When the large Ethiopian PhD student cohort funding doctoral graduate Mr Zelalem Gurmessa’s studies was abandoned by the Ethiopian government in 2013 leading to him being funded intermittently until 2016, Gurmessa was left with two choices, either abandon his PhD midway or continue his PhD journey and find ways to overcome the challenges.
‘The Project was designed to train about 250 PhD students in a wide spectrum of fields,’ said Gurmessa. ‘However, due to the turnover of officers who initially designed the joint project and poor co-ordination on both sides, I had to suffer because the funding was discontinued midway through my study. In order to overcome the funding challenges I had to develop a personal strategy to cope with the challenge instead of discontinuing my study.’
Deciding to not give up on his academic aspirations, Gurmessa cushioned the funding blow by taking up part-time lecturing in the School of Management, IT and Governance’s Discipline of Human Resources Management and Industrial Relations for a year. He also served as a postgraduate assistant in the same discipline for a period of two-and-a-half years.
‘These opportunities from the School helped me to cover some of my basic living expenses along with the support from my supervisors, Professor Henry Wissink and Professor Ignatius Ferreira. I would also like to thank the School and the College of Law and Management Studies’ Dean of Research, Professor Harold Ngalawa for providing me with a bursary of R6 000 for professional language editing of the thesis. Above all, I am most grateful for God’s grace which helped me to overcome all the bottlenecks,’ said Gurmessa.
Another hurdle Gurmessa had to overcome during his PhD journey was having to finish his study in three years as per the agreement between Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and UKZN. Gurmessa still had to abide by this timeframe despite refocusing his research area from the effect of human resources management practices on organisational performance taking the Ethiopian public universities as the case for analysis to investigated factors contributing to academic brain drain at selected universities in Africa in the middle of his journey in 2016.
‘The decision to refocus the research area came after the tense political situation involving a strong protest movement which rocked Ethiopia resulting in the resignation of the former Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn. This unstable situation made data collection almost impossible and resulted in the presentation of the newly modified proposal in June 2016 and the submission of the final thesis in November 2018. Against all odds, the study was completed within two and a half years and I couldn’t have done it without the support of good people around me including my supervisors who were the key to my success,’ said Gurmessa.
Words: Thandiwe Jumo
Photograph: Rogan Ward