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Feature Article of Thursday, 2 February 2012

Columnist: Amankwah, Kasadiimu Gyekye

Rethinking University Accreditation in Ghana -

The NAB Disruption at Central University College

The National Accreditation Board, according to its website, is the regulatory agency of the Ministry of Education that ensures the country’s tertiary education system continues to be responsive to a fast changing world and to make its graduates progressively competitive in the world of work. While the mission of this agency is very relevant and honorable, I am afraid the agency is trapped in bureaucratic gate-keeping rather than being “responsive to a fast changing world.”

I am the guardian of one of many first-year students at the Central University College who, because of their near excellent grades, were offered conditional admission to the university. Conditional because these students demonstrated by their combined SSCE aggregates that they would be successful in a university. So my ward, like the rest of her peers, completed SSS with very good grades comprising of As, Bs, and a D7 in Mathematics. Mind you, a D7 is neither a pass nor a fail grade – 45-47% score.

Here’s where things get murky. The conditional admission requires the students to remedy the D7, E, or E8 within two years. After successfully completing a semester of university work, Central University, at the direction of the National Accreditation Board, has terminated the admission of these students.
I am well-aware of the reasons for accreditation guidelines, and I whole-heartedly support establishing and enforcing guidelines in Ghanaian tertiary education. What I, and most progressive Ghanaians, continue to be baffled by is the focus on process more than product. The NAB, in their 20th century approach to educational standards, have locked themselves up in the process and are losing sight of what this is all about. I beg to say, it is about the product. While these minimum admission standards are aimed at ensuring that students are ready for university-level work, it has historically been a way to manage the university economy of limited spaces and a sorry-we-are-close mentality.
Many years ago, when Ghana had only three universities, many able-minded young people could not develop their potential in tertiary institutions. The universities changed the admission aggregates almost every year because there were not enough spaces to accommodate every qualified and able-minded student. So a student’s academic fate depended on where the “Big 3” universities drew the line. The government and the powers that be did not see the need to find ways to open up access by offering creative ways to deliver education to more people. I know of a young man who had 3 As and an E in General Paper during the A-Level era, and that super-bright young man would have been denied university admission if he tripped and had an F (in General Paper). I know it’s hard to make sense of it but it is possible for a person to score As in advanced level Physics, Chemistry, and Biology but fail General Paper – and be denied university admission in Ghana. Those were the recent Dark Ages of the 1990s.

Fortunately for us, since private institutions emerged and like manna from heaven, university admission was no longer accessible to a privileged few. You probably have a boss or may personally know a very respected public official who may not have been able to get into “Kumasi Legon” but thanks to the creative nurturing of private institutions, some of these young minds have been developed into very productive citizens. Some are now high-level executives and entrepreneurs in this country and around the world. In that same vein, Central University opened a ‘small window of opportunity’ for students – as long as they continued to perform at the university level and remedy their quasi-passing grades within two years. You would think the honorable academics who are charged with the duty to ensure that our educational system is “responsive to a fast changing world” would welcome the idea. But they didn’t. They instead asked that these students be sent home or else Central University be penalized.

So I ask – shouldn’t a student who has gone through our basic education and obtained As and Bs, and has also gone through one full semester of university course work be assessed on his/her ability to pursue undergraduate work and not assessed based on one pre-university subject?

If the public universities will not admit these students because they don’t have enough room, allow the private universities to offer these reasonable opportunities for these young people to pursue advance education. If the purpose of education is to develop competency, why then is the NAB not trying to work with Central in extending access to as many intellectually-able people as possible?
There are so many community colleges around the world that award diplomas to people without the “traditional” entry requirements. These students are able to keep up the momentum of pursuing a college degree, and eventually transfer to other degree awarding institutions. The work they do in these community colleges count toward their “regular” university work. There are even institutions that the NAB has accredited to run some of these programs to enable the children gain admission into level 200 in accredited universities.

So why is it such a taboo that Central has offered conditional admission to students (and given them 2 years to remedy the grades?) I don’t understand. And I am sure you are baffled as well.

Almost 1,000 students at Central University are being held to ransom because the fine people at the National Accreditation Board say that these students are not fit for university work (even after these students have proved otherwise). The National Accreditation Board owe all of us an explanation, an apology, and a remedy.

In the Dark Ages of the 1990s, students would have taken to the streets (all 1,000 along with their sympathizers), demonstrated and possibly vandalized public property. These students have exhibited extra-ordinary maturity in seeking redress. They have sought the proper counsel and all they are saying is to be given a fair shot – a fair shot at a future that could elude them if they abandon their educational pursuit. In the interest of developing the requisite human capital for Ghana’s development and the improvement in the quality of life, the NAB is proving to be a good example of the administrative bottlenecks that threaten Ghana and Ghanaians’ respective ability to be “responsive to a fast changing world.”

The NAB board is comprised of some of the sharpest minds in the world – Prof. D. A. Akyeampong, Prof. Awurama Addy, Mr. Akwei Allotey, Mrs. P.G.A. Ayensu, Prof. Nsowah Nuamah, Prof. Nii Noi Dowuona, and many more – and I am sure they mean well.

But – and this is a big but – at your present pace, NAB, you are not even being responsive enough to a fast changing Ghana, let alone a fast changing Africa.
So what do you have to say about this disruption you have created at Central University, and how are you going to make sure you live up to your creed of making Ghanaian education “responsive to a fast changing world”?
Like all well-meaning Ghanaians, the students and I wait to hear from you.

Kasadiimu Gyekye Amankwah
Ghana Institute For Human Development
February 2012

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