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Opinions of Monday, 1 August 2016

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

Ghana: The accreditation challenges in transnational educational ecology

In brief

The Ghana National Accreditation Board (NAB) has come under an immense public scrutiny over its failure to perform its gatekeeping role in safeguarding the credibility of educational products sold to the Ghanaian public by some unaccredited educational institutions.

• This report examines the accreditation regimes across three countries—the United States, United Kingdom and Ghana. It is done to provide a context to the accreditation processes in these countries. The report also provides a comparative analysis of what a doctoral degree in its various forms—residency, online, and honoris causa—entails.

• Although the UK and the US operate different accreditation regimes, it is easy for anyone to ascertain the accreditation status of institutions operating in these countries. While Ghana also operates an accreditation regime, it is fraught with peculiar problems that need urgent attention.

• Our findings indicate that due to weak accreditation regime in Ghana, individuals and institutions of dubious backgrounds take the NAB’s accreditation regime for granted and flout its authority with impunity.

• Our findings indicate that some of the institutions in question are in breach of the NAB’s instrument of authority, while others have acquired NAB’s accreditation under questionable arrangements.

• Our findings indicate that the problem of dubious academic qualifications is not limited to tertiary institutions alone. The canker has eaten very deep into the fabric of the Ghanaian educational system. As a result, products coming out of Ghanaian tertiary institutions struggle to find their feet in the workforce.

• Our findings indicate that Ghanaian doctoral aspirants are being fleeced around the world with questionable qualifications that are not going to help the development discourse of Ghana in anyway.

• We recommend an urgent review of the NAB’s instrument of authority to include prosecutory powers to its legal instrument, so it can hold people accountable when they flout its regulations.

• We recommend that all stakeholders - the society, the media and academia - must all become watchdogs in surveilling our institutions.

Motivation

The problem of questionable academic qualifications has now assumed continental proportions and has infected every institution imaginable—government, higher educational institutions, the private sector, the diplomatic service, and just any human institution.

Recent cases of unaccredited or dubious academic institutions conferring academic degrees and awards on Ghanaians, Nigerians, and South Africans attest to this state of affairs. Further testament to this state of affairs is the recent revelations by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba that 61 percent of teachers in tertiary institutions in Ghana are unqualified to teach in such institutions.

In recent times, the Ghana National Accreditation Board (NAB) has come under an immense public scrutiny over its failure to perform its gatekeeping role in safeguarding the credibility of educational products sold to the Ghanaian public by some unaccredited educational institutions.

Approach

Using a purposive comparative framework, we selected for interrogation cases of institutions and individuals who have come under public scrutiny for awarding and receiving academic, respectively, qualifications and awards that the public considers questionable. This is to answer three pertinent questions:

I. What is the accreditation status of institutions selected for analysis

II. Who are the individuals associated with these institutions?

III. What are the motives of these individuals for acquiring these degrees/awards?

We analyze the role of the media in these processes, the attitude of the general public toward these challenges, and the impact of the situation on Ghana as a country. The report also examines the accreditation regimes across three countries—the United States, United Kingdom, and Ghana.

This is to provide the context regarding the regimes that guide the accreditation processes in these countries. The report also provides a comparative analysis of what a doctoral degree in its various forms—residency, online, and honoris causa—entails. Based on the foregoing, we made some recommendations for immediate policy action to remedy the situation.

Findings

Our findings indicate that some of the institutions in question are in breach of the NAB’s instrument of authority, while others have acquired NAB’s accreditation under questionable arrangements. The report further indicates that two categories of individuals are identifiable in these accreditation controversies.

While one group views higher academic qualifications as career tools, the other considers honorary degrees/awards as status symbols for self-actualization and a seal for the legitimization of their place of honor in the public’s eye. An uncritical-propaganda-dogged media coupled with an unquestioning public continues to fuel the practice.

Our examination of the public records indicates that over 30 Ghanaians have been awarded these honorary doctorate degrees from three institutions with questionable backgrounds in the past 2-3 years alone. Other have also earned questionable academic degrees from other questionable institutions. The institutions that caught our attention are as follows:

• Atlantic International University, Honolulu, Hawaii

• Dayspring Christian university of Mississippi and local affiliates the Global Center for Transformational Leadership and Pan African Clergy Council

• Almeda College/university, Atlanta, GA; European-American University, Commonwealth of Dominica and affiliates in Lagos, Nigeria

• American Century University, Albuquerque

• Thomas A-Bucket University Canterbury, Kent, UK. Affiliates: Pan

African Mission Association, Lagos, Nigeria, and African Institute of Technology, Nigeria

• Swiss Management Center (SMC), Zurich, Switzerland

• University of Dublin, California

• The Commonwealth University and the London Graduate School

Recommendations

As a country, Ghana can only be as good as the institutions it builds. Building excellent institutions implies that the laws of the land apply in a just and fair manner to all manner of people—the poor, the rich, the educated, the uneducated, the politician, the foot soldier, the religious leaders, etc. The following recommendations can go a long way to address the weak accreditation regime in Ghana:

I. The NAB must be dissolved with immediate effect and be reconstituted. In reconstituting NAB, the issue of conflict of interest must be properly addressed to ensure that any future occurrence of the Paul Buatsi incident is dealt with decisively.

II. The NAB must return to Parliament to seek prosecutory powers, so it can haul individuals and institutions that flout its legal instruments to court, if it does not already have prosecutory powers.

III. As international education continues to expand, there will be all manners of qualifications emanating from all manner of places in the world into Ghana and most African countries.

As a matter of policy, just as trade and military personnel are attached to Ghana’s embassies and high commissions abroad, there is the urgent need for individuals who are assigned to these missions to have some understanding of the educational systems of the countries they are posted to, either through being educated in those countries or having a broad-based educational training that exposes them to issues of education and training in the country of their duty station.

These individuals should be tasked to forge functional links between the NAB and the country, region, and institutions of their duty station on matters of accreditation. This way, they can quickly conduct due diligence on institutions and individuals on issues of accreditation and furnish the NAB with the needed information to act.

IV. The NAB must also forge functional links with other national/international accrediting bodies for the purposes of verification. Ghana can take the lead in mooting the notion for an international body of accrediting organizations/institutions.

V. A mentoring process must be initiated with the well-established universities in Ghana—University of Cape Coast, University of Ghana, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology—immediately for the purposes of mentoring and supervising genuine online educational programs for quality assurance.

VI. A committee must be set up immediately to look into the SMC and other related issues and make recommendations to the Minister of Education. Based on this recommendation, there is the need for a national debate on the matter.

VII. All tertiary institutions in Ghana, with immediate effect, must begin a wholesale background check on their faculty, from the Vice-Chancellors all the way down to the ordinary lecturer.