune Baselius and an opening speech of the Emperor, who said "Thanks be to God! We cherished at the establishment of this University and we are mentally satisfied!" The next day, December 2, 1943, classes started officially with 9 instructors and 71 students. In the beginning, there were only some two-year certificate programmes in the fields of natural and social sciences (Science and Arts) but some years latter the University College gained its own charter (Negarit Gazetta, No. 185, July 1947) and it started four-year degree programmes.

The courses given at the University College were being tailor-made to the existing Ethiopian situation. When Eritrea was federated to Ethiopia, the University started courses on "Port Administration" in 1944. In the same year, the School of Law was established and started extension programmes. In 1945 students were able to follow Education and Administration (Management) programmes. An extension diploma programme was started in 1946.

The first ever Degree in Ethiopia was granted to 13 qualified graduates of the AAUC, 10 of them got Bachelor of Arts (B. A.) Degree in General Studies and the rest three B. A. Degree in Education. Along with its Certificate and Diploma programmes, the Science Faculty launched a Degree programme and granted the first ever Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree to 6 Biology graduates in 1950.

The University College continued initiating new programmes along with broadening and strengthening existing academic programmes. The Education Major programme was upgraded to Teachers’ Training College in 1948; the Law School started regular programmes in Law and Pre-Law in 1949; Department of Business was established in 1950 and started courses in Accounting and Business Administration; a two-year programme in sociology was launched in 1952; two research institutes were established — the Geophysical Observatory in 1950 and the Forestry Institute in 1953.

During the first 10 years since its establishment, AAUC graduated 421 students: 235 with Bachelor Degree and 196 with Diplomas and Certificates.

Technology College (1945 - 1954)

On March 1943, the director of the then Technical School ("Tegbare'id") presented a plan for the establishment of an Engineering College. In September 1945, the Technology College accepted students at the Tegbare’id Campus. The Director was appointed as the Dean of the College. The college was gradually upgraded and broadened and in 1948 students were registered for a B.Sc. Degree programme in Engineering. This college was particular in that it was administered by the Ministry of Education unlike the Addis Ababa University College. It is believed that this had a negative impact on its progress. Till 1953 the College produced 57 Engineers to the Country.

Agricultural College (1945 - 1954)

At the beginning of 1945 the Ethiopian Education Board decided to begin a Degree Programme in Agriculture. An agreement was signed with the U.S. government to help establish the Agricultural College. Under the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, the college officially started classes on September 1945 at the campus of Jimma Technical School of Agriculture. This college was later transferred to Alemaya, Harrarghe in 1948. The first 11 graduates of this college had got their B.Sc. Degrees in Agriculture in 1949.

Health Care College (1947 - 1954)

The Health Care College was established in 1947 at Gondar following an agreement of the Ethiopian government with World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and the U.S. government. The college started 4-year Diploma programme in October 1947 and in the next two years it started other training programmes on nursing, health care, and laboratory technicians. Building College (1948 - 1954)

This college was established following a technical support agreement between the governments of Ethiopia and Sweden in October 1947. In October 1948, the ´ Ethio-Swedish Building Technology Institute ª accepted 26 students. In 1951, the college was upgraded so that it can offer a 4-year degree programme in Building Engineering.

In the beginning years, students of the Addis Ababa University College and other higher institutions were actively participating in social and political movements in the country. They started to oppose and criticise the Haile Selassie regime.

Talented students in literature and poetry like Yohannes Admassu, Tamiru Feyissa, Yilama Kebede and others were selected by Student Counsels to recite their poetry in front of the aristocracy and the Emperor himself. Moreover, students manifested in favour of the 1953 coup d’etat. They tried literacy campaign, constructed schools and clinics and served the society free of charge.

The ten years since the establishment of higher institutions were fruitful. More than 1300 students graduated from the five colleges.

Except the AAUC, the other colleges were administered by various government institutions and ministries until 1954. In 1951 a board (commission) including seven prominent intellectuals presented a plan that combined all the colleges into one National University. According to the plan, all the five colleges were combined to a single administration structure and the Haile Selassie I University (HSIU) was established in 1954. The University was administered by one Board of Governors, one Senate, one President, one Registrar and one Students Dean.

In December 8 1954, at a ceremony attended by the royal family, the aristocracy and representatives from the Universities of Paris, Sweden, Belgrade, Vienna, Kwame Nkrumah, Utah, New York Columbia and Michigan, the Emperor bestowed the ´ Guenete Leul ª Palace and all the buildings in the palace ground to be a university campus. This gesture of the Emperor was not popular in all corners. Some opposition groups to the Emperor related it with the bloodshed in the same palace ground during the 1953 coup d’etat and argued that the Emperor was apt to abandon the palace any way.

Other groups were in favour of the Emperor and argued in the same line - the Emperor did not abandon the palace even if he knew that there was more bloodshed in the very palace ground on February 12, 1929 during the Italian occupation. Some foreign intellectuals backed the later witnessing that the Emperor’s initiatives were very original and indicated his devotion to the advancement of education. Today, the main palace (´ Mekonnen Hall ª) is the centrepiece of the campus (6-Kilo Campus) and it accommodates the offices of the President and Vice Presidents, Academic and External Relations Officers, and the library and museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.

