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Opinions of Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Columnist: Acheampong & Bashiru

Conversion of polytechnics to technical universities not an error

1. Prof. Mike Agbesi Acheampong (Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Kumasi Polytechnic)

2. Prof. Bashiru I. I. Saeed (Dean, Faculty of Applied Sciences, Kumasi Polytechnic)

Polytechnic education in Ghana has evolved since the establishment of the ten (10) Polytechnics.

The Polytechnics were established to provide middle level management personnel to support the economic development of the country.

The Polytechnics have performed creditably over the years and have
produced qualified graduates who are working in various sectors of the economy.

Notwithstanding the invaluable contributions of the Polytechnics to the national economy, there are two main challenges with the current system.

The first is the issue of academic progression of the students –
training is limited to the Higher National Diploma (HND) and top-up Bachelor of Technology (BTech) levels. The second difficulty is the poor academic staff retention capacity of the Polytechnics due to unfair competition from the traditional public Universities as a result of inappropriate reward system for the Polytechnic teaching staff.

It is important to note that both the public Universities and the Polytechnics have the same minimum qualification for all teaching staff. Despite the unfair competition, many of the Polytechnics have
developed and maintained quality and dedicated teaching staff.

Again, many of the Polytechnics can now boast of competent Senior Lecturers and Professors (of international repute) with relevant industrial
practice. This is a key requirement for conversion to Technical University (TU). Nevertheless, it is still an important challenge which must be addressed.

The challenges and the current trends in global development and training necessitated the review of the mandate of the Polytechnics to make them relevant to the needs of industry and commerce. The Technical
Universities (TUs) will address these challenges and other related matters. The TUs are going to bridge the gap between academia and industry by training students with employable skills.

The graduates are expected to be competent in their fields of expertise.
In order to respond appropriately to the comments by critics of the conversion of the Polytechnics, it is important to understand the mandate of the TUs, as provided in the Technical Universities Act, 2016. The
Act provides for the conversion of the Polytechnics to TUs and related matters.

For the purpose of education, we provide some key aspects of the Act.
The first important aspect of the Act we wish to highlight is the requirements for conversion. According to the Act, a Polytechnic shall meet the following three requirements to qualify for conversion to a
Technical University (TU):

Institutional requirements: A Polytechnic seeking to be converted to a TU shall

a) satisfy the existing norms, guidelines and requirements of the National Council for Tertiary Education and the National Accreditation Board for accreditation as a Technical University; and

b) offer a minimum of four Bachelor of Technology degree programmes in Science and Technology based disciplines.

Academic staff requirements: A Polytechnic seeking to be converted to a Technical University shall

a) academic departments headed by at least a Senior Lecturer with a PhD and professional
experience; and

b) at least three full-time lecturers with relevant research master’s degree, at least one of whom shall have industry experience.
Collaboration with industry: A Polytechnic seeking to be converted to a Technical University shall provide evidence of signed training and partnership agreements or memorandum of understanding with
collaborating industry partners.

Secondly, it is necessary to know the aims of a TU in order to appreciate the importance of the conversion of the Polytechnics. According to the Act, the aims of a Technical University are to provide higher education in Engineering, Science and Technology based disciplines, Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Applied Arts and related disciplines in accordance with the following principles:

a) higher education shall be made equally accessible to all persons suitably qualified and capable of
benefitting from education and training offered at Technical University;

b) programmes of study shall take into consideration the multiplicity of scientific theories and methodologies;

c) use competency-based and practice oriented approach in teaching, organization and delivery of

d) develop strong linkages and collaboration with relevant industries, businesses, professional bodies and technical experts in the delivery of programmes;

e) offer programmes and courses within the mandate of a Technical University; and

f) provide opportunities for skills development, applied research and publication of research findings.

A Technical University, for the purpose of achieving its aims, shall have Schools, Departments, Faculties and Centres approved and accredited by institutions responsible for tertiary education and accreditation.

The last key aspect of the Act worth noting is the powers of a Technical University. According to the TU Act:

1. A Technical University may

a) award degrees, diplomas, certificates and other qualifications agreed upon by the Council established under section 5;

b) offer Higher National Diploma programmes

i. approved by the National Council for Tertiary Education;

ii. accredited by the National Accreditation Board; and

iii. examined and certified by the National Board for Tertiary Examination.

c) Provide for general welfare, recreational and social needs of staff and students of the Technical
university, and

d) exercise powers that is incidental to the achievement of the aims of the Technical University.

2. A Technical University may withdraw a degree, diploma or certificate it has awarded if it has evidence that proves that

a) the degree, diploma or certificate was obtain through fraud, academic malpractice, or

b) the process of acquiring the degree, diploma or certificate was tainted by an act that in the opinion of the Technical University undermines the integrity of the award.

It is evidently clear from the above presentation that many things are going to change with the conversion of the Polytechnics to Technical Universities. Let’s examine some comments against the Government’s decision to convert all the ten (10) Polytechnics to Technical Universities and see whether these
comments were well intended.

Recently, a number of prominent Ghanaian scholars have criticized the Government for the decision to convert the ten (10) Polytechnics to Technical Universities (TUs).

While the discussion on the pros and cons of the intended transformation of the Polytechnics is very good, the attempt by some of the opponents of the Government’s decision to mislead the general public by misrepresenting the facts is most unfortunate.

We noted, in particular, statements made by Prof. Akilagpa Sawyerr and Prof. Ernest Ayetey. The two prominent scholars are of the opinion that the planned conversion of the Polytechnics to TUs is a serious error. According to Prof. Ayetey, the Polytechnics are not ready for conversion because they are poorly resourced. On the other hand, Prof. Sawyerr’s statement posted at on 2nd June 2016 indicated that nothing changes with the conversion of the Polytechnics to TUs.

Obviously, this position cannot be true. Many things are going to change.

As stated above, the conversion will allow the TUs to run a four (4) year programmes leading to the award of Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degrees. Currently, the Polytechnics are not allowed to do this.

Furthermore, the students will be able to progress academically up to the terminal degree level. The TUs will award technical degrees (i.e. BTech, MTech and DTech) instead of the BSc, MSc/MPhil and PhD degrees awarded by the traditional Universities. This is one of the important changes!

Significantly, the TU programmes are based on professional profiles obtained from relevant industries. Therefore, the training of the students will be focused on developing the skills needed to be competent in their fields of
expertise. In other words, students will be trained to meet the job requirements of industry and commerce.

On the issue of the readiness of the Polytechnics for conversion into TUs, we wish to state clearly that all the Polytechnics selected for conversion are ready. They have met the requirements for conversion as listed above.

While it is a fact that UG, KNUST and UCC are big Universities and well resourced, the same cannot be said about some of the public universities. Does that make those inadequately resourced Universities irrelevant? We don’t think so! Each has a role to play in the socio-economic transformation
of Ghana. The Technical Universities have a unique mandate. In fact, all the Polytechnics selected for conversion to TUs are adequately resourced to operate as Universities.

It is worth noting that many of the Senior Lecturers and Professors of the Polytechnics are serving the existing Universities in various
capacities, including staff assessment for teaching, research and promotion.

Another area of service to the Universities community is the examination of MSc and PhD candidates.

In conclusion, the conversion of the ten (10) Polytechnics to Technical Universities is an excellent decision by the Government and it is well intended.

It is not an error! The stakeholders (staff, students,
parents and Government) are very excited and in high anticipation of the commencement of the new academic year to start the TU programmes.