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Opinions of Monday, 23 January 2006

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

The Rising Cost Of University Application Forms

A new academic year is set to begin and as usual Senior Secondary School leavers and others who want to go to the universities have to buy an application form costs ? 400,000.00. For the first time all the public universities are charging the same for application the forms.

This amount is too astronomical and it appears the stakeholders of the country?s education are not saying anything about this colossal amount which poor students have to pay. A look into the previous years will tell you every year the application forms go up whether inflation and interest rate is down or up. We are well informed by economics that what determines the prices of goods and services, and possibly its increase are inflation, the exchange rate and the cost of production. When these indicators are held constant and even interest rate, inflation rate and the exchange rate of the cedi keep on tumbling, we do not expect an increase in the cost of product or service.

Last year most of the forms were sold for ? 350,000.00 and this year it has gone up by nearly 15%. If an applicant is sure that if he buys Legon forms only he would be admitted then he would not have to worry about buying forms for each of the public universities. Imagine a candidate who is determined to go to university must buy six sets of forms. By arithmetic such candidate would have to spend ?2.4 million for application forms. Buying of the forms does not guarantee your chance of being admitted.

If you look carefully at the application forms: scannable form, one page supplementary application form, application brochure and the three EMS envelopes you would see that students and their parents are woefully being exploited.

Most of the time, university authorities are quick to say that this practice is done in almost all universities in the world, however, they fail to look at the good sides of what pertains in the U.S or U.K. In the Western countries, application forms are free of charge of which you can download from the internet or complete it online or you can request for the hard copy by post. In the US they charge between US$ 30 and US$60 per processing fee/application fee. It is easy for the university authorities to convert this into cedis so as to justify their stand however the services that their admission offices render can never be compared to what is done here. Even so the forms are NOT for sale. The fee charged is for just the processing. Then also in the event a candidate cannot pay for the application fee he/she can request for fee waiver whereby the application processing fee is written off. Again, the admission form package will contain useful and well presented admission information, colourful brochure etc. Upon the receipt of your application forms a letter is dispatched to acknowledge reciept. If you are admitted and in case you cannot turn up for that year you can let them defer your admission for a later date. You only need a letter to remind them in subsequent year when you are ready to take the offer. In Ghana, even minor errors on your application forms can lead to outright rejection of your forms. There is very little chance that anyone will bother to write to you to corroborate information on forms.

The irony of our system is that if you are not admitted the university will not even write to inform you despite you having prepaid for deliver by EMS. This practice should stop as it is not fair to applicants. How can you allow an applicant to pay for postage fees but you refuse to contact when he is not admitted?

It appears education in Ghana is rapidly becoming a privilege for a privileged few and that urgent action is required to stop denying brilliant but needy students the benefit of tertiary education. With the national minimum wage at ? 13,500 per day, it means that a father/applicant will have to work for 30 days before he can buy one set of university application form. And if he has to buy two or more forms for the different universities then he needs to work for 3 month before he can buy them. Or if he has two children, then the matter becomes worse. How can he maintain his family in this case? And can?t we do a central selection system as is done in the UK for undergraduate programmes. Then in this case, you can just fill in one form.

Application processing fee averages $70 in the US or in UK ?40. But that does not justify our university authorities charging similar fees because in their case, one can easily earn more than that amount in a single days work. Thus comparing prices like this cannot work.

The executive, parliament, religious bodies and civil societies must speak against this undue exploitation of parents. It appears that the big men at Osu do not care about issues like this because their children study abroad. When the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) asked students to pay ? 25,000 to check their results online, a service which is provided free of charge all over the world, there was no statement from the government nor the parliament. To them, ? 400,000 as application form fee and ? 25,000 to check results online may be such infinitesimally small for them to care.

THE WAY FORWARD. It may be late now but the time is always right to do the right thing. Parliament should summon the Vice-chancellors of Ghana universities for them to justify these charges. It is certainly not right that fees are charged and for that matter for them to be increased every year.

Secondly, the universities must as a matter of urgency make provisions to waive this fee for poor applicants. Then also our universities should move to the central clearing system of admission as it is done in the UK by UCAS and in Canada by the Ontario Board of Admission. In this case you buy one form, indicate your university and programme preferences, second choices etc. This will prevent multiple admission and reduce the need to buy multiple forms for all the six public universities as pertains now. This would also avoid the instance where people are offered places in more than one school, sometimes by several departments in the same university and it is too late to contact other applicants by the time he /she makes up his mind about what to do. Let?s give everyone a fair chance to succeed. Education certainly should not be a preserve of the rich only.



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. Tel 027-740-2467
www.interconnection.org/lotfound
e-mail: appiah@whatsonghana.com