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Feature Article of Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

Re: Ghana Private Universities 'Cause Unemployment' – Asaga

I plead your indulgence for space to respond to the above-captioned news item dated May 3, 2012 on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and some Ghanaian media networks.

Mr. Moses Asaga, the Minister of (Un) Employment in Ghana, must first appreciate the work the private universities are doing. They have filled the vacuum where government has failed to be responsive to the demands of higher education. He should take a trip to the African University College of Communication (AUCC) and Ashesi University campuses, institutions whose work I am familiar with, and he would be amazed at the marvelous work these institutions are doing under their current logistic and financial constraints. Indeed, the graduates churn out by these institutions can match any graduate anywhere across the country. This is not in any way to imply that others are not doing shoddy work.

To make such unwarranted generalizations to the effect that private tertiary education providers are increasing the rate of unemployment in Ghana is to exhibit the lack of understanding for the ministry he heads and a clear demonstration that he is unfit for purpose.

A few questions will suffice to make my position clearer:

I. Since when did the minister realize that private tertiary institutions are doing a shoddy job and exacerbating the unemployment situation in Ghana?

II. What is the duty of the National Accreditation Board (NAB), which is a state agency with regulatory powers?

III. If there are problems with the quality of students private educational institutions admit and churn out, who should address that?

IV. If the Government did not address the problem why should it be crying foul through its ministers?

V. Do we have a situation where well qualified graduates from the state universities who were supposedly recruited with top grades and also graduated with excellent classes who cannot find jobs?

VI. Does Mr. Asaga know how many jobs each of these private universities have created around their institutions, and for that matter easing some pressure on government for its failure in creating jobs or the enabling environment for people to create their own jobs?

VII. Even if the Ministry of Finance, Statistical Service of Ghana, and other state agencies cannot support or rebut claims of job creation and unemployment where then do we turn?

As one anonymous contributor put it, “my common sense tells me that if you have three thousand Ghanaians who have either gone to university or not and are looking for job because they don't have one, they are called job seekers or better “UNEMPLOYED” Ghanaians! These GUYS, LADIES, and GIRLS DO NOT HAVE A JOB AT ALL! Their education or qualifications matters only if they find jobs but do not have the requisite qualities to perform! If Ghanaian employers are turning potential employees away because they do not qualify, then the minister has a point, but that is not the case!” Has the government created employment opportunities for Ghanaians as they promised during the 2008 campaign, university degree or not? Behind the veneer of seamless downgraded admission processes, are labyrinth interconnected issues that deserve attention.

Now, to some substantive issues and exemplars of a corruption in educational qualification

In 1997/1998, the authorities of Cape Coast University upped the grading system of that university from 70% for an A to 80% for an A. Then a student at the university of Cape Coast, I joined in resisting the change, as 65% or so remained A in all the other state universities. After all the polemics and the use of force, the system was implemented and forced down our throats.

In 2000, the first batch of students under the new grading system graduated. In that year, out of about 2300 students who graduated, 9 came out with first class. Compared to their counterparts from University of Ghana with about the same number of graduand/graduates, 300 were awarded first class honors.

The argument by the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor S.K. Agyepong, now the President of Methodist University in Accra, was that students who entered the other state universities, e.g., University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, were admitted with higher grades.

Five years down the road, when Professor S.K. Agyepong became the president of Methodist University, some of us who follow events closely were expecting that his scientific episteme would apply at this privately funded university. Interestingly, 30 out of 150 students, being the first batch of students churned out by his university, were awarded first class. Some of us raised eyebrows and even wrote to challenge him. If there is a correlation between entry grade and graduating grade, it need not apply to only the University of Cape Coast, but all tertiary institutions in Ghana.

We are all aware of the slackness in the admission procedures of some the private tertiary institutions and the kind of students who end up in some of the private universities in Ghana. But that does not warrant a blanket statement from a minister who lacks the understanding of these issues and is looking for where to apportion blame for a systematic failure that is threatening our very survival as a people. Let me emphasize that there are private universities in Ghana that are performing even better than the state tertiary education providers. Notably, Ashesi University, African University College of Communication and a few others have held their heads high and have demonstrated what human ingenuity once the human mind is allowed to fantasize to its fullest capacity. Indeed, Mr. Asaga doesn’t seem to be abreast with the harsh realities at his ministry, hence he could make such unfounded statements that only go to undercut the credibility of the totality of private tertiary education without being forced to resign.

Mr. Moses Asaga needs to understand the dynamics within which these private education providers operate and stop doing the “firefight.” I believe after reading the recent NAB clamp down on Methodist University, he was subtly led, without any critical analysis of wider social, political, and economic dynamics of the issue, to conclude that the enrolment of unqualified students into private tertiary institutions is leading to a rise in unemployment.

The last time it was Miss Ama Benyiwa Doe who was mocking unemployed graduates. Upon a profound reflection, I queried, if not in politics, where else would we have the likes of her leading the political discourse of a whole region? If Ghana were being ran like a profit-seeking venture, would John Evans Atta Mills entrust the financial portfolio of his profit-seeking company in such untrained hands and minds? It is just the way of politics in my beloved Ghana, people who are beneficiaries of a systematic failure turn around to make mockery of those who have satisfied their part of the social contract by all standards.

Just this morning, Harvard and MIT unveiled free online certificate courses. The pilot program even already showed that not all the people who enrolled were able to complete it. Would we say that because some people were admitted on these online programs with weak grades, they will choke the employment market with substandard qualification?

These days, most countries are finding ways to educate their people to break the privilege status of education. A look at data on education in the top ten high income countries around the world tells the story. Let’s allow education to have social and cultural efficieny and we will reap its results.

Mr. Moses Asaga, please look for some of the latest textbooks on unemployment, employment creation, application of data, and study them assiduously with a view to the Ghanaians situation. I believe you were relevant in the 1990s when we were all ignorant, so we accepted everything a minister said line, hook, and sinkers uncontested. Today, things have changed a great deal and you need to do your research well before you make pronouncement on issues that affect the lives of the “thinking masses.”

I hope our students in the tertiary institutions across the nooks and crannies of the country are following these debates critically and are waiting anxiously for the political parties to outdoor their manifestos for their own analysis, especially on job creation and education.

Prosper Yao Tsikata
Please follow the link to my articles on unemployment and
education:http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/columnist.php?S=Tsikata%2C+Prosper+Yao&fb_source=message

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