As Ethiopia Expands Higher Ed, UCLA Seeks Partnership
In January, the ASC and Director Andrew Apter (left) hosted members of AAU's Business and Economics faculty: Dean Gebrehiwot A. Kebedew; Professor of Management Konjit Habtemariam; and Degefe Duressa Obo, head of the Department of Accounting and Finance.

By Kevin Matthews, Senior Writer

As Ethiopia Expands Higher Ed, UCLA Seeks Partnership

UCLA's African Studies Center is developing a plan with Addis Ababa University to assist with new PhD programs in business and economics that are needed for Ethiopia's expanding university systems. The proposed partnership, involving the UCLA Anderson School, would elevate socio-cultural issues within business curricula at UCLA and AAU alike.

Implicit notions of credit, debt, exchange and reciprocity in transactions: these are highly culturally loaded terms.

With its economy growing rapidly in recent years, Ethiopia is moving to build and staff more than two dozen new universities around the country. That presents opportunities for the Faculty of Business and Economics at Addis Ababa University (AAU), which is assuming the role of training not only managers for the country's public and private sectors, but also a large fresh crop of academics.

"Many of the regional universities are opening departments of economics, accounting, management and so on," explained Gebrehiwot A. Kebedew, dean of the business faculty, on a visit to UCLA in January. "Meeting all the staff requirements of these universities by sending people abroad for training is very expensive."

The UCLA African Studies Center (ASC) and AAU are jointly writing a plan to develop business doctoral programs for AAU and to create new study opportunities for Bruins, with cooperation from the Anderson School of Management. Under a $50,000 planning grant awarded by Higher Education for Development and funded by USAID, ASC Director Andrew Apter and colleagues traveled to Addis Ababa in December and received three AAU faculty members last month, to hammer out details of an ambitious, multiyear proposal.

A fully funded partnership would allow for joint research, seminars, exchanges and student internship opportunities. On this campus, it would bring together scholars in the Anderson School and the UCLA College to rethink business-related curricula.

"We're going to enrich management and business pedagogy here. We're going to do that by bringing culture and sociology a little more concretely into the business of teaching business," Apter said. "Implicit notions of credit, debt, exchange and reciprocity in transactions: these are highly culturally loaded terms," he added.

One of Kebedew's concerns as a scholar and teacher, for example, is the different approaches of Christian- and Muslim-owned businesses to financing, given Quranic prohibitions on the charging and paying of interest.

"Ethiopia is a country of both Christians and Muslims, whereas what we have is only conventional banking, conventional arrangements," he said. "So, how satisfied are the financing requirements of the Muslim population? And how to regulate Islamic banks and insurance companies is an important issue." He contrasted the Ethiopian situation with that of neighboring Sudan, where religious minorities must adapt to the prevailing norms of Islamic banking.

"This cultural dimension is going to be important for our business graduates, so we intend to design training relating to specific topics of this dimension," said Kebedew.

At the same time, the AAU programs will strive for gender parity. Currently, women make up perhaps one-tenth of its graduate student population in business and economics. The UCLA-AAU partnership would examine this and related issues.

Management Professor Konjit Habtemariam pointed out that educating Ethiopia's next generation of business and economics PhDs within the country is not only more cost-effective, but will also help to prevent brain drain.

"What happens is, when people go out of the country to be educated on a higher level, that's when you actually see them stay wherever they are and never come back," she said.

Published: Tuesday, February 02, 2010