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In-depth analysis: Arba Minch University pacifies prospective graduates, grapples with another concern as fate of students hangs in limbo

Yared Tsegaye

Addis Abeba, December 28/2018 – Following a heated controversy between Arba Minch University (AMU) management and about 50 prospective graduates who studied in the “Production Engineering Department” of the university, the management of the university began reaching out to employers which will potentially absorb the graduates, focusing mainly on giant industrial companies, Addis Standard has learnt. Accordingly, a task-force was established by AMU’s technology campus which listed out close to 200 state and private industrial manufacturers and those involved in the production of metals and other products.

The move by Arba Minch University, located in Arba Minich city, some 437 km South-West of Addis Abeba, came following complaints by fifth year students who are currently attending their final year classes in the Production Engineering department,  a department that they claimed was ‘singled out’ and ‘abandoned’ after it was opened and they spent years studying in it. According to the students, the department was originally established as “Metals Production Engineering Department’ under the university’s Institute of Technology, Mechanical and Production Engineering Faculty in 2014/15 academic year.

A December controversy

The controversy began clouding the teaching-learning environment at AMU’s Mechanical and Production Engineering Faculty after Seyoum Teshome, an activist and a university lecturer at Ambo University’s Wolliso Campus, shared two letters in the first week of December via his Facebook page.

The prospective graduate students, initially 20 when the department came to exist, have reached to more than 50 after a semester and half and were promised “jobs are not your worries, but the university’s”; they claimed. Their future employer? The army run business, Metals and Engineering Corporation (MeTEC).

Written in July 2014, the letters posted by Seyoum revealed that MeTEC had advised the AMU to start the ‘Metals Production Engineering Department’ in a bid to fulfill its needs for educated manpower to work for the metal production companies under it and other large scale production industries in the country.

However, following the posting of the letters, Ethiopian social media picked up the story and allegations that the department was “never known” by the University itself and remained “stranger” to the current president of the University and the academic vice president, started to go viral, adding panic to the prospective graduates of the department.

The University was forced to give a response in its official Facebook page through Yechale Kebede (PhD), the Academic Vice President, arguing that the department started teaching the curriculum in line with the requirements and approval of the Ministry of Education (MoE). AMU’s senate, the board of directors and the management decided to include the department and were closely monitoring it, it said; the university knew that the Metal Production Engineering department exists.

Following the confusion, a delegation from the Ministries of Trade and Transport went to visit the University to inspect and discuss with the students and the management. Panic-stricken by claims on social media, the students from the Production Engineering Department voiced their concerns that the university had abandoned them with false promises that MeTEC would be their future employer, a student who was present at the discussion told Addis Standard.

However, the students’ panic was exacerbated not only by what was circulating on social media but by the news that the attorney general has charged dozens of  army officials who were working at MeTEc, including its CEO Major General Kinfe Dagnew, with grand corruptions related to the business conduct within MeTEC.

“The department in the early years did not have its own office, and despite having a new department, we have been studying similar courses with the students in Mechanical Engineering Department of the university. It was only in the later years that we took courses focusing on Metal Production and went through hard times during internship year due to courses related with engine work, which we should have taken,” a group of students in the department told Addis Standard  “The curriculum itself was vague,” they insisted.

“Although the courses we have been taking and the nature of the department itself demanded industrial visits, we never had one despite asking for it since our third academic year,” a student from the department stated in a phone interview. “We only had one internship program at some of the companies under MeTEC,” the student recalls.

Another student who is on his fifth year studies also claims that they “were promised that MeTEC would hire 40 students each year after graduation.” He is one of 14 students who went as apprentices at the Akaki Basic Metals Industry, which is under MeTEC, last year.  Twenty three other students from the same department have also taken internships with various companies under MeTEC during the 2017/18 academic year.

AMU pacifies prospective graduates, but grapples with yet another concern

Since early December, AMU’S Vice President for academic affairs, Yechale Kebede (PhD), and the Technology Institute’s Scientific Director, Alemayehu Chiffamo (PhD), along with few other senior officials of the University’s Technology Institute, and representatives of the students from the Production Engineering Department, were engaged in a series of discussions on how to address the frustrations of the graduating students.

Dr. Yechale Kebede

Following the discussions, in the last few weeks, a working group composed of the students, scientific and managing directors and academic officials, along with representatives from the federal government, was formed and tasked tasked to introduce the presence of the department and its graduates to potential investors all over the country.

“This is part of a fresh start in the long phase of introducing the department to employers all over the country, including most of the manufacturing industries in areas such as in Tigray regional state and in industries located in Akaki area in the southern outskirt of Addis Abeba,”  the Academic Vice President , Yechale Kebede, told Addis Standard. The AMU also eyes the various industrial parks built or being built as potential employers the students.

Yechale believes that this is not only a quick solution to address the worries of the students but will help address the shortage of educated human resource needs of the country’s move towards industrialization. But he admitted that there were problems in introducing the department to the stakeholders in the Higher Education frontier over the last years.

“We are also partnering with Ethio-Jobs [an online company & Ethiopia’s largest employment and job search platform] on what to do with the students after their graduation. A documentary about the Production Engineering Department is almost finalized, which will be followed by seminars and business to business workshops between the students, AMU and industrial companies,” the Vice President further said.

