Opinions Fri, 10 May 2013
By Kofi ThompsonIf we want Ghana to become prosperous, we must make our universities truly world-class institutions of learning.
The question then is, how do we set about turning our state universities into world-class institutions of learning?
Today's talent pool is global - and those who graduate from our universities will compete with their peers from around the world, for sought after jobs in the world's best companies, international organisations and multilateral institutions.
I have often encouraged brilliant but needy young people I come across, to approach the founder of Aseshi University, Dr. Patrick Awuah, and try and convince him to find a way to get them enrolled in the university he founded, which is one of the few truly world-class tertiary institutions in Ghana.
It is instructive that Aseshi University is a private university - and that Dr. Awuah was educated in the United States of America.
In conversations with young people, I often suggest to them that Ghana could improve state provided tertiary education, if it adapted the model underpinning the leading universities in the America.
On a visit to the Regent University College of Science and Technology, to obtain an email address to which an educational consultancy in the UK - with US connections - could send an internationalisation proposal, I could not help but notice the positive atmosphere prevailing there. It was literally "buzzing" - to use a word I sometimes hear some of the young people I interact with using.
Today, I am sharing an article on the same theme, culled from the online version of the UK newspaper, the 'Daily Telegraph'.
Written by Fraser Nelson, editor of 'The Spectator’, it is entitled: "Britain's universities should take a lesson from the land of the free".
I do hope it will be read by those in academia and amongst our ruling elites, who are concerned about the quality of the graduates produced by Ghana's tertiary institutions.
It is food for thought for them - and all those in our country who are concerned about falling standards in tertiary educational institutions in Ghana. Please read on:
"Britain's universities should take a lesson from the land of the free"
Britain and the US have chosen two very different models for funding universities – and it’s clear which is winning
By Fraser Nelson
7:55PM BST 09 May 2013
If a bunch of sadistic academics were to construct a mass experiment into mankind’s ability to resist temptation, it would look a lot like Stanford University. First, plonk a campus in one of the world’s most agreeable climates and make it look more like a spa hotel than a place of study. Next, have students dress as if they have stepped off the beach, and make sure one lies just half an hour away. Then hang hammocks between trees on the way to lecture theatres to ensnare the weak-willed. Finally, funnel 1,800 teenagers a year into this den of distraction – and see if they can do any work.
Oddly, they do. Work of sufficient quality to make Stanford one of the best universities on the planet. While famous for computing (and begetting Silicon Valley), most of its departments are now ranked amongst the world’s top five. Nor is it full of geeks: its athletic record is such that, if Stanford were a country, it would have come sixth in the Olympics – ahead of Germany and Australia. Rather than being a Californian freak, it is just the latest example of an extraordinary trend: the way that American universities are making dazzling progress while most British ones are in a state of crisis.
When Teddy Roosevelt visited Stanford a century ago, he said he had not been prepared for the sheer beauty of the place. Neither had I when I spent last week there as a media fellow at the Hoover Institute, on one of the many programmes which have no equivalent here. But what strikes a British visitor most is the mix of students. Knowing Stanford’s reputation, I had imagined it to be full of preppy, roistering Americans with parents rich enough to afford the $40,000-a-year fees. Instead I found students from all kinds of backgrounds, just over a third of whom are white. A fifth are Asian and a sixth Hispanic. It is a social and ethnic melting pot.
What makes all this possible is that Stanford is a private university. To British ears, the very phrase suggests a selfish club for the rich. Yet it is Stanford’s independence that allows it to run its own controversial but effective policies to find bright pupils from poor backgrounds. Google is, famously, a product of Stanford. But so is Julian Castro, the 38-year-old Mayor of San Antonio and a rising star of the Democratic Party who was offered a place in spite of mediocre school grades. He happily supports its “affirmative action” policy because, as he puts it, “I’ve seen it work in my own life”.
Britain and America have chosen two very different models of universities, and it is clear which one is winning. The academic rankings (compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University) show 17 American ones in the top 20, with Britain represented only by Oxford and Cambridge.
It might not be a surprise that the American universities do so well academically, given their funding. What is more surprising is that they appear to do far better on social justice, not to mention sporting prowess and entrepreneurial zeal. Stanford has a needs-blind admissions policy, and will subsidise whoever can’t afford it. The majority of students receive a subsidy that covers most, if not all, of the fees.
In Britain, our universities are hurtling down the international league tables – a fact that is partly explained by the dire levels of funding. A study published yesterday suggested it was a minor miracle that Oxford and Cambridge have retained their status given how cash-strapped they are. In theory, British universities should be safe because they are assured stable funding from the state. But, as things turned out, the world’s governments are in a financial crisis – while global philanthropy is booming.
If Stanford was run by the state of California, it would likely be as broke as the state of California. As things stand, it raised a cool $1 billion last year, almost double Oxford and Cambridge put together. It has managed to create a virtuous circle: it picks students who tend to remain grateful for their education, so donate generously in later life – especially if they think it helps bright, less fortunate youngsters do well. The same is true for Harvard, Yale and many of the top American foundations. They have collectively come up with a formula linking independence, sound finance, academic excellence and social justice.
British universities are some of the worst-funded in Europe – a problem that will not be remedied by the new tuition fees. Charging £9,000 a year covers barely half the cost of putting an undergraduate through Oxbridge. Worse, the Government’s funding formula pushes the universities towards having papers published in academic journals, rather than forging links with the outside world.
Last week I met IBM managers enrolled for a short course in Stanford’s “d.School” of entrepreneurship and an Army colonel studying Libya before his deployment to US Africa Command in Stuttgart. Such links are all too scarce in British universities.
Even on the Times Higher Education Supplement’s rankings, just five of them make the top 50. Our academics are notoriously underpaid, which is more dangerous than ever in a global marketplace. Students who have been mis-sold higher education for decades are finally waking up to the scam.
The old sales pitch, that a degree will mean you earn £100,000 more over a lifetime than a classmate who starts work at 18, is a sum conjured up by mixing up doctors’ and lawyers’ degrees with the others. For a male history graduate, it’s £35 a year more, and for others (“creative arts” degrees) it’s £15,000 less over a lifetime.
It’s getting harder than ever for Britain to look down, intellectually, on America. Its universities are world-class, and expanding fast. Oxford and Cambridge may be far older, but neither can afford to be cocooned in an archaic world of dining at high tables and mispronouncing words like “Magdalen”. The global competition has never been fiercer, and they are facing a future of austerity while it’s boom time for their private rivals. The very fact that the world’s most respected university ranking system is run from Shanghai gives an idea of how quickly the competition is evolving.
It is Stanford’s independence that allows it to try out its social mobility formula, with a success rate that Britain’s engineers of equality could only dream about. If Stanford were government-run, its star-picking would be branded “positive discrimination” and banned under Californian state law. The University of Texas is being taken to the Supreme Court on precisely this point, and the defence documents include a submission from a Stanford psychologist, Greg Walton, who argues that true meritocracy means taking account of the stronger headwinds facing poorer students.
For all its drama, Britain’s tuition fees debacle has not secured the future of our universities. There still isn’t enough money and the new Office for Fair Access threatens new levels of political interference. Once, we may have been able to dismiss the American model of independent universities as hideously expensive, financially unstable or socially unfair. It is impossible to do so anymore. For the British universities who can afford it, independence will seem like an increasingly attractive option.
Fraser Nelson is editor of 'The Spectator’ "
End of culled article from the online version of the 'Daily Telegraph'.
(The instiution pictured top left is Ashesi University).
Columnist: Thompson, Kofi