Whither University and Tertiary Education in Ghana?

Sat, 21 Sep 2013 Source: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

To some observers of the trend of education in Ghana, some of our new universities are no more than glorified high schools, colleges or polytechnics, going by international standards and rigour of delivering quality university education. Of late, it seems that some of our old traditional universities have lost some of their earlier pedigree, as quality standards have plummeted and been diluted by the mad rush to embrace quantity.

This started in the mid-70s when we had massification of university admissions. With secure jobs being elusive, going back to school has become an obsession and line of least resistance for many Ghanaians. Tertiary education should not be sought for its our sake but for what it can do for the individual and nation. Acquiring higher academic credentials at any cost has become the norm and hobby for many in Ghana today.

It is not bad per se for a nation to have many graduates and post-graduates, but then, the right type of education should be sought to add more value to the development of our country and continent. Further education should make us creative, problem-solvers, critical thinkers, entrepreneurs, and a civilised people with urbane manners. These days, we find a lot of half-baked graduates with their pseudo doctorates and professorships.

These make the most ugly noises in the media. Many of our newly-minted graduands walk about with a chip on their shoulders, but they cannot boast of a single quality research paper in a quality journal or publication. The purpose of a university is manifold. It is to help research into our culture and technology and preserve them to offer solutions to problems of industry, to lead national debate on critical national and international issues, through research, to extend the frontiers of knowledge, to nurture academic scholarship, and establish the foundations of research, to offer a national platform for collaborative research with foreign partners, to expand and create jobs through their multiplier effects on the economy, among others.

Universities attract the best brains or crème de la crème of society, so that these people can put their talents to good use to benefit society. They come up with novel solutions which simplify complex processes and help reduce the cost of doing business. Some of the countries in the world which have invested heavily in quality education are South Korea, Japan, Canada, USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands and South Africa.

It is gratifying to note that some of our universities are prioritising action research, whereby, final year students have to identify problems in the society or industry and they work on them for their dissertation or research projects. In that way, research is given a practical bent rather than being purely an abstract and theoretical exercise. Of course, research depends on the type of interest and discipline involved.

Sometimes, abstract research results may not be useful immediately but may come handy many years after. Our universities need to establish backward, lateral, horizontal and forward linkages in the value and supply chains so that they can remain relevant and useful to their communities, and not be perceived as ivory towers which are inured from the problems and expectations of their communities. A university is a universal institution.

To remain internationally competitive, our universities in Ghana should develop unique competences and unique selling points in their 4Ps and 7Ps so that they attract some of the best professors in the world and some international students. Already, it is a known fact that many Nigerian students are studying in our Ghanaian universities. This is a feather in our cap and a plus for us. But need we become complacent? No. We need to work hard to improve our road, air and rail infrastructure to ease mobility in Ghana.

We need to have excellent hostel accommodation which is serviced with reliable water and electricity supply, apart from providing serene and aesthetic surroundings which are not only germane to learning. They should be spick and span. We need to improve on social welfare of students by providing high quality libraries, laboratories and back-ups. It is important for our universities to establish their reputation through publication of research work in international journal, and to produce Nobel Laureates. They should develop awards, rewards and scholarship schemes which are managed in a transparent manner and awarded strictly on merit.

Our universities should agree to establish their own internal metrics and benchmarks through the National Accreditation Board. We plead that the criteria for promoting lecturers to become professors be made more rigorous, because we are having too much proliferation of professors; some of them are not up to scratch. May I advise that even though using the mushrooming of universities as a development paradigm in Ghana is a good thing, the process should not be prostituted or politicised. Emphasis should be placed on quality rather than quantity. The motto of Legon Hall is: To whom much is given, much is desired. This is based on Luke 12:48, where Jesus said, ‘For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’

This is obviously in reference to power, authority and influence on the one hand, and the requirement of the exercise of responsibility and accountability on the other hand. Those in authority have the onus to use their power to better the lot of the majority who do need to be assisted individually and collectively to fulfill their aspirations in life. The Latin expression in full is: omni autem cui multum datum est multum quaeretur as eo (but to whosoever much has been given, much will be asked of him) (Wikipedia). The motto of the University of Ghana (established in 1948 as a University College under the University of London) is: Integri Procedamus, which means, ‘progress in integrity or proceeding with integrity.’

The English have the wise saying, more haste, less speed. Thus, establishing universities in Ghana should not amount to more haste and less speed. We need to move painstakingly slow and cautiously, because the more speed we apply to the process, the more errors we make, thus rendering less speed. Development demands careful planning, forethought and proactivity, what mythology of the Greeks teaches us that Prometheus gave to mankind, when he became the friend of man, as he stole fire from the gods to give to man, thus endowing him with the ability to think ahead.

Let us not rush to produce universities galore in the heat of our political sloganeering and engineering, but rather, let us proceed with good motives of establishing universities as centres of academic excellence and proven scholarship, where fertile minds engage in cross fertilisation of ideas and academic intercourse. It is very sad indeed in this age and time to note that some students have faked results to gain admission to universities in Ghana, that some lecturers engage in bottom-power campus politics, whereby female students who agree to sleep with some lecturers gain high grades, that university lecturers’ research allowances are being withheld or delayed or cancelled. University dons have referent power which they can use to their advantage.

I become saddened when I see university dons stooping so low as to engage in commercial elephantiasis, by abusing their bureaucratic power, whereupon they receive gargantuan pecuniary rewards and lower admission standards by sneaking weak students into the universities. Some have written sub-standard manuals which they make a desideratum for students to buy, and to quote from at exams or they risk failing. Is this academic excellence or stomach-direction economics? We need to put stringent systems in place to weed out unethical dons.

Recommendations • Our university graduates should be equipped with critical thinking skills by laying emphasis on philosophy, logic, rhetoric and analytical disciplines such as science and mathematics. • Our students should be trained to become problem-solvers and not rabble-rousers. • Our lecturers should be encouraged to drive Afro-centric programmes which lay emphasis on our indigenous values and solutions. • Our university lecturers should be encouraged to publish quality books and articles in reputed journals. • We should establish total quality management standards for all our universities by encouraging hard work, scholarship and integrity. • We should encourage student and lecturer exchange programmes within our universities in Ghana, and with outside universities for them to get exposed to best practice.

The old motto of my university in South Africa, where I did my masters by long distance education over a period of 8 years reads, Ad astra per aspera or, arduus per astera which translates as, ‘the way to the stars is steep (Per ardua ad astra). This means that there are no shortcuts to academic excellence. What we need in Ghana today is a thorough reform of the whole gamut of our educational system, from the kindergarten all the way to the university level, to place more emphasis on practical and vocational subjects.

Our teacher training institutions should also be strengthened because without quality teachers we are doomed. I heard recently that the Government in Ghana is toying with the idea of cancelling allowances paid to teachers in training. How many times will we continue to toy with the fate of our teachers? Are they the Cinderella of the professions? Our politicians need to think twice before they take any action which ostensibly may confer short term gains but lead to long term irreparable loss and damage. Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta