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Opinions of Sunday, 18 December 2005

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

The Low Ranking Of Ghanaian Universities- Who Is To Blame-Part 2

Last week I wrote about a recent ranking of universities which had Ghanaian universities almost missing from the rankings. In the first part of this feature, I underscored the complicity of successive governments and the university authorities in the universities? fate. If mathematical regression analysis were to be plotted for their respective share in the blame, it would skew largely to the government side with governments over the years about 70% responsible and the remaining 30% blame going to the university authorities.

I have received a lot of comments and reactions to this first article and in this piece, I consider the scientific basis and justification for the ranking.

The Ghana Home Page which first broke the news in Ghanaian circles was quick to allude to a declaration made by the Vice Chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Professor Kwesi Andam that KNUST labeled as the best technical university in Africa and the fifth best in the world.

The impression which people got from reading the news item posted by Ghana Home Page indicated that the ranking of the universities were of academic. This set an unwarranted debate in the country. Some print media houses used the exact news posted by ghanaweb.com as a story and those who read the news in the papers had no chance of verifying the authenticity of the story. It must be understood that the ranking was not academic but rather universities? presence on the internet. Nevertheless we still have to ask ourselves as a nation some basic questions.

I met the Honourable Minister of State in Charge of Tertiary Education Ms Elizabeth Ohene at KNUST when she participated in a public lecture delivered by the former Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission of Africa (ECA). I sought to find out from her as the Minister In charge Of Tertiary Education in Ghana, how she felt when the results came out that our universities were poorly placed. She said she was not the right person to be asked this question and that this question could best be answered by the vice-chancellors of the countries universities.

The debate on the performance has lingered on with some trying to explain the criteria used as referring to the accessibility of the universities on the internet and general web presence etc. Others have lamented the dire state of our universities. In some cases, it has become a kind of ?Adam and Eve? blame trading game. All this notwithstanding, the import of the report to rate our institutions poorly cannot be denied. Before we are accept this view however, it would be helpful to consider at the methodology used. In deed it is a well known fact that our universities have done a lot. Recently, the Home Finance(HFC) Company Managing Director made a damming verdict that the universities have failed the nation. I do not totally share his verdict in the sense when our universities through research and innovation produce new things, these are not patronized by Ghanaians, rather preferring imported substitutes mainly from Europe or Far East. Let me cite locally manufactured paracetamol and other drugs. How many of us do not go to pharmacies and insist on imported brands from ?aburokyire?. There could not have been a greater demotivator to local industry and research. The HFC boss should at the least be saying that ?We have failed the nation

Back to the rankings, the methodology used by the compilers, Times Higher Education if subjected to closer scrutiny can be seen as flawed and inadequate. It is just as well that they added a disclaimer to on their website advising that the findings be not used to compare universities. Otherwise, how scientific is it for someone to sit in an office in Madrid, Spain and use search engines (googles.com, yahoo.com, msn.com, etc) to produce information which could end muddling the hard-worn reputation of universities without having ever set foot there. What kind of statistical method could be justified under such circumstances? As a mathematician and a physical scientist, I find it hard to accept this methodology and resulting ranking.

The problem with information like this in places like Ghana is that people jump to conclusions without have read everything and before one can say jack, the harm is already done. Oh what a faithless generation we are.

On accessibility to University services on the internet, it is not mandatory for every professor or lecturer to publish his or her work on the net. How many developing countries have access to the internet to the same extent as the richer countries in the West?. It would be strange to say that websites can reflect better the output of professors and researchers, as they themselves can provide a more complete picture of their activities.

Whilst it may not be mandatory to publish works on the internet, it does hold back Universities in Third World countries. Copies are just kept on shelves to gather dust. Or simply put our professors do not write books nor do they get published in refereed journals.

My question is, assuming lecturers and professors in African universities had been publishing their research and other works online thus scored more points in the ranking than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)?s, University of California-Berkley- or even Oxford and Cambridge would our brothers in the western world have accepted these rankings?

The researchers do admit that about 5% of the institutions identified have no web presence at the time of the analysis. Usually they are institutions in developing countries. THE WAY FORWARD

If you want to do a research to rank world universities that no one can raise a fist of protest against it then it is important we stop this superficial analysis that favour universities in US, Europe, South Africa because their abundance presence on the internet and move to a more comprehensive systems that take a lot more factors into account.

If any body wants to the rank and rate universities it is good that one considers criteria like: teaching and learning facilities available, volumes of books per student, number of internet connected computers per student, lecturer to student ratio, number of professors per students, number of research institutions available and their role in the national development of their country, extra curricula facilities available etc. This gives a more measured indication of the quality of the institutions and the courses offered.

To this end, we must needs see more balanced surveys which are not inherently biased in favour of one end of the spectrum and it might be an idea for a more neutral body like UNESCO to champion one such work.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through:
Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation,
P.O. BOX. KS 13640.
Kumasi-Ghana: 027-740-2467 appiah@whatsonghana.com www.whatsonghana.com


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.