Business News of 2014-04-20

The book and research allowances brouhaha

The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) and the Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG) are currently embroiled in a dispute with government over the cancellation of book and research allowances to lecturers in the tertiary institutions of Ghana. Threatened strike actions have just been suspended pending the outcome of negotiations between the parties to the dispute. I urge government not to buckle to these threats and dastardly blackmail.

Some of us were horrified when we read of the institution of these book and research allowances in the tertiary institutions in the mid-1990s by the NDC Rawlings regime. I wrote against it on the Okyeame forum and received a lot of support from forumers, many of them lecturers in tertiary institutions in the West. A couple of professors from the universities in Ghana on sabbaticals in the US sent me private mails agreeing with me and disagreeing with the new order that was just announced. I was myself then, besides a graduate student and teaching assistant in the University of Bergen, a research assistant at Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI), the largest development and human rights research institute in Scandinavia. A rich country like Norway would not dream of such insane dole outs of public money to lecturers.

I would like to reiterate my objection to what is a gross aberration in the development process designed to just cushion the take home pay of lecturers rather than boost any serious book acquisition, teaching and research efforts, and therefore back the cancellation of the gross anomaly. I would also like to suggest some rational measures to replace the existing wasteful practice, a cynical joke which tax payers must not be burdened with any longer, having just recently been spared some “by force” road toll in Legon.

Those who support the present egregious practice are free to supply to us its evaluation, giving us the number of publications - peer reviewed or not - which each of the recipients have authored over the years and how well they have improved their teaching practices.

It is a fact that our tertiary institutions lack publications to support any meaningful research and teaching, as a visit to any of their main libraries, such as Balme Library in Legon, will show. But the solution is not a privatisation of measures to acquire such publications. The first step in resolving the problem is stocking their libraries, both main and departmental ones, with the latest publications: newspapers, magazines, journals, books, audio visuals, micro films, data bases, etc. Yes, stocking the libraries shall be the main focus.

In conjunction with the above, the book shops on the campuses must be regularly stocked with same publications. In view of this, the university publishing presses must be revamped to secure the rights to publish certain books locally, instead of the present practice of even publishing books for primary schools abroad! It is simply gross!

As it would not be financially and logistically feasible to buy and stock all publications, there must be a selection process to acquire relevant ones only. There are some standard, mainstream publications – books, journals, magazines and newspapers - which it’d be a matter of course to acquire. Books that form part of the curricula, which curricula must be reviewed regularly to include new publications, would be acquired routinely. New books, however, require some element of discretion and lecturers within departments may collectively deliberate upon which to acquire for their institutes, and eventually add to the reading list.

Publishers regularly send catalogues of upcoming publications to educational and research institutions and libraries. Steps must be taken to get such catalogues from both local and foreign publishers. As the practice was in CMI - and I believe still is - the catalogues are passed round from the library to the researchers upstairs to mark any of the publications they want to be acquired for the library, or their own use. If you want a personal copy to keep, one is acquired for you and you pay for it from your own pocket, benefiting from the hefty subsidy the publishers give to the library. If you do not want a copy, you use the one acquired for the library and return it after using it. I availed myself of the opportunity to acquire a couple of books for myself at knocked down prices, one of them not even related directly to my studies, Africa Ark by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, which provided me with great insight about the peoples of the Horn of Africa, their past and the development challenges we Africans face.

RESEARCH FUNDS

There is need for a three-tiered source of publicly funded funds to lecturers and researchers who want to carry out research requiring funding – the departmental, the university/polytechnic level and the national level.

Funds must be provided to each department to fund some minimum level of research in their fields of specialisation, which fund lecturers shall compete for, or just be granted some funding from for minor expenses linked to their field works, for example. That way, they can build up their research capabilities and capacities to world class levels, capable of attracting independently/privately funded researches and consultancies. We can expect those in the physical and engineering sciences to come out with innovative findings and discoveries which can be commercialised.

There must be a bigger research fund at the university/polytechnic level available to all departments and institutes. Each year, a certain number of researches must be funded on specific areas of interest that contribute to knowledge and the development of Ghana and Africa in general. Lecturers apply to such a fund in competition with each other by presenting research proposals and budget. Not even in the recognised Ivy League institutions of the West are lecturers undertaking research from one year to another necessitating funding them. After all, there are specialised research institutes with full time researchers undertaking research into vital issues for their states. What about Ghana?

The government must maintain a national fund for research into areas of concern to the government and the public. In view of this, the government shall specify the area it wants to be researched and invites researchers to present research proposals and budget to carry them out. A panel of scholars running the fund shall determine the winner/s. This suggestion is nothing novel but simply what pertains in the civilised nations. The Federal Government of the USA is thus the largest source of research funding in the US.

In spite of the fact that Ken Kuranchie came out from prison, realised that Ghanaians are not civilised and blurted it out just like that, it does not mean that we cannot begin to emulate some of the civilised ways of the people acclaimed to be civilised, if we intend to get out of the ditch into which some have run the state of Ghana since the demise of Kwame Nkrumah. Or, should I say, since the grandfathers and great grand uncles of some of us handed over the affairs of the Gold Coast to the wannabe leaders of the new nation tagged Ghana?

Besides these suggestions, the tertiary institutions must be proactive in seeking private individuals and corporate bodies to set up foundations and legacies to support research within respective departments.

Andy C. Y. Kwawukume

cyandyk@ymail.com