The role of higher education in the professionalisation of the Ethiopian National Defence Force
: a qualitative analysis of perceptions from military officers, civil servants and academics

  • Paula-Louise Macphee

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


A key component of military professionalisation is the development of authority over a body of knowledge. Defence forces undergoing significant transformation often lack the capacity needed to effectively create and transmit this knowledge. A function of civilian universities is to support capacity development within both public and private organisations, however, for countries with unstable civil-military relations, forging relationships between the military and the academic communities can be challenging. This function is even more challenging when the higher education sector is limited in its own capacity to support society’s needs in an increasingly competitive, knowledge economy.

Ethiopia provides an excellent research site to explore these challenges as, along with many other African countries, its higher education sector has lacked investment from the international donor community over the past 30 years as global agendas have concentrated on the development of primary education. At the same time, the country has been undergoing significant political transition and has embarked on a defence transformation programme to develop skills and knowledge as part of its military professionalisation process.

This study uses a qualitative research strategy to carry out 28 in-depth interviews with
civil servants and military officers within the Ethiopian Ministry of National Defence, as well as academics working within national civilian universities in Ethiopia. It explores individual perceptions, from both defence and academic communities to understand the role higher education has played in the professionalisation of armed forces within Ethiopia.

Findings indicate that national universities play a key role in building capacity to support the development of defence education institutions for professional military education. At the individual level, this has encouraged positive civil-military relations to flourish, however, without overarching long-term agreements these relationships were susceptible to decline in reaction to a changing political environment. An area which was identified to encourage more sustained partnerships was within academic
research. The results from this study support the argument for greater investment in research in civilian universities to foster stronger, more stable civil-military relationships.

As limited literature is published on contemporary civil-military relations in Ethiopia and even less on the specific relationship between the military and the higher education sector, this study provides the groundwork to inform further research and practice in this area. The study demonstrates that higher education institutions are important actors for contributing to defence transformation in Ethiopia, with implications for national and international actors involved in defence reform programmes in similar contexts.
Date of Award23 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRafael Mitchell (Supervisor) & Angeline M Barrett (Supervisor)

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