Photographer Wongel Abebe specifically focused her lens on Addis Ababa University, the largest institution of higher learning and research in Ethiopia.

By Abdi Latif Dahir (Quartz) |

For millions of Ethiopians, access to higher education is a luxury they can only dream to attain. But over the last decade, as the country experienced an economic boom, it also underwent a rapid expansion in educational infrastructure.

While there are still regional and gender disparities in basic proficiency, primary school enrolment doubled to 90% in the last decade, according to the World Bank. In 2000, the Horn of Africa nation only had two universities but now has up to 36 public higher education and 98 private institutions, according to the ministry of education.

The reality at university campuses is the subject of photographer Wongel Abebe’s latest project. Wongel Abebe specifically focused her lens on Addis Ababa University, her alma mater, and the largest institution of higher learning and research in Ethiopia. Abebe’s project, dubbed “AAU Stories: Students Speak,” started as part of a research assignment that looked at the lives of students on the campus. Along with her friend Nafkot Gebeyehu, Abebe spent hours interviewing and photographing students on campus, asking them about their personal and educational experiences.

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The students didn’t hold back; they spoke at length about their hopes, frustrations and resolve while studying at AAU. Some spoke about electricity outages, bad food at the campus cafeteria, tedious class registration processes, missing grades, absent teachers, dirty dormitories and poor lab facilities.

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