MASTMO: Mathematical and Statistical Modelling at Hawassa, Ethiopia.

(by Harald Krogstad, Professor emeritus at NTNU)

Ten years have passed since a former Ethiopian PhD student at NTNU, now professor Ayele Taye at Hawassa University (HU) in southern Ethiopia, inquired
his NTNU supervisor, professor Henning Omre about exporting NTNU’s master
programme in industrial mathematics to HU. A feasibility study came out
positive and the planned master program, soon identified by the acronym
MASTMO, MSc programme in MAthematical and STatistical Modelling, was
designed as an extension of the current bachelor programmes at HU, but trying
to use textbooks and lecturing material from NTNU as much as possible. The
programme should have a definite applied profile as opposed to regular master
programmes in statistics and mathematics. In particular, the programme should
focus on the use of mathematics and statistics rather than the fields
themselves, and expose the students to selected application areas already
strong at HU. In this respect, MASTMO would be unique compared to current
master programmes within mathematics and statistics in Ethiopia.

After some discussion with NORAD, NORwegian Agency for Development
cooperation, the program settled for a start in 2008. With the project
running, it was decided that well-qualified MSc holders from the permanent
staff at HU should be selected for research training at NTNU. Two lecturers
from HU arrived in August 2008 and went straight into the master courses at
NTNU. In the following spring, they carried out a research project which
finally resulted in a joint scientific publication. Both lecturers have since
then been key personnel in the MASTMO team at HU. At the same time, two BSc
junior lecturers at HU were selected for the international MSc programme at
NTNU (statistics branch). Both carried out the program very well, and one of
the two has been central in MASTMO after returning to HU. Additional PhD
grants were received from NTNU’s international programmes and linked to MASTMO.

Unfortunately, the existing HU student computer labs did not meet the standards
required by MASTMO. It was therefore decided to establish the MASTMO Computer
Lab consisting of 15 computers with a common file server and adequate
software. The computer lab was operational in the spring of 2010, and ready to
receive the new MASTMO MSc students. Later, it has been equipped
with 15 additional computers. Even if the computing facilities have been working well
in general, they were and still are suffering from frequent power disruptions and
lack of internet stability.

It was realized that a viable HU programme required more than simply copying the current NTNU industrial mathematics programme. The HU students’ background would be different from that of the NTNU students, who are mostly recruited from the NTNU programme in Applied Physics and Mathematics.The curriculum was set up with the standard elements, mathematics, statistics, numerics computation, and mathematical modelling. The latter was linked to a modelling seminar, which turned out to be completely unfamiliar to the students as well as their teachers.

The enrolment of the first cohort took place in the autumn 2010. A total of 21
students were enrolled, 3 females and 18 males. Two years later, 19 of the 21
students graduated from MASTMO with a variety of topics for their MSc theses.
Many continued with PhD studies or went back to their own universities as
lecturers. A few even got positions in industry. In 2010, additional funds
were made available to the project and it became possible to support a second
cohort of 24 students starting in October 2011. Of these, 22 students
graduated successfully.

During the progress of the project it has been a rule for the NTNU personnel
not to take over the regular teaching, but rather act as mentors. However, it
soon became a practice to bring NTNU PhD-students as assistants on the trips
to Hawassa. With no generation gap, the personal contact with the MASTMO
students was established immediately. In particular, since it turned out that
the Ethiopian students had almost no programming experience, the Norwegian PhD
students, fluent in programming languages like Octave, Matlab, R, etc., and
LaTeX text processing, proved to be indispensable. Participating in the trips
to Hawassa has been a great experience for the NTNU students, and it has never
been a problem to recruit PhD students for the trips. The same applies to the
enthusiastic NTNU and HU staff taking active part in the project.

The curriculum and the scope of the courses have been adjusted over the years.
However, the overall objective of becoming an MSc programme focusing on the
applications of statistical and mathematical analysis to real world problems
have mostly been reached.

The MASTMO project was completed in 2013. Apart from permanent staff and well
educated MASTMO-masters, there are three Ethiopian PhD’s with degrees from
NTNU ensuring the MASTMO MSc programme is running smoothly. More (slightly
outdated), information is found on the web page https://wiki.math.ntnu.no/mastmo.

At the time of writing, HU, NTNU, University of Oslo, and Molde University
College have joined efforts and established, on top of the MSc programme, the
Hawassa University PhD-programme in Mathematical and Statistical
Sciences. More information is found at https://www.norad.no/norhed.

First-MASTMO-Cohort.png

The image shows some of the first cohort of MASTMO students.

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