“As a result, [we] have identified close to 200 potential employers working on the production industry of various sectors; the AMU is knocking their doors with urgency,” a source within the task-force and one of the facilitators for the cause said.

There are currently 45 public universities in Ethiopia; the Ministry of Education plans that as of end of this year 80% of all its higher education graduates will get a job within and/or after one year of their graduation, according to a Strategic Plan by the Ministry.

“We have targeted to achieve the same strategic plan as an institution and will be conducting short-term trainings on the employment opportunities of all the colleges under the University. Other departments will not be left out too,” Yechale said.

But some of the department’s prospective graduates still believe that the curriculum for the discipline, revised together with its name as the Production Engineering Department in the academic year 2016/17, has not been processed to its complete arrangement and lacks ‘course descriptions’.

“The University opened the department with all the basic qualities in a curriculum preparation,” Yechale argued.

One of the Original 20 students placed in the Metals Production Engineering, however, do not see Yechale’s statement as fact. “It is vague to understand how we can cope with other graduates with the scoop of skill we had,” the student told Addis Standard.

The curriculum was sent to the university’s senate weeks after the students requested for a revision; it was proposed for the second time in two years through Atikilt Mullu, current dean of the Mechanical and Production Engineering Faculty, Addis Standard  has learnt from students with knowledge to the matter.

The students, who refused to attend classes for a few days in Mid-December, are now back to their regular classes. The tensions are subsiding, and the graduation will not be postponed as long as the students meet the standard academic requirements, Yechale insists; there will be no student left from the 50 students who fear that their fate is hanging in limbo.

The University, which was once led by former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, has 77 Bachelor of Science (BSc) Programs in various disciplines in six different colleges, including the Technology Institute. Eleven departments including the ‘Production Engineering’ are under the Technology Institute’s Bachelor of Science Programs; most of those are engineering disciplines, classified as solid & water.

What came of the department MeTEC paid for and MeTEC doesn’t know about

Under a new Bachelors of Science curriculum within the Technology Institute, the ‘Metals Productions Engineering Department’, which is the first of its kind in the Ethiopian Public Universities, has been receiving students every year ever since it was first established in late 2014. The department was included as one of the AMU Technology Institute’s curriculum with the major course in Material Science. According to a letter written by the then academic vice president for AMU, Dr. Agina Anjulo, it was proposed to the State Minister for Higher Education at the Ministry of Education, together with six other new programs.

Under the Mechanical and Production Engineering, the ‘Metals Production Engineering’ department was indeed affiliated with MeTEC, which has played a role in the workings of the department and had financed its operational costs. “Scholars from the University and experts from MeTEC should play an important role in dealing with the students’ reproaches,” reads yet another letter signed by Agina.

According to a pictographic posted on the door of the Mechanical and Production Engineering Faculty, its founding academicians included Professor Nigussie Tadege, currently one of the professors specializing on Material Science; Dr. Alemayehu Chiffamo, the current Scientific Director at the Technology Institute; and Atkilt Mulu, current Dean of the Mechanical and Production Engineering Faculty, among others. Many of the lecturers in the department were Indian Scholars until recently.

“This happened based on the country’s shift to industrialization. It was not only for AMU to prepare a new curriculum in line with that, but also the rest of the Public Universities,” Yechale insists. “As for the case with MeTEC, it had a request for the Ministry of Education, claiming a need for 40,000 students from these universities. AMU was just one of them in that order,” he admitted to Addis Standard.

However, for the next three years after it was opened, the students in the ‘Production Engineering Department’ took similar courses with the rest of the Mechanical Engineering students, Material Science being the basic common course.

The name given to the department was, however, in line with the establishment, which aimed at sending the students for a practical training in companies under MeTEC. But the Ministry of Education had no understanding of that. This has led the University to revise the discipline as the ‘Production Engineering Department in the academic year of 2016/17. The fifth year students in discussions with AMU’s officials say that it was since then that MeTEC discontinued its deal with the University.

“When we went for the internship in companies under MeTEC , the officials running these companies have told us that they never heard of this department, nor sponsored it by any means,” one of the 14 students who was sent to Akaki Basic Metals Industry said. After learning that, he changed his department to Water Supply and Environmental Engineering hoping for a better job opportunity after graduation.

Since Mid-October this year, a new draft regulation saw the reorganization of MeTEC into two entities. Abdulaziz Mohammed, Commercial and Civil Products Operation Deputy Director of MeTEC, told local media that industries that have been manufacturing military equipment under the auspices of MeTEc “will be transferred to the Ministry of Defense. The rest will remain under the Corporation.” The draft regulation also stipulates that MeTEC will get a new name: the National Metal Engineering Corporation, and will only manufacture civil and commercial products. Of the total of 14 industries under it, MeTEC will therefore transfer four: Dejen Aviation Industry, Gafat Armament Engineering Industry, Homicho Ammunition Engineering Industry, and Hi-tech Engineering Industry to the ministry of Defense.

Addis Standard’s repeated attempts to reach out to the current administration of the department of communication at MeTEC to discuss the fate of the AMU students were to no avail. AS


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