Why Not Make Commerce Stand on its Own?

The Addis Ababa School of Commerce (widely known as Commerce), which is now under the administration of Addis Ababa University, is located in the area locally known as ‘Senga Tera’. It was established in 1943 as a commercial school in Ethiopia. The area is becoming the business center of the city and the headquarters of most banks, insurances, and the National Bank of Ethiopia.

The establishment of the school was a major contribution to the business sector of Ethiopia, as the country was recovering from the five-year Italian invasion and occupation. It was a school designed to modernize the business sector and meet the knowledge and skills requirement of foreign companies coming to Ethiopia at the time. The importance of the school was of great importance as the establishment of many government offices and businesses at that time also increased the demand for modern office workers, office management and secretarial staff, as well as knowledgeable and skilled workers.

Recognizing this at the time and establishing the school with a great vision for the future, His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, the then ruler of the country, should be commended. The school has shown us that over the past nearly eight decades, it has rolled into different government systems, overcome all storms, faced all challenges, and is now steadfast in its current level.

In particular, the school has made significant contributions to public offices, private businesses, and to the banking and finance sector as well. Most business owners, staff, and senior management of different banks, insurances, and financial institutions currently operating in Ethiopia have graduated from this school or they may have been teachers there.

Instructors who have taught at the school at various times, as well as who are still teaching now, are solicitous about their students, do not hesitate to impart their knowledge, and are concerned about the reputation and prestige of the school. As a result, the school’s name and reputation have been embellished throughout history and it is always marked as the ‘center of excellence!’. Mr. Seifu Feleke is one of the college’s longest-serving leaders in its history, and is known as the ‘Father of Commerce’ in the school community.

In addition to its teaching and research activities, the institute is currently providing various trainings to numerous financial and non-financial institutions, preparing various exams, consultations, and harmonizing the courses offered by the institute with the industry.

If the standard of business and commerce in the world is to be improved, expansion of business and commerce schools is inevitable. As business activities are crucial for Ethiopia’s economic growth, business schools should grow and expand at the same acceptable rate as business firms and associations. In cases where it is not possible to establish commercial schools at the institutional level, it is recommended that students attend at the departmental and course level, apart from the main field of study.

The study of commerce as a subject at the college and university level is very important. In The Journal of Business Education, on Volume 19 1943- Issue 3, Oscar C. Schnicker, a professor at the University of Detroit, presented the article “The Role of the Commercial Department in Modern Education.” and in the same article, he mentioned the benefits of providing commercial education even at the departmental level. He put it this way: “a knowledge of the basic commercial subjects…typing, business training, bookkeeping, and business economics will give a student a working knowledge of some of the fundamental principles he will encounter after he leaves school, and will be a definite asset in whatever walk of life he may engage.”

The foundation stone of the famous and historical old buildings of ‘Commerce’ was erected between 1948 and 1949 in the Ethiopian Calendar. It was one of the most modern educational buildings of its time. These buildings, designed to be comfortable and easy to the teaching-learning process, still stand out in their beauty and elegance.

On the front side of one of the old buildings reads:

“His Majesty Haile Selassie I ordered the construction of this commercial college building in 1949 E.C, the 26th year of his reign, allowing the perfection of the educational foundation he laid for the civilization of his beloved people and the development of his country.”

However, it was reported in the media that the city government had tried to demolish the institution in order to implement plans to integrate university campuses into one area. But it is felt that there was a lot of struggles from the school’s management, alumni, and other relevant government officials. The buildings of Commerce and its name are registered with the Institute for Accreditation and Consultation of Cultural Heritage of Ethiopia. The idea of destroying the school and relocating it has now been abandoned.

As the French scholar Adrien Jean-Guy Passant points out, the oldest business school in the world is ESCP Business School, founded in Paris in October 1819, under the name ‘Special School of Commerce and Industry’, followed by the business school of the Università Ca’Foscari in Italy which was opened in August 1868 under the name ‘Higher School of Commerce of Venice’.

Given its longevity, the Addis Ababa School of Commerce (Commerce) should at least have been compared to some of Africa’s most prestigious business and commercial institutions at this age like the American University in Cairo (AUC), Egypt, Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), South Africa, Strathmore University Business School (SBS), Kenya and Henley Business School, South Africa.

However, as the School of Commerce had to be developed into a great educational institution or university independently with the qualities and characteristics of which it is known, it was placed under one university (Addis Ababa University) and has continued to be managed under that university.

This decision not only prolongs the school’s bureaucracy but also reduces some of its specializations. This does not mean that the current management of Addis Ababa University is bad, but if Commerce was self-managing, it would certainly be more successful than it is now. This is evidenced by the fact that the school has a long history of quality of education. The goodwill is no less than any other university or higher institution in Ethiopia.

It is known that the school is working hard to enhance the relationship between the academic community and the industry. However, I do not believe that the industry is using the school properly. There is no doubt that the ever-expanding banking and finance industry will benefit from the school, including the hiring of new employees and human resources development for their existing staff.

In the current context of our dynamic world, it is great punishment to oppress commercial schools with science, technology, and other institutions. If commercial schools are not able to stand on their own two feet and adapt to the ever-changing world of commerce, they will contribute less and less to the business sector. It creates only followers and students who are only watchful of other’s ideas instead of a leading thinker and innovator.

As a result, many former students believe that this business school should be independent of the current administration of Addis Ababa University. In this regard, it is believed that the government should make some adjustments and return the school to its previous administration and facilitate the proper stabilization of the school. It seems to me that the school can be self-sufficient, grow to the point where it can grow, and become the best business school in Africa.

10th Year •July 2022 • No. 109

Fitsum Hailu

is CEO of Addis Path Trading PLC, its subsidiary addisber.com, and former General Manager of ELFORA and Addis Home Depot. He also serves as market representative for different international brands in Ethiopia. He can be reached at fitsumhailu27@gmail.com

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