The first President of the HSIU was Dejazmach Kassa WoldeMariam who was very popular amongst the then university staff. Subsequent presidents were Dr. Aklilu Habtewold till the 1966 Ethiopian Revolution and Dr. Taye Gulilat from August 1966 till March 1969. The University was then renamed as Addis Ababa University and was presided by Dr. Duri Mohammed, Dr. Abiy Kifle, Prof. Alemayehu Tefera and Prof. Mogessie Ashenafi from 1969 till 1992.

Faculties and Colleges

Since 1954, various colleges, faculties and other institutions were established, upgraded and strengthened. One of the first and foremost achievements of the young University included the establishment of the Faculty of Education, which produced several teachers starting from 1957 till 1971. The programme was interrupted for some time when it restarted some years back. The School of Sociology, the College of Business Administration, the Law Faculty and the Medical Faculty were established in the same epoch. The other colleges out side Addis Ababa, including the Alemaya College of Agriculture also underwent similar upgrading activities.

One of the 12 colleges under the HSIU was the College of Theology that was established in 1952 and became part of the university in 1953. The origin of this college dated back to 1934 when the Holy Trinity Theology School was established.

Its aim was to produce highly trained manpower to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Because of its particular nature (especially the nature of students — teacher interaction), it was not possible to decide whether this college should be administered under the National University or not. This problem remained unsolved till 1969 when the college was closed. It was recently reopened and it has been administered by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The two oldest faculties of the university, the Arts (Social Science) and Science Faculties have been producing significant number of trained man power in their respective departments: ten in the Arts Faculty (Departments of Economics, English, Ethiopian Languages and Literature, Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, Management, Sociology and Anthropology) and six in the Science Faculty (Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Mathematics, Physics and Statistics).

The Building College and the Engineering College, which was transferred to Arat Kilo campus in 1957, were merged and upgraded to the Technology Faculty. This faculty was installed at the newly-built building at Amist Kilo in 1961. The Health College at Gondar (including the Gondar Hospital) was merged with HSIU in 1953.

The extension programme is another important sector of the Addis Ababa University. Started in 1944 at AAUC and in 1949 at the Engineering College, currently the Extension Programme is part of the academic programmes of all the faculties and most of their respective departments.

Research Institutes

Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES): The IES was established in 1955. The IES library has the largest and most valuable collections on Ethiopia. It contained numerous published and unpublished research works in Amharic and many European languages. The IES museum similarly has a large collection of Ethiopian cultural and artistic treasures. The Institute has been conducting the International Congress of Ethiopian Studies in various parts of the world every three years. The 14th International congress was recently (November 1993) held in Addis Ababa

Institute of Pathobiology: Established in 1956 as a research wing of the Medical Faculty, it has been one of the active research centres of the university. Researchers are involved in identifying local pathological problems and devising solutions. The late Prof. Aklilu Lemma’s research on "Endod" was partly conducted at this Institute Centre of Educational Research: Established in 1959 as a research wing of the Education Faculty, it has been involved in education-related research especially relevant to Ethiopia, and in disseminating and encouraging the utilisation of new research products in Ethiopian schools.

Institute of Development Research: Established in 1964, it has been involved in research activities related to national development problems and their sustainable solutions. Its other goals include supporting social science studies with the research results, co-operating with and counselling governmental and non-governmental institutions, and creating and facilitating information exchange forums.

Geophysical Observatory:Established in 1950, this Observatory has been a research wing of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. This Observatory located at the Arat-Kilo campus is equipped with some geophysical instruments including some seismographs (earthquake measuring instruments) and has an extensive database on the seismic activity of the country.


Students of the HSIU continued and strengthened their opposition against the Emperor and his regime. They manifested in favour of the coup d’etat of 1953. They continued publishing their newspapers and newsletters.

They raised the question of "land tenure". Supported by other bodies and events, their opposition led to the 1966 Ethiopian Revolution. Subsequently the university’s name was changed to Addis Ababa University. However, the revolution turned out to be anti-intellectuals. Several prominent scholars were killed, tortured and forced to immigrate and those who survived at home were morally killed. The 20-year progress of the University was heavily knocked out by the revolution. Several qualified scholars took refuge in many European and American universities, where they are still teaching. Classes were interrupted between 1967 and 1969 because of the famous "Edget Behibret" campaign. Classes were restarted in 1969 in the Addis Ababa University under the presidency of Dr. Duri Mohammed.

School of Graduate Studies

After ten years of research and deliberation the Graduate Programme was established in October 1971. The first 23 graduates had got their masters degree in August 1972 from the hands of Col. Mengistu Hailemariam. Since then the graduate programme was gradually strengthened and upgraded. Currently it graduates more than 300 candidates each year in 60 different academic programmes.


Since 1983 some measures were taken to strengthen, upgrade and broaden higher institutions in the country. As a result colleges and institutions that were administered under Addis Ababa University including the Awassa College of Agriculture, Bahrdar Pedagogic College and Gondar Medical Science College are now self-administered and autonomous universities by themselves.

Today the Addis Ababa University is left with its 11 faculties, 5 research institutes, and its numerous problems. It has 42 undergraduate and 60 graduate academic programmes. The number of students has risen to several thousands in both the undergraduate and graduate programmes. 750 Ethiopians and 41 foreigners constitute the university teaching and research staff.

To be Continued in..........



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