GHANA: Growing role for private higher education

Ghana's government is considering more private participation in the provision of tertiary education, which is facing a funding squeeze due to huge demand on the national budget and pressure from increasing student enrolments, Education Minister Betty Mould-Iddrisu (pictured) said last week at a national dialogue on sustainable funding for the tertiary sector.

"This has come about as a result of the impact of years of educational reforms, as well as policies and initiatives taken by government," she explained on Wednesday, opening the national dialogue in the capital Accra.

Mould-Iddrisi said over the years high social demand for tertiary education had in most cases outstripped expansion in physical infrastructure, constraining capacity in institutions and placing pressure on public resources.

And it is not only tertiary education that faces a funding squeeze. Basic education is also confronting challenges, the minister said. The education strategic plan for 2010-20 projects that primary education will grow by more than Cedis5 billion ($3.26 billion) by 2020.

"This reflects the need to ensure that education facilities are provided in all areas of the country, with the requisite level of quality to develop high quality manpower," Mould-Iddrisu added.

The government had therefore decided to develop different categories of tertiary institutions aimed at broadening the scope of institutional choices within the tertiary sector.

"In addition to universities, government is providing other avenues in the form of polytechnics, and also upgrading teacher training colleges of education," Mould-Iddrisu said. "Every effort is being made to improve the quality of these other avenues of tertiary education to attract qualified students and to spread the cost of higher education."

She said a draft bill was being considered by parliament, and a concept paper for re-positioning polytechnic education was "receiving serious attention".

On the government's move to increase private sector participation in tertiary education, the minister said there were currently about 55 accredited tertiary institutions in Ghana.

"The evidence is that while some of the private institutions have succeeded in introducing innovations in course design and delivery in response to challenges in the labour market, others have given cause for worry about the quality of education they provide."

Mould-Iddrisu said that even though the government appreciated what private institutions were doing, the National Council for Tertiary Education and National Accreditation Board had been established to among other things regulate their participation in tertiary education.

She said the involvement of the private sector had also generated other issues, such as whether the government should subsidise private tertiary education and what form that should take.

"Already students in accredited tertiary institutions, both public and private, are eligible for loans under the students loan scheme, which is a huge expenditure."

Mould-Iddrisu said tertiary institutions should also consider more linkages with industry. Although there were already some links, collaboration had not been formalised in a systematic way and the potential full benefits had not been fully exploited.