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The damage to human and material resources of the Tigray universities (Ethiopia) inflicted by nine months of war against Tigray is presented in a qualitative way. We used interview methods, and only triangulated findings are represented. It is a story of large-scale destructions...
Status of the Tigray universities (Ethiopia) after
nine months of war
Jan Nyssena, Emnet Negasha,b, Seppe Deckersc
a Department of Geography, Ghent University
b Institute of Climate and Society, Mekelle University
c Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven
Except for its’ Western zone, Tigray is now fully controlled by the elected regional government. At
Tigray’s four universities the immediate stress of war and human rights abuse has been relaxed, but
new challenges occurred, as the universities’ budgets have been cut, as well as all external
communication lines. The universities are in ‘survival mode’.
Due to frequent interruption of classes, students returned home without any considerable
progress for the academic year 2020-2021. Most colleges didn’t even cover half a semester.
These universities now have their bank accounts closed and their budget was not released.
Staff members of these universities didn’t receive salaries since June 2021. Mekelle
University alone has about 7500 employees.
As the Tigray region is under a complete siege all basic services have ground to a halt, and so
are the universities in the region. Mekelle University, in a press release dated 20 July 2021,
announced that the university has run out of stocks to feed about 10,000 students present
on its campuses.
The Federal Government and humanitarian organisations like ICRC should collaborate in
providing the universities with access to cash and food for their students.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and the Ministry of Finance and
Economic Development need to release the universities’ budgets and unblock the bank
Early 2021, when controlling Mekelle, the Ethiopian government had called all students to
travel back to the universities in Tigray, in order to present a face of normality. Even
international PhD students (from Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya,…) were called back. Just like all
inhabitants of Tigray these students now suffer from the consequences of the blockade and
want to travel home.
Raya University students left campus when the federal forces left the area. Mekelle, Aksum,
and Adigrat universities are transporting non-Tigrayan students home, with the support of
UN and Tigray Government.
The universities and the region are however short of fuel and cash to transport these
students to their place of origin. The government of Ethiopia and ICRC must facilitate the
transfer of these students across regional borders .
The universities, the Tigray government, and the population of Tigray have to ensure the
safety of these students until sufficient resources are available or their travel is arranged.
They have committed themselves to this.
It is likely that these non-Tigrayan students will continue their studies in one of the many
universities countrywide. However, in various places in Ethiopia, Tigrayan students are left
Nyssen, J., Negash, E., Deckers, J., 2021. Status of the
Tigray universities (Ethiopia) after nine months of war.
Updated on 8/8/2021
without any possibility to travel to the four Tigray universities due to the ongoing complete
Sources of information:
- Publicly available data
- Telephone calls (n = 41) to staff members of the four universities
- Only triangulated information is reported
- Status on 28 March 2021
- During this investigation, numerous other destructions of factories and buildings as well
as massacres of civilians were reported though they left an indelible trauma for
university staff and students, this report strictly mentions the direct effects of the war
on the universities and their functioning
1. Mekelle University
Location: Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia
Establishment: 1993
President: Professor Fetien Abay
Academic staff: >3000
Number of students: 30,000
Acronym: MU
The war has affected the university as follows:
Results of direct warfare: An ENDF (Ethiopian National Defence Force) airstrike took
place on Adihaki campus on November 19, 2020. It has resulted in casualties of
students and civilians (1 deceased, 15 wounded); after occupation of Mekelle, two
campuses (Technology campus and Veterinary campus) have been completely looted
and destroyed; partial looting in all other campuses - mainly by ENDF soldiers. The
material damage to the Veterinary campus was inventoried, with estimated cost of 670
million birr.
On 1 March 2021, two Tigrayan students were raped inside Ayder campus (MU -
Health Science college) by Ethiopian Federal Police officers. Encouraged by the
witnessing of the two students, additional 10 Tigrayan students have come out and
reported that they were raped. Many nurses and staff are reluctant to go to work at the
Ayder University hospital, as there are always Federal Police in and around the
campus. Metal fencing was placed around the female students dormitories.
Current functioning of the university: Staff has returned to work. Many logistical
problems; at the very moment of classes resuming, Eritrean soldiers were looting the
mattresses from students’ dormitories
Current teaching activities: it has been about two months since MU students of all
batches had to register in Mekelle; about half of the expected students are absent.
