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Feature Article of Thursday, 17 May 2012

Columnist: Avoke, Selete Kofi

The University Education Wastage and Graduate Unemployment in Ghana

Over the past decade, Ghana has realized an unprecedented rise in the population of unemployed university graduates. For this reason wastage has become the norm in terms of the country’s inability to harness this vast human capital. Inevitably, because there is very little opportunity for gainful employment and the lack of the necessary portable skills for self-employment, life is very unpleasant for the majority of unemployed university graduates.
From independence in 1957 till almost a decade ago, there were three distinct universities. The University of Ghana, Legon was the place to attend if one wanted to study the humanities, law, medicine, business, agriculture, allied sciences and arts. The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology was reserved for those who wanted to study engineering, basic sciences, social sciences and other science related courses. Finally the University of Cape Coast was reserved for those who wanted to become professional teachers in the sciences, education, arts and mathematics.
On the whole, unemployment was almost non-existent for university graduates. Graduating from the university was very prestigious and catapulted graduates into middle class settings within a short period of time. However due to the inability of the existing universities to accommodate the large population of students completing secondary education the Government of Ghana further established the University of Education, and the University of Development Sciences to cater for the growing population of hungry students eager to drink from the fountain of higher knowledge. The current plan is for the establishment of two additional universities, one in the Volta Region and the other in the Brong-Ahafo Region.
Despite efforts by subsequent governments, it appears rapid population growth has not been able to keep abreast with the weak economic growth and declining investment in the government supported universities. In an effort to make university education accessible to the growing population of students leaving the secondary schools, the government over the years has eased its monopoly of universities and has allowed individuals, churches and business consortiums to set up universities or colleges.
However, the majority of universities and colleges in Ghana are still modeled on the theoretical framework. This framework has been in existence since the pioneer university, Legon was established. Inevitably, students graduate from these universities and colleges and are not equipped with the training that will allow them to innovate and become entrepreneurs, and researchers. Today’s market needs a curriculum that is robust, and goes beyond theoretical knowledge and specific technical skills. Today’s curriculum must include transversal skills like analytical reasoning, relating, soft skills and critical thinking skills.
It must be noted that the Ghana Employers’ Association in 2006 identified critical skills that were needed in jobs:
a) High analytical skills
b) Creativity
c) Resourcefulness
d) Quick learning skills
e) Excellent verbal and written communication skills and interest in new and emerging technology and the ability to work under pressure and calmness in emergency
However, if you take a critical look at the various courses within universities/colleges, a large percentage are still very academic and contain mostly theoretical underpinnings. For this reason majority of graduates become job seekers, unemployed or employed beneath their educational status. Invariably, most of the graduates still look to the government for employment. Some try their luck travelling abroad working in jobs that are below their educational level. A small number are lucky to get into graduate programs abroad through sponsorships from foreign universities, well to do parents or the government of Ghana and the Commonwealth.
One of the problems that I find hard to fathom is the rapidity at which newly established colleges are granted approvals to start operating as colleges or higher institutions of learning. I am not saying that approvals must be denied, however, one wonders how a college with only one or two structures can be given the permission to start enrolling students at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the sciences, engineering, business and other degree programs. Most secondary schools that were built in the 1940’s and 50’s have larger campuses and better equipped facilities than most of the recently approved colleges. Yet, the government, through its accrediting agency, NAB, keeps on granting approvals to single structure religious and individual college establishments. Is this a money making enterprise? I guess only posterity will tell.
As a nation, have we conducted an analysis to determine what the human resource needs we need in order to move our country from a developing nation to an emerging or middle nation? Have we as a country analyzed the utility of some our programs within our various universities? Have we collaborated with private industry to determine the usefulness of some of our programs? For example, why will the governing board approve an aerospace engineering program at KNUST whilst even universities in the western world are drastically scaling back on such programs? Do we have an aerospace industry in Ghana? Where are these graduates going to work after graduation? How did KNUST decide to start such a program and which entity approved this program?. Mind you I am not against the establishment of this program. I am just trying to reason out loudly how programs are set up within the Ghanaian context.
As a nation-state, have we had a countrywide discourse on the relevancy of university degree programs in relation to the job market? Does the government design policies to allow the creation of jobs especially by the private sector?
Have we had an authentic deliberation on graduate unemployment?
Do we have a national dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) or a Career Information Network (ONET) that will inform universities as to how to develop curricula to ensure that graduates leaving the university/college systems will meet the demands of the jobs they are likely to work in?
Have we identified critical jobs and skills for the development of Ghana?
Be that as it may I believe the core mission of most universities is to teach, conduct research and provide services to the community. Universities can contribute to the development of the nation by applying their teaching capabilities to human capital development, use their research expertise for science and technological development, provide service to the larger community via development and serve entrepreneurs by providing business development expertise (Peggy & Maramark, 1996).
However when you have a situation when some universities/colleges are being set up without proper infrastructure, inadequate resources, unsuitable faculty and inadequate capacity, it becomes very difficult for these institutions to meet their core mission unless that mission is purely to make money.
Dai, Tsadidey, Ashiagbor & Baku (2008) conducted a very comprehensive study in relation to graduate unemployment and came up with some interesting findings:
a) The Ghana government should develop a National Manpower Plan to outline the skill needs of the nation
b) The need for a stronger collaboration between universities and the end-users of graduates to ensure relevancy of courses and programs
c) Universities to make adjustments in their curriculum to shift the emphasis from theory to practice
Moreover, I contend that it is critically imperative for the college/university approval bodies to first review the proposed structure, facilities, library, laboratory, qualification of staff and faculty, curriculum, anticipated programs and the possibility of jobs for graduates before approval is granted. These colleges could operate as undergraduate programs for about ten years. And only when they achieve rigorous landmarks should they be approved to become fully fledged universities and be given the approval to even start a graduate program. Finally, all universities/colleges MUST be required to develop and implement a post graduate employment survey, a year after students graduate from their institutions. This post-graduation survey will help these institutions know where their graduates are and will also add to a body of data that will capture the employment, unemployment, satisfaction and relevancy of programs at their graduating colleges/universities in relation to their current employment situation. Finally, such a data source can be used by universities/colleges for accountability and improvement purposes and also to allow them to develop an outreach campaign for effective collaboration between graduates and universities, colleges and the community at large. In the interest of transparency, such data must be analyzed and disseminated publicly and must serve as one data point for the re-accreditation of programs by the NAB.

The writer, Dr. Selete Kofi Avoke
is an Exceptional Education Consultant based in the United States of America
logbatota@gmail.com

+1-301-335-8861

The picture below is culled from the homepage of the aerospace engineering program at KNUST

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