“Women Academics Face a Double-Edged Sword:” Dr. Atsede Aregay on Ethiopian Higher Education

Posted July 11, 2023

The recent conflict (starting in 2020, ceasefire signed in November 2022) has brought about a significant decrease in academic freedom and a further politicization of Ethiopian higher education institutions, particularly in the Tigray region. Many institutions have failed to remain neutral during the conflict as a way to curry political favor, materials, and financial resources from the federal government and national defense forces. Moreover, the war has encouraged inter-ethnic discrimination and harassment among members of the Ethiopian academic community in-country and abroad. 

As a countermeasure to this destabilization, the diaspora has established various academic networks and initiatives which are now actively involved in rebuilding Tigray including the education sector. For example, Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals (GSTS), headquartered  in Germany, is a multisectoral international network of Tigrayan scholars consisting of more than 3000 members, including myself, working for the socioeconomic advancement of the Tigrayan community. While the financial capacity of this organization is limited, its members are from  renowned higher institutions in Europe, US, and Australia who are committed to the wider diaspora. I am also actively involved in a network called Australian Based Ethiopian Researchers Network (ABREN).

While Tigrayan academics are facing startling setbacks to their academic careers, women academics face a double-edged sword worsened by the conflict. Despite the improvement in gender equality at Ethiopian universities, the number of women participating in the academia is still very limited. According to recent studies, “women represent less than 10% of the available top-level leadership positions of the 46 [Ethiopian] public universities. As a manifestation of horizontal segregation, women’s underrepresentation is more pronounced in STEM-related fields.” Some of the barriers women face in pursuing higher education and professional careers within the universities are inequitable participation and opportunity, lack of recognition of contributions, family responsibility, failure to establish strong networks, poor policy intervention, and absence of women in senior academics and leadership positions. In Tigray, the conflict has worsened the disproportionate ratio of women academics. 

In my experience, the recent conflict in my country affected my academic career, promotion and productivity, and future plans in translating my research findings into practice because the higher education and the health care facilities in Tigray have collapsed. My current work at the University of Agder allowed me to continue my academic engagement, which is critical for my future career. Though I have only been here for a few months, with the support of wonderful staff and mentors at Agder, I am mentally strong, feel settled, and can get back to my routine of working hard and delivering outputs. For example, I have produced four manuscripts from my PhD thesis since moving to Norway in the first week of August 2022. Currently, I focus on nursing education and palliative care research and ambitiously plan to design a collaborative approach of improving nursing education and palliative care in Africa especially in Tigray.

I am building on my current research and the opportunity I received through the SAR network. I am drafting proposals to do more work on the subject and support my research career. I am one of the lucky few. Despite the peace agreement in my country, my colleagues back home, those who work at universities, are at risk – the scholars have no academic freedom. Hence, I would like the SAR network to consider the applications of these scholars.


Dr. Atsede Aregay, Associate Professor of Nursing and Palliative Care

University of Agder


Links for further reading: 

International Crisis Group’s research and writing on the situation in Ethiopia

Academic Freedom Monitoring on Ethiopia

SAR Scholars Seeking Placement

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