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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Columnist: Obeng, Thomas Kwaku

Endowment fund for Universities Proposed

Self-reliance, it is said, is better than dependency and self-sufficiency is power and dignified. I am motivated to write this article following an impressive outpouring of comments, suggestions, contributions and recommendations I received when my article on ?Ghana Needs Postgraduate College? which was published on Ghanaweb on 2nd June 2004. The reactions from readers from all walks of life was thought provoking that it has culminated the need to bring out, some of the issues into public domain so that we dispassionately, and without any prejudice, discuss them with ultimate aim of making our Universities self reliant and sufficient.

Among the many suggestions that may be very relevant and crucial if our State Universities and indeed all Universities being established will survive in this globalised and sophisticated world was the strongest desire for the establishment of ?Endowment Fund? for Universities in Ghana. It is undisputable fact that all the State Universities are public funded and this means that they are solely dependent on the central government for funding for all its activities: - research, salaries of lecturers and other staff, infrastructure development and indeed other incidental expenditures. The reality is that government alone cannot provide sufficiently and adequately the much need resources for the smooth running of our Universities even though the constitutions of the fourth republican constitution guarantees for government funding.

In the midst of this, other options of University funding have to be sought if we truly believe in the fact that for this country to leapfrog into a middle-income status thereby improving the living standards of Ghanaians, the role of our Universities as institutions of higher learning cannot be overemphasised. The training of manpower for the various sectors of the economy and the conduct of research make them unique and indispensable in the development process.

As a partial solution to the limited budgetary allocation for the running of the Universities and the enormous pressure on government, the cost-sharing concept was introduced and it has now been embedded in the University system. Also, the government through the establishment of the GETFUND is providing support to the Universities in so many areas. Yet, there is more to be done because the Universities do not have any control over the appropriation of this fund, which is serving so many purposes in the educational sector.

University endowment fund should be considered as another means, by which our Universities can stand on their own feet, conduct vigorous research, which is beneficial to the economy and bring the result to bear and effect the needed change in society. This fund will be a unitised investment pool and its purpose should be to conduct research and other academic business. A University Endowment Fund is very much prominent in the USA and other developed countries, contributing immensely towards the development of the Universities concerned in the field of research and academics. For example, Harvard University has an endowment fund of $18.3 Billion as at the end of 2001, Michigan University 3.5 billion as at 30th June 2003 and Howard University in Washington D.C., the richest Historically Black American University in the U.S. Has an endowment fund of about $320 million. With endowment fund of this magnitude, the Universities can establish all types of Postgraduate Centres for research in various fields.

Even though it may not be possible to achieve such feat, considering our economic circumstance and many demands from other equally important sectors, the importance of an endowment fund for our universities cannot be overlooked if our universities are to compete favourably and contribute to the development of this nation. Time is long overdue not only to discuss it but also we look at how best we can fashion and implement it. The demands of the globalised world order and the fast pace at which society is changing as a result of technology imposes greater burden on our institutions of higher learning to be able to have easy access to readily available funds for all its programmes and it behoves on all stakeholders-government, private sector, donor communities to see this (Endowment Fund) for our Universities as a way forward.

Others may hold the view that it may be difficult to have such a fund in place. What needs to be done is to appoint well-qualified and high ranking officials whose responsibility will be for the development and planning of innovative fund raising activities and once these are professionally executed, a lot of money can be raised, invested and managed in a sustainable way, which then becomes accessible to the Universities for their programmes. For example, Howard University has recently appointed an officer to raise funds and for only two years of the launch of the project, an amount of more than $125million has been realised as against a target of $250million. With endowments of this magnitude, the Universities can establish all types of Postgraduate Centres for research in various fields. Without a sizable endowment fund, our universities cannot establish any academically respectable Postgraduate Institution. The conditions of service of the Professors and lecturers can be improved and made more attractive once the Universities are independent financially and have responsible investment conscious board of directors. It is about time we find creative and legitimate means of raising funds for our institutions of higher learning and by so doing we help our Universities to be self reliant and not depend ENTIRELY on the Government for funding.

Thomas Kwaku Obeng
e-MBA student
Lulea University of Technology
Sweden

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