I had a conversation about higher education and careers with law students recently and was reminded of the difficulties one faces in getting higher degrees in Ethiopia. Education, especially higher education is expensive. With a larger number of people with first degrees, masters and doctoral degrees are sought after even more. In my experience these degrees come at a costly price and therefore many of us try and get some sort of sponsorship to cover our costs. At the moment, Ethiopian universities offer masters and doctoral degrees in many fields. However, if one can secure the opportunity, there is a general preference to get these degrees outside of Ethiopia and most likely in Europe or the US. Higher education is cheaper, in both tuition and living expenses, in Europe than in the US. The struggle lies in securing a scholarship.
While speaking to these students, I asked what areas of law interested them. There seemed to be a general inclination towards human rights. Very few mentioned an interest of pursuing a career in corporate or business law. There are two main reasons for this the second one being the most important. First, business and corporate law practicing lawyers do not teach or lecture law. Those who end up teaching these courses do so from a very theoretical or have minimal experience in the practice in the area. Secondly, there are far more scholarships for human rights focused degrees than corporate or business ones. In fact, I continuously come across scholarships for Africans looking to study human rights or development related topics at a higher level than I have for business related law. I find this very troublesome!
I am not discounting the importance of human rights and development, but I think the importance of having highly trained corporate and business lawyers is overlooked. Practically speaking, if one were to become a human rights lawyer career options are most likely to be teaching law and working in an organization. But there is a large number of companies opening up in the continent or being acquired or merging with other companies making the need for qualified African corporate counsel that much more important.
Lately there are a large number of scholarships for Africans to study in Turkey, China, India and Korea. This is in line the relationship that these countries are forging with the continent. The general focus of the research areas covered by these scholarships is industry/industrial policy focused.
Something that is visibly lacking is intra-African university collaboration and scholarships for Africans to go to African universities outside of their home country. The Pan-African University is one such example but it is a drop in the ocean. The lack of such funds and relationships are a clear indication of the lack of engagement between these countries. A great example is the area of aeronautics and space research. Ethiopian and South Africa are the only ones to have such programs in Africa. Greater intra-africa funding to exchange and teach Africans throughout the continent in these countries will result in a greater and stronger
The kinds of scholarships offered and educational programs supported by different countries as it relates to African countries is very much representative of how they choose to engage with the continent. If scholarship programs focus on human rights, then these countries want to engage politically. If the funding is industry focused then they want to engage in business. Lack of funding shows lack of engagement.
Education funding is a means of diplomacy and political engagement, let’s engage and choose wisely!