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Opinions of Thursday, 14 February 2019

Columnist: Andy Oduro Boadu

Don’t reduce 4-year university education; it’s not 3 years everywhere in the world

Education Minister, Matthew Opoku Prempeh Education Minister, Matthew Opoku Prempeh

“Everywhere in the world, undergrad is three years not four years, why should we spend four years doing undergrad? We will sit down with the university lecturers and start challenging them because Ghana is not an island,” - Where did the minister get this fact from? The Minister erred.

The Minister of Education, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh was quoted to have made the above statement in defence of a proposed reduction of the current 4-years university education to 3-years. Before I get into the details, this statement is untrue and not the case “everywhere” in the World.

Of the 246 countries and territories that exist, only about 18 of them run a 3-year university education according to a publication by the Arizona state university, prominent among them being UK*, India, Iceland and Norway.

Even in the UK, whereas an undergraduate degree normally takes three years to complete, it can take longer if it includes an industrial placement, an additional subject or a year abroad.

The rest of the countries in the World run a 4-year educational system. So, I find it hard to believe what the education minister is saying.

Politicians at every stage have played with Ghana’s educational system, and this news was unsurprising. But on behalf of all former and current students, dear minister, DO NOT TOUCH the 4-year education system. Apart from the fact that your justification is untrue, a 3-year system has many disadvantages to future Ghanaian students than a 4-year system. While unemployment and lack of requisite skills are some of the immediate effects, I will not even discuss those. I will argue from the international standards point of view.

For most Ghanaian students like myself who left the country to pursue higher studies after our bachelor’s degree, the only and main advantage we had was the 4-year educational system. It was easy getting recognised and getting accepted into schools outside with a 4-year bachelor’s degree. One would argue that national policies are not geared towards emigration, but Ghanaians who graduate with 3-year bachelor’s degree will struggle to get admission and fit into universities outside the shores of Ghana.

For most students who left the country to pursue higher studies, the general comments from all are the disparity between the Ghanaian curriculum and the foreign curriculum. While most students try to make it through the masters and PhD programs, it is very true that the Ghanaian curriculum is very weak compared to the curriculum in most parts of the World. For instance, course contents are delivered sympathetically to make it convenient for students to understand. In most cases, easier topics are taught, and harder ones are excluded. Grading is done on a set level, where A-70+, unlike other programs outside where grading is based on a curve that compares your performance to the performance of your classmates. A Ghanaian student will, therefore, leave Ghana feeling accomplished only to go to the other side and struggle with coursework, not because the person is weaker, but because the course content becomes harder suddenly. It reminds me of a story of a friend who finished his Master of Economics at the University of Ghana, enrolled into another master’s program in the US only to drop out because it was harder than expected. If there is a revision required for university education, it should be the CURRICULUM not the number of years.

A bachelor’s degree according to international standards requires at least 120 credit hours to complete which is the current practice in Ghana. At the University of Ghana, A student must have accumulated 144 credits and passed at least 120 credits to graduate. These credit hours are spread between 15-24 credits a semester with an average of 30 credits a year.

The 4-year system in Ghana is such that, a student completes at least 30 credit hours in a year and undertakes an industrial attachment during the long vacation. Reducing the number of university years will require an increase in the number of credit hours per semester, an elimination of the university’s general course requirements or an elimination of industrial attachment, all of which will not be in the best interest of the future student.

That being said, where does the real disadvantage come in? In the UK where a bachelor’s degree is 3-years, a student who wants to do an industrial placement can take 4-years to complete. Since industrial placement is necessary for getting job experience, most students end up undertaking industrial placement and complete in 4-years as a result. In the US and Canada, where the majority of the best universities in the World are, a bachelor’s degree requires 4-years of university education.

There have been lots of research in Europe that suggests that 3 years education has failed to compare with the 4-years education in North America, Asia and other parts of the World.

According to the Association of International Education on their assessment of the 3-year educational system in Europe, they conclude that;

“it has come to light more than once that the three-year research-oriented bachelor’s degrees awarded by research universities in the Netherlands have less of a chance of being accepted for admission to U.S. graduate schools than the four-year bachelor’s degrees awarded by universities of applied sciences” - NAFSA 2017.

Assuming it has worked for those European countries, these countries are developed their curriculum is geared towards careers and jobs that exist in those countries, something that is still missing from Ghana. As a student of higher studies in Canada, I have come to realise that graduates from India with 3-years bachelor’s degree struggle to get admissions in to programs in the United states, Canada and in other countries that requires a 4-year education system. They have had to take up extra credits to top up to the level of a 4-year education. The World Educational System (WES), in their policy for evaluating bachelor’s degrees from India notes “ WES continues to regard all other three-year degrees from India as equivalent to three years of undergraduate study”. That goes to say that, to WES, a student with a 3-year university bachelor’s is only as good as a 300 student and can’t be recognised as having completed a bachelor’s degree.

This does not pertain to WES alone, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asserts that a 3-year bachelor’s degree regardless of its content is not comparable to a 4-year bachelor’s degree obtained in the USA. For immigration purposes, applicants who obtain a 3-year bachelor’s degree and apply for H1B or EB3 visa categories are not recognised. The same can be said of Canada. The Immigration and Citizenship Canada does not recognise a 3-year bachelor’s degree from foreign countries unless the credential is evaluated by WES. In their Summer 2017 vol 14 issue of IEM Spot newsletter, the NAFSA notes that while one U.S. institution’s MBA program may consider a bachelor of business administration degree from a country with a 3-year bachelor degree such as India, South Africa, Pakistan, Australia to be equivalent to a U.S. undergraduate degree and allow the applicant to apply to the MBA program, another graduate program at that very same institution may not recognize the degree as equivalent to a U.S. undergraduate degree.

The World Educational System interviewed students who had completed 3-years bachelor’s degree in foreign universities to see the challenges they face when applying for schools in foreign countries, and Megan Mirchandani, a British noted “despite having a master’s degree from the UK, my 3-year degree was not considered an equivalent of the U.S. four-year undergraduate degree.” (’s-degree/ )

The best 200 universities in the world (according to the Financial Times), including Harvard, Upenn, Chicago, Yale, NYU etc. all use a 4-year educational system. Ghana’s educational system does not compare with the best in the World, so why would we do ourselves a disservice by lowering ourselves further? what is the argument of the minister? Whiles, there may be lots of reasons to reduce university education, Ghana is truly not an island, and it is not all about the UK. The fact that 3-year* education is practised in the UK does not mean it is practised “everywhere” in the World. The government of India has recently launched an educational reform that seeks to evaluate the current educational policy in terms of credits, semesters and access. ( Consider the challenges Ghanaian students will face when they leave Ghana. Do not touch the 4-year educational policy.