Policy dialogue prompts new vision, more HE interaction

Ghana is to hold biennial national higher education summits in order to institutionalise regular interaction among stakeholders, following a recent high-level policy dialogue held in the capital Accra. Participants also agreed to formulate a tertiary education vision and plan for the West African country.

The dialogue was hosted by the Ministry of Education and the National Council for Tertiary Education, or NCTE, in partnership with Senegal-based TrustAfrica, and was held in Accra in May under the theme “Repositioning Tertiary Education for National Development”.

Its aims were to build a multi-stakeholder platform for transforming tertiary education, to identify issues that require policy research, and to create multi-stakeholder groups to work on thematic policy issues with the aim of making inputs into a white paper on tertiary education.

The dialogue was attended by around 150 people including the current and two former education ministers, deputy ministers and top officials, parliamentarians, the National Development Planning Commission, Ghana Education Trust Fund, leaders of business and industry, civil society and tertiary education, and lecturer and student unions.

“It was a big gathering,” Professor Clifford Tagoe, chair of the NCTE and former vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana, told University World News.

“At the end of it we agreed on certain things such as differentiation and funding. Among other things we want as a council to assist government in developing firmer funding models.”

The backdrop

Tagoe said that educational reforms over decades had resulted in many more secondary school graduates seeking tertiary education in Ghana. “In response, new institutions were established, including more polytechnics and universities to widen access.

“As time went by it became clear that we had the challenge of massification on our hands. With large numbers of students coming to universities, funding was too low and therefore facilities were put under pressure. We did not have sufficient qualified staff, so naturally quality began to go down.” Meanwhile, the economy was not expanding.

The combined result was graduate unemployment. Questions began to be asked about the relevance of university programmes. “We’ve been grappling with this. The council said look, it’s our job to help government reorganise the sector and position it for national development.

“What do we want to achieve? With the development of the private sector, we would like to see sufficient differentiation in institutions and in programmes, so that we begin to develop the right mix of skills for the world of work rather than large numbers of people who don’t have the right skills.”

According to a Communiqué on Tertiary Education Policy Dialogue in Ghana published after the dialogue, participants agreed that there was no comprehensive national policy on tertiary education and that “higher education is grossly underfunded”.

In the past decade, there had been an “exponential increase in access to tertiary education”, driven by vigorous participation of the private sector, distance learning opportunities and an increase in the number of programmes, mainly in business and administration.

Growth in institutions and courses was “not adequately guided by policies on differentiation and diversity nor targeted at addressing specific national needs”. Some institutions diverted from their original missions, resulting in ‘mission creep”. There was also no policy to guide private participation in tertiary education.

The result, said the communiqué, was the production of many graduates whose skills did not meet the needs of the labour market, “resulting in the crisis of graduate unemployment and unemployability”.

The government’s goal was to have 60% of students in the sciences and 40% in the social sciences and humanities. However, admission policies had failed to address the imbalance, and the humanities continued to admit most students. There was low research and postgraduate output and lack of innovation in science and technology.

“Some of the reasons for the unfortunate state of affairs include weak regulatory oversight, a disconnect between industry and academia, failure of institutions to redesign their curricula and admission policies to cope with the prevailing exigencies, and resource constraints.