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Opinions of Friday, 24 April 2009

Columnist: Amenyah, Augustine M.

Higher Education in Ghana

In this essay I examine higher education provisions and opportunities in Ghana and make suggestions for improvement in the following areas:-access to higher education, higher education policy, higher education finance, and adult learning. Finally, I offer a proposed framework for higher education in Ghana. Historical Background¨

The 1992 constitution of Ghana makes the following general provisions for education and higher education in particular as follows

(1) All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right - (a) Basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all;

(b) Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education;

(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular, by progressive introduction of free education;

(d) Functional literacy shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible;

(e) The development of a system of schools with adequate facilities at all levels shall be actively pursued.

(2) Every person shall have the right, at his own expense, to establish and maintain a private school or schools at all levels and of such categories and in accordance with such conditions as may be provided by law.

The constitution thus places a high premium on free and equitable education for all. This is untenable given the current economic conditions of the country. To this end I suggest as part of this proposed framework to revisit the provision of fee free education in Ghana.

By higher education, I mean any education and training beyond secondary education. Higher education sites include colleges and universities, and post secondary specialized educational institutions. These include teacher training colleges, nurses training colleges, agricultural training colleges, polytechnic and technical education training centers, labor colleges, police and army staff training colleges, and vocational training colleges. In colonial times most colonialist awarded scholarships to deserving students to pursue higher education abroad as higher education centers were either few are not available. The 1940s saw early attempts to address this imbalance through the establishment of the University of Ghana and its ancillary institutions. After political independence, the CPP government also realized the inadequacy of higher educational provisions and sought to establish more higher education centers. This era saw the birth of 2 universities and 3 polytechnic colleges, and numerous specialized colleges for teacher education, nursing, and agriculture.

Sadly, higher education development unlike other sectors of development has not kept pace with the ever increasing demand for higher education due to population growth. The increasing demand for higher education has created corruption in higher education admissions, examination malpractices, such as falsification of entry requirements, bribery of admissions officials for the limited spaces that are available.

Needless to say that it was not until the mid 1990s that a university college was established in the North, even though the nations’ population grew from 3.6 million in the 1960s to over 25 million in the 1990s. This clearly shows a large of planning and vision on the part of both political leaders and education policy makers. I am at a loss to account for this gape in development in the education sector and wonder how as a country Ghana was able to provide adequately for its higher education needs. Based on education statistics and historical records we now know that Ghana at political independence had a very limited higher education system and at best an inadequate infrastructural provision for a meaningful development of higher education.

What do higher education centers do?

Typically higher education centers perform the following functions, teaching, research, and service. The mission statements and goals of each higher education institution articulate this core mission. Each institution’s programs of study attempts to translate these core missions into achievable goals for its students. Again this is done through teaching, training, and research. The beneficiaries of the products of higher education are the citizenry and the larger human society. Higher education is necessary for the economic, political and social development of every nation state. In the modern world, no nation or economy can ignore the contributions of higher education to the human capital development of its workforce. Higher education centers are repositories of knowledge acquired after extensive research, training, and engagement.

Higher education policy

Every nation attempts to formulate a policy of higher education in which it attempts to spell out the aims, objectives and purposes of higher education. We are aware that every developing nation has a vision for economic development that is well articulated by all. Ghana at independence had the 10 year development plan and the Accelerated Education Development Plan. Subsequently, Operation Feed Yourself, and Vision 20/20. But ask any citizen of Ghana about an education policy vision and you will find no answers. It is the educational policy that in my judgment economic visions are to be reflected in the educational/higher education policies of the country and vice versa. For example, in the developed world everyone knows that college education and professional education is a necessary tool for gaining access to the best job opportunities and wealth. In addition, college and professional education opens doors to skilled employment, better pay, and a higher standard of living and thus help reduce the poverty gap. Higher education creates a middle class that helps pull people out of further poverty. This is however, not the case with the developing world. There is no comprehensive higher education policy in Ghana and other developing countries. Higher education policy of any nation state should mirror its values, aspirations, and vision for the future. Like economic and other policies for national development, higher education policies should articulate a clear vision for human capital development. Higher education provision should mirror this clarion call for the nation state’s human capital development because primary education does not prepare citizens for the world of work. The principal role of higher education is workforce education and development. This is the missing link in the development of most developing nations and Ghana is no exception. Higher education policies should thus begin with a clear assessment of what the economic, social, and educational needs of the nation state should be and how the higher education mission/policies would be carried out to harness the potential human capacities of its population.

Unfortunately, the colonial governments did not have a clear vision for the development of higher education. Many reasons may account for the woefully inadequate provisions that existed in the colonies prior to the attainment of political independence. An often cited reason was the non-readiness of natives to undertake studies in higher education because they were mostly rural and agrarian. Secondly, some argued that the small economies of the colonies did not warrant the development of or investment in higher education. May be the cost-benefit analysis could not be justified. Another reason was that the colonizing powers perceived higher education of indigenes as a threat to the employment of expatriates “professionals.” Probably, there were other reasons as for example, the British colonial government in the Northern Territories, preferred to keep people of northern Ghana as the labor pool for the southern colonies. Whatever the reasons were, there is no justification for the continued lack of a well articulated and comprehensive national policy on higher education. We can do better and this is the time to begin a national dialogue on access and provision of higher education.

Currently, most developing countries are experiencing population growth and increasing demand from the youthful population for better access to higher education. There is an imbalance between the numbers of students who apply to attend higher education institutions, and the limited spaces available for admissions into higher education programs. In simple terms, demand for higher education in Ghana far out strips current provisions for higher education. Another obvious reason for the current poor state of higher education is the inability of central governments to either adequately fund higher education as well as the mismanagement of these institutions by those entrusted with the administration and management of these institutions. Higher education in Ghana is befuddled with numerous problems such as lack of strategic planning, lack of vision, financial malfeasance and lack of infrastructure. How can Ghana as a nation improve access to higher education, maintain the cultural and political democratization process, contribute to the human capital development of the nation, decrease poverty, alleviate human suffering, improve public health, and finally manage available learning resources? There are no easy answers but this is the time to begin the process of finding answers that would help Ghana improve its capacity development in higher education, workforce development, knowledge management and nation building.

Higher Education Finance

Financing higher education has always been a thorny issue for both parents, policy makers, and other stakeholders in the arena of higher education. There are many models for financing higher education. However, my hunch is that, whatever pertains in Ghana now with respect to higher education finance cannot serve Ghana as a modern nation state. The current system is basically fee free for all and in principle does not discriminate against anyone with the basic standards for entry. We also know that the central government does not adequately fund these institutions leading to lack of basic services such as professors, laboratories, equipment, housing, and other facilities so needed. No one needs a space scientist to come to the realization that the current model of financing higher education leaves many without access and must be reviewed. For access denied to higher education is a loss to the production of an educated workforce. Interestingly the lack of lecture halls, residence halls, laboratories, and other infrastructure has often been cited as the reason for rejecting unimaginable numbers of otherwise qualified students. A new model for financing higher education that may comprise, tuition payment by those who can afford to pay, and identified as such, through income verification and tax returns, social security pension plans or family income and status. Merit scholarships and bursaries, grants are another source of funding for higher education. A third option is an open market or commercial education loans to qualified loan applicants. Finally, loan repayment mechanisms should also be put in place such that defaulters would be sent to either government or private collection agencies for payment. My hope is that all would become more responsible when they act as guarantors for college loans. No developed or developing country has a perfect formula for education finance. The nation must begin the process of finding an equitable but pragmatic formula for higher education finance. I challenge all with a better system of education finance to a dialogue. The next section examines the need for adult learning in Ghana.

Adult Learning

Adult and continuing education is the backbone of most advanced industrialized economies. Adult and continuing education can accomplish many developmental goals. Adults constitute over 70 percent of our increasing population whereas the literacy rate for adults in Ghana is below 30 % according to recent UN estimates. One reason for the low adult literacy rate is lack of any formal or informal education and training beyond basic and secondary education. The second reason is lack of adult and continuing education opportunities. With the current spate of knowledge explosion, it is impossible for most education curricula to account for all the knowledge that would be needed to function in the world. An adult and continuing education resource provides the tools to bridge this knowledge gap for individuals and organizations. Adult learning retrains the workforce in deficit areas for efficiency, better productivity and offers opportunities for personal growth and development. Adult learning also entails all the “further” learning opportunities that are provided by the government, businesses, churches, community organizations, the internet, newspapers, television, radio and others. For a country like Ghana with an enormous amount of adult illiterates, adult learning captures the “lost generation” in education and training. This is the reason why as a nation Ghana cannot ignore adult learning and training.

A Proposed Framework for Higher Education

All major colleges and universities should be encouraged to award degrees and associate degrees. Abolish higher national diplomas, instead all specialized colleges such as teacher education colleges, nurses training colleges, agricultural training colleges, business training colleges, technical education colleges, and polytechnic colleges, should be designated associate or degree awarding institutions. This implies that faculty standards, remunerations, promotion and tenure should be comparable whether you work in a two-year institution or a 4 year degree granting college. My belief is that this will allow for cross-training of faculty and staff. This will clear up the current mess in the system with some students claiming to have degrees and college administrators saying the exact opposite.

Strengthen private participation in higher education. The notion that private participation in higher education dilutes standards is absurd. In fact, private as well as government participation in higher education encourages competition which leads to improved standards. Standards in higher education are to be maintained by ACCREDITATION BOARDS. Private and quasi-government and government participation should be encouraged. Independent accreditation boards or agencies that should serve as watchdogs for the proper management of programs and the licensure of professional standards operated by institutions of higher learning needs to be established. These accreditation boards should be regionally based with a clear mission, purpose and mandate to uphold the integrity of professional standards.

The use of information communication technologies (ICT) to deliver courses to students should be adopted because it has the potential for providing training and education at a much cheaper cost than on-ground colleges. In addition, it helps reduce the pressure on facilities at higher education centers. ICTs should become the cornerstone of course deliveries in higher education. This may provide further access to many who are currently shut out from participating in higher education because of lack of infrastructure and other services.

Ghana needs a comprehensive policy on technical and vocational education that has been elusive for many years. To this end this framework calls for a clearly articulated policy on science, technical and vocational education, as well as a new teacher/educator who is well trained in ICTs. The abundant use of computers, cell phones, broadband internet connectivity, video conferencing technologies, makes it possible for educators to adopt (ICTs) for the classroom.

Finally, it is my hope that if this framework is implemented it would place the nation at the forefront of educational innovations that are needed for capacity building, knowledge management, efficient use of higher education resources, better management of available educational investments, improved standards for programs as well as improved access to higher education for all who desire higher education.

Dr. Augustine M. Amenyah is practitioner-researcher of education and development and currently professor of adult and continuing education at Northwestern State University in Louisiana. He may be contacted at