Main reasons: (1) with the ongoing communication blockade, students in remote
villages of Tigray have no way to hear about it; (2) young men seen along the road are
suspected to be a woyane
fighter and risk to be killed, girls fear for rape, and (3)
students from other parts of Ethiopia are afraid for their safety in Mekelle. Mid
February, six graduating students of Mekelle University have been killed after their
bus ran in an ambush on the way to Addis Ababa
Support to AKU and ADU: the graduating class students of AKU and ADU have been
transferred to MU (turn by turn); they graduated after one month stay in Mekelle. A
full semester classes and examination have been “completed” within a month. These
students graduated without taking the compulsory senior essay course where they are
required to write a research work, a common course for all BSc graduating students in
almost all programs.
Website is down (last access attempt on 28/3/2021, four months after
the Ethiopian PM declared that the war was finished). Reasons could be disconnected
internet or the system server of the university has been either looted or destroyed.
Many research projects are not running anymore, because of disrupted activities and
because Ethiopian and Eritrean armies prevent travel to the field sites.
Human rights situation: one Health Science College staff member was killed in
Tembien; some MU lecturers have been detained without arrest warrant, including
Fisseha Gebru.
A common term for Tigray resistance, see: and
Addis Standard, 23 February 2021.
2. Adigrat University
Location: Adigrat, Tigray, Ethiopia
Establishment: July 2011
President: Dr Zaid Negash
Academic staff: 1500
Number of students: >14000
Acronym: ADU
The war has affected the university as follows:
Results of direct warfare: properties of ADU were completely looted, and anything that
remained was destroyed by fire or bombs (mainly by Eritrean soldiers).
One lecturer killed by Eritrean soldiers.
Current functioning of the university: ADU is now an army base for Eritrean soldiers.
Staff salaries are paid through their bank account; cash collection only at Mekelle, the
only place in Tigray with a few functional banks.
Current teaching activities: no lecturing. The graduating class students of ADU (and
their lecturers) were transferred to MU, where they graduated after one month stay (see
under MU). No solution for the non-graduating students.
Website is down (last access attempt on 28/3/2021).
Early February, the ADU management held a meeting that came to the final conclusion
that ADU is totally destroyed
o Tables and chairs of every classroom and office looted
o IT center equipments looted
o Laboratory equipments looted
o Computers and any accessories looted from every office
o Doors of all rooms and offices destroyed
o Kitchen equipment stolen
o Only the building structures remain
o Everything else that remains is destroyed and made not to work again.
3. Aksum University:
Location: Aksum, Tigray, Ethiopia
Establishment: 2007
President: Professor Gebryesus Brhane
Academic staff: 1500
Number of students: >14000
Acronym: AKU
The war has affected the university as follows:
Results of direct warfare: properties of AKU were completely looted, and anything that
remains was destroyed by fire or bombs (mainly by Eritrean soldiers); all lab equipment
and computers taken to Asmara; Shire campus of AKU is being used as a shelter for
internally displaced persons
; Aksum University referral hospital completely looted and
destroyed; main campus in Aksum is out of use.
Four lecturers (Alemshewit Gebrewahid, Hadgu Ataklti Gebremedhin, Berihu Hailu
and Berihu Gebremariam) killed by Eritrean soldiers
. There are (unconfirmed) reports
of additional 2 AKU staff killed.
Current functioning of the university: Staff salaries are paid through their bank account.
Current teaching activities: no lecturing; graduating class students transferred to MU,
where they graduated after one month stay (see under MU). No solution for the non-
graduating students.
Website was down until 3/3/2021; it was started up briefly at mid-
March (probably from a mirror site not located in Aksum), after which it was again
down (last access attempt on 28/3/2021).
Anon., 2021. Situation of internally displaced persons in Shire, NW Tigray
See their In Memoriam at:
4. Raya University
Location: Maychew, Tigray, Ethiopia
Establishment: February 2015
President: Professor Taddesse Dejenie
Academic staff: 1500
Number of students: >14000
Acronym: RAYU
The war has affected the university as follows:
No clear destruction on university facilities has been confirmed so far.
One IT technician (Tsehayu Siele) and one student killed by Ethiopian and Eritrean
soldiers (the student was killed inside campus).
Current functioning of the university: By the end of February, Eritrean soldiers who
used to stay at RAYU campus for several months moved to the nearby TVET technical
and vocational college, and to the Agricultural college. Mid-March, the Eritrean troops
are again based at RAYU campus, which is partitioned - students are not allowed to
enter the other half of the campus.
Current teaching activities: RAYU graduating class graduated in their own campus,
after about a month stay (with a similar speedy process as the one at MU).
Nongraduating class students have also registered at RAYU. However, many are
absent, and many others left the campus following frequent warfare in the vicinity of
Website is down (last access attempt on 28/3/2021).
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.