The program can be evaluated as Ethiopians replace foreigners in infrastructure design and installation
A long-awaited Master of Science program in Telecommunications Engineering is soon to be launched at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAIT).
The program was designed with the primary goal of supplying the nation’s telecoms sector with local professionals. The two-year program was jointly designed by AAIT and ethio telecom, and will cost approximately 23m Br over five years (not counting laboratory equipment). Other partners in the design and implementation of the project are Aalto University in Finland, and various Chinese universities and telecoms companies.
Ethiopia, a nation of about 90 million, has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, with just 0.75% of the population online. The numbers for cell phones and land lines are much higher, and ethio telecom is one of the largest providers in Africa, but much of the design and installation work for the infrastructure is being done by foreigners. Changing this was the rationale that inspired professors at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at AAIT, to come up with the idea for the project.
The curriculum has been designed and finalized and after a workshop on Saturday, October 17th, the program will be presented to the head of the university for final approval. The plan is for the program to begin this year and produce 300 experts by the end of the second Growth and Transformation Plan in five years.
Yalemzewd Negash (PhD), dean of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at AAIT said that previously, there existed a Communications Engineering program that many found to be far too theoretical and was failing to produce experts. That program lacked the requisite practical and laboratory education that telecoms experts need to possess. Mostly, the former program was designed to cultivate academics for teaching posts in the country’s many nascent universities.
The new program was designed over the course of one year,with approximately 38 separate meetings between eight professors from AAiT and three experts from ethio telecom. The curriculum is based on an analysis of over 1,000 courses and involved discussion with ethio telecom, international vendors and operators and other colleges.
Among the new innovative courses is “Power Management”, particularly formulated with ethio telecom in mind as 30pc of the monopoly’s expenses go to power. The curriculum itself will be divided into two streams; one for network engineering, which deals with infrastructure, and the other for information systems, which deals with services. In addition, students will be allowed to choose between a thesis and non-thesis version of the program. Foreign professors will be brought in to teach some of the more complex subjects, such as fiber optical systems, at least for the first batch, said Dean Yalemzewd.
The program is in keeping with the recent trend of collaboration between government and academia. The Ethiopian Roads Authority trains road engineers through AAIT and the Ethiopian Railway Corporation sends its employees to the Institute to study electrical, mechanical and civil engineering.
Experts at Ethiopia’s Telecommunications and Post Office Development Office have welcomed the new program, decrying the lack of local expertise in major technical posts in the country’s telecommunications sector. Two experts from the office who talked to Fortune mentioned many areas of the sector that are growing, including e-banking, rural connectivity, e-learning at the universities, SchoolNet for elementary and high school students, telemedicine and AgroNet, the network for farming research centers.
While these areas are developed by local expertise, the infrastructure supporting them also needs to be locally designed and installed, according to the experts. Though there is some training for local professionals, more often than not, it does not last more than a few months and takes place outside the country (for example, in Japan through the Japanese International Cooperation Agency), said Bekele Jegora, an expert at the Telecommunication and Port Development Office.