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Opinions of Monday, 22 April 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

The woes of the kwatriot are the woes of tertiary education

Lecturing or teaching in Ghana’s academic institutions has never appealed to the aspirational class.

This is a personal observation for which I have no hard data, but nothing in the history of Ghana points to the contrary.

When our secondary school Economics teacher asked how many will like to teach, I was the only one who raised his hand, and the teacher promptly used that to justify his absences and why he wanted to leave. Everyone empathized with him.

“Most of our College or University lecturers don’t hold the PhD. So we have given them time to improve their knowledge and to help improve their capacity,” Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Minister for Education, said at the Meet the Press on 20 November, 2018.

Let us do some complicated Math.
Seven years ago when I told my mentor I wanted to read for a PhD to lecture in a Ghanaian uni, he asked me how much I will earn when I graduate.

“About Five thousand Cedis,” I said. The Cedi was stronger then against the US dollar, say, 2:1.

Then he told me he was earning at least five times more in America 25-30 years earlier. So we both figured out that I was going to spend five years to earn a PhD to earn five times less what someone of a similar academic qualification level earned 30 years earlier!

Sssh……no one should say that this is not America. Do you know the price of petrol or water or “credit” there?

This picture I have painted is what Prof Kwesi Yankah (our current Minister for Tertiary Education) would have painted if he was still writing “Woes of a Kwatriot”!
But today, what is Prof Yankah’s plan for solving the problem with the quality of our tertiary education?

He wants more lecturers to be hired…..he wants the universities to offer more graduate admissions…..he wants the professors to train more people to obtain PhDs…..he wants the Controller and Accountant General to refrain from removing professors aged sixty-five and above from the government payroll…..he wants to improve the annual publication per lecturer from 0.5 or one every two years to a more encouraging figure.

We have given the honorable minister a fair representation of his policy ideas……not so?

But the big question is this: Do our current professors have what it takes to supervise PhDs?

And this is not a trick question.

Not only do our PhD candidates not get any serious funding, the professorial ranks cannot simply guide the students. If you have not taught a student how to write, how in heaven’s name do you tell him/her to go and “rewrite the whole chapter”!

Their red ink or tracked changes have no meaning other than to tell you that they will not allow you into their ranks.

Honestly, one cannot help but think that they do not know how to write themselves and to supervise. And being afraid that their colleagues will reject your work when it goes for external review, they adopt those tactics to stay on the safe side.

Let us take the example of an article published in the Business and Financial Times (B&FT) of Accra dated 12 February, 2019 by a PhD holder and lecturer.


The article was analyzing a revamped Obuasi mine to draw conclusions for the reopening of other state-owned enterprises in Ghana.


“According to Aryee (2012)”, he began citing a credible source which said that total gold mining in Ghana in 2011 was 3.6 million ounces, which earned over USD5 billion in revenue.


He then goes on to say that the reopened Obuasi mine will produce 200, 000 ounces of gold daily. Now that was a red flag that the editors of the B&FT should have noticed.

So can we blame the poor newspaper alone? The media indeed mirrors society in many cases.

How many professors are so widely read to easily handle about 30 references cited by an undergrad student in her/his long essay? And how many will honestly say they verified those references over the course of say, seven months, during which they supervised the student?


Even if you are not widely read, but you have acquired serious critical thinking skills which the new pre-tertiary education reforms hope to inculcate, you will not embarrass yourself.


Two hundred thousand ounces daily multiplied by 30 days of production is six million ounces!

So the most respected business newspaper in Ghana published a university lecturer’s article which told us that “initially” Obuasi will produce over 70 million ounces of gold a year………this year……..2019!

At USD2000 an ounce that will be USD140,000 million or USD140 billion! Please let no one justify this mediocrity by saying the writer used the word “estimates”.

Therefore, it is clear that increasing the number of PhD holders by graduating more of them faster, sacking those without MPhil, or even recruiting more of those is not the solution to the problem.


What does Ghana want from its graduates if not to solve existential problems?


And if the professors have not been able to solve the problem, why do we expect them to be able to do more in their present situation?

Professor Kwesi Yankah, these are the real WOES OF A KWATRIOT!


The money factor explained at the beginning of this article indicates that we may also have to look outside formal academic institutions and MPhil/PhD holders as the remedy for poor quality tertiary education.

The best university in Ghana does not rank within the first 3000 universities in the world so what is the point about MPhil and PhD holders (produced by the same system) being the panacea to the problem at hand?


Have we considered the role of an Independent Scholar who may be working quietly in her study producing analytical and scholarly papers for both academia and the wider society, and who has a passion for EDUCATING our tertiary students?

And by this I mean those who do not whine and fret like little spoilt imps that they need dictated notes!

Time to sit our butts down and think hard. Or alternatively, go shopping for help!


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