The fate of hundreds, possibly thousands, of final-year students at private universities across Ghana hangs in the balance because they may not graduate, after the National Accreditation Board revealed that they were admitted without the requisite qualifications. The board suggested that some private universities have lowered entry requirements to bolster their numbers.
Students who have already graduated could have their degrees and certificates withdrawn.
The National Accreditation Board, or NAB - the body that regulates tertiary education -undertook an audit of admissions procedures in private universities. It has also directed that students who were admitted to private universities without the required grades will have to re-sit those examinations before they can graduate.
The moves are in line with NAB's desire to maintain quality standards, which the board says is its responsibility.
Many of the affected students are angry. "I am in level 400 now and it was not my fault that the university offered me admission based on the grades I presented. Why should I be made to pay for that now?" said one of the students, who preferred to remain anonymous.
"What happens to those who have already graduated and yet did not have the kind of grades that NAB is talking about? What would they say about those who did not have those grades and yet performed better than those who came in with the so-called grades?" he queried.
But NAB remains resolute, claiming that it only wants to ensure standards in education are not lowered.
"This directive seems to have come too late," said Paul Mensah, whose son is at one of Accra's private universities. "My ward was admitted with an aggregate of 23, and that is well within the level of passes required to enter a university in the country. And therefore what l don't understand is the provision that it must be with mathematics and English language."
But Beatrice Obro, Deputy Director in charge of tertiary education at the Ministry of Education, told University World News: "It is stipulated that students who get admission into any university in the country must obtain aggregate grades not below 26, and this must include English language and mathematics with grades not below D7 in both subjects, which is an ordinary pass."
NAB said some private universities seem to have lowered their entry requirements in order to attract more students. "We found this out when we did a post-accreditation audit, which revealed that a number of students in private universities did not have the requisite qualifications," said Richard Adjei, Administrative Manager of NAB.
Adjei would not mention the names of the institutions involved. But he said about 26 had so far been found to have flouted the admission regulations. There are about 49 private universities spread across Ghana.
Professor Kaku Sagary Nokoe, Vice-chancellor of one of the private universities, Wisconsin University College of Ghana, conceded that "some of the schools might have admitted students behind the scenes".
Nokoe emphasised that all private universities are supposed to be affiliated to public universities, which are responsible for mentoring private institutions.
"For this to go on without notice is therefore worrying because it is the responsibility of the mentoring universities to ensure that standards are kept [up]," Nokoe said.
According to Mensah: "It is not like the children failed their examinations. What they are saying is that most of the people involved might have been admitted based on their excellent performance but simply had grades below D in mathematics in the West Africa Senior School Certificate of Education; and one wonders if they should be penalised for this."
But the ministry's Obro said: "We cannot overlook the standards we have set for ourselves, because the requirements were put in place to ensure that anyone who is entering university is qualified to undertake the chosen course of study."
Some affected students seem dissatisfied with the claims that NAB is simply trying to ensure that standards are maintained, and say the private universities have been singled out unfairly.
They claimed to know of fee-paying students in public universities who were admitted without the requisite grades but because they were within the cut-off points for admission, and said there were also students from neighbouring countries enrolled who did not meet the stringent requirements being forced on private universities.
Mensah agreed, and suggested that NAB also investigate public universities. "We cannot just assume that things are okay in public universities. If the net is cast wider, it might reveal that they have also admitted students who did not meet the standards being talked about now."
Officials of some public universities were contacted to comment, but they refused.
One official of the University of Ghana in Accra told University World News: "It is easy for these students to make these allegations now. But they all know they are not in any public university because they did not make the grades.
"Admission is very transparent, and no student at any public university would get in with low grades. It simply would not happen."
In order to resolve the problem, NAB's Richard Adjei said, the board is insisting that more supervision be put in place by mentoring universities, especially during the admissions process. Public universities would also now be expected to scrutinise examinations.
Whether or not these new moves by NAB will be able to curb the problem detected in private universities remains to be seen, because some of them depend on the numbers of students they admit to be able to run properly.
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