Although I have only been casually following the debate over whether to convert all polytechnic institutes into technical universities, nonetheless, I have a fairly good sense of what the debate is really about.
It is about affording respectability to all tertiary-level programs and curricula, be they certificate programs, professional and/or full-fledged academic programs or curricula
See “Conversion of Polytechnics to Varsities Serious Error – Akilagkpa Sawyer” Kasapafmonline.com / Ghanaweb.com 6/2/16).
In this sense, I tend to agree with Prof. Akilagkpa Sawyer, the former Vice-Chancellor of Ghana’s flagship academy, the University of Ghana.
In other words, what needs to be done presently is to strengthen the various technical programs at our existing polytechnics by having them pedagogically well equipped to be able to offer viable certificate and diploma programs and associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
There is absolutely no good reason for our existing polytechnics not to be able to offer non-graduate degree or non-master’s level programs. I hope the necessary research has been conducted by those who are at the forefront of converting our polytechnics into technical universities.
The difference between polytechnic institutes or colleges and technical universities is one of degree of preparatory advancement. Polytechnic institutes tend to be vocationally oriented, in the sense that here the focus of preparation and/or training is purely skills oriented.
This level is comparable to the two-year American community college, where graduates emerge from their programs at both the certificate and associate’s-degree levels ready to either establish their own small businesses in the artisanal fields as electricians, automotive mechanics, plumbers and painters or commercial artists, auto-body builders and repairers, secretaries, florists and interior decorators, low-level architects or draught men and women.
The list goes on and on.
This level of technical training is central to the most rapid and meaningful development of any Third-World country such as Ghana. And, oh, I forgot to add the preparation of ICT builders and maintenance personnel and integral to the curriculum of the most progressive polytechnic institutes. This has also been Prof. Kwesi Yankah’s concern.
The latter, of course, is the former pro-vice chancellor of the University of Ghana and presently president of the Otabil-founded Central University College of Accra.
The rush to converting all the ten, or so, existing polytechnics in the country by the Mahama-led government of the National Democratic Congress, as a means of scoring cheap political points, in the lead-up to Election 2016, is highly unlikely to register the requisite and/or desired impact in our global community. Not even on the local continental African front.
“Universities” are by their very nature academic establishments with their primary focus geared towards high-level research. But, of course, there is also the practical aspect of high-end research whose preeminent objective is to organically interface with industry.
On this latter level of relevance, most flagship continental African academic establishments, both technical and non-technical, have yet to catch up with their counterparts elsewhere around the globe, particularly the West and the most advanced of the Asian countries and economies.
In the final analysis, this glaring lack of practical organicity between the full-fledged university and society at large is bi-focal, for lack of a more appropriate terminology. On the one hand, the problem revolves around prioritizing of societal needs by those in executive policymaking positions; and by the latter, of course, the allusion is to the politicians.
The second, and equally significant, problem has to do with curricular-development expertise of academic or institutional administrators. It is in the preceding two areas, it well appears, that the focus of tertiary institutional upgrade or development ought to be focused.
In his classic anthology of essays on the place of postcolonial Africa in the global order of humanity, titled Morning Yet On Creation Day, the immortalized Prof.
Chinua Achebe is healthily sanguine about the fact that, practically and temporally speaking, the question of the eternal need for human cultural improvement, in all spheres of endeavor, seems to be inexhaustible.
This is precisely where the focus of continental African policymakers ought to be.