More universities to tackle growing student demand

Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama has announced that a new university is to be built in order to meet growing demand for higher education, bringing the number of public universities to 10. Also, 10 polytechnics are to be upgraded into technical universities, and the country is taking steps against private institutions that undermine academic standards.

“This year, we will initiate a bill for parliamentary consideration towards the establishment of a new university in the eastern region, committed to sustainable environmental development and research,” Mahama told lawmakers during his state-of-the-nation address late last month.

He said the government would also draft a plan to convert 10 polytechnics into fully fledged technical universities. “This, it is hoped, will enable more people access to tertiary education.”

But while Ghana makes efforts to expand its higher education system, there has been growing concern that private institutions that have sprung up across the country to take advantage of the huge demand for higher education are not meeting academic standards. Last year some were sanctioned by the National Accreditation Board (NAB) for admitting students who had not achieved university-level grades.

Already about 43 private institutions have been banned from operating in the country because they do not meet the board’s requirements to operate as universities. And the board’s auditing team has indicated it will continue with the inspection of other private tertiary institutions in order to ensure that every university in the private sector complies with regulations set out by the board to promote quality education.

NAB Executive Secretary Kwame Dattey has also warned that universities that admitted students without the requisite qualification risk having their certification revoked and being prevented from operating as tertiary institutions.

In the context of high demand for higher education – which has left the public universities stretched thin with inadequate facilities and complaining of too much pressure – many of the private institutions have relaxed their admission requirements, presumably as a way of taking advantage of what is perceived as a business opportunity.

The privately owned Methodist University College Ghana (MUCG) was among the institutions ordered by the NAB to withdraw 1,465 unqualified students it had admitted to various degree programmes. The anomaly came to light after an audit conducted on the university’s admissions procedure.

The Central University College (CUC) also had to withdraw about 700 students following an order by the NAB. Some of the students have since obtained a court order to be reinstated into their programmes, thereby thwarting the NAB’s attempt to bring coherence to admissions procedures of private institutions.

One of the affected students, Joel Edusei, told University World News that the issue was “not about qualification”, because some of the students had the basic grades required. He explained that because of the huge number of applications to the public universities, they have set their admission requirements far above the basic qualifications; “therefore, those of us who are left out have no choice but to get into the private universities and pay our fees without any government subsidy”.

The National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) has taken the NAB to task for what it sees as an attempt to jeopardise the future of many students.

And in a statement, the union called on the management of CUC to compensate the dismissed students – the union’s rationale being that, even though the institution knew the students did not qualify, it admitted them on condition that they would re-write their examinations and better their grades within two of the four years required to complete their degree programmes.

“No compensation will do us any good,” said Edusei, adding that “NAB will have to take a second look at the admission procedures and not be seen as trying to prevent some people from getting admitted into universities.”

Newly appointed Minister of Education Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang has expressed concern about the ability of the NAB to maintain standards in the private universities. She told a parliamentary committee that vetted her for the job that she would support the board to put in place measures to prevent the private universities from falling short of the standards expected of them.