This paper reviews the experiences with an integrated urban management Masters course, which saw an increase from 20 participants to 400 students in a period of 5 years. After a few years it became clear that it was difficult to absorb this number of Masters students in the government sector and that their skills did not match all the requirements. The paper looks at the external factors determining the success of the integrated urban management Masters course, and the desire of the Ethiopian government to make decentralization a reality. It also analyses the internal factors leading to positive outcomes of the interventions over time. The increasing complexity of urban problems cannot be managed by general urban managers; therefore specialized Masters programmes were launched. The programme evolved over time, reflecting the priorities of the Ethiopian government. Starting as a unified programme, the course was split into a series of specializations, focusing on water-related and environmental issues. The cooperation evolved over the period of the relationship into a partnership with leadership on the Ethiopian side. This contributed to the success in terms of the capacity built, the number of people trained, and their contribution to dealing with water and environmental problems in an urban context.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0), which permits copying and redistribution for non-commercial purposes with no derivatives, provided the original work is properly cited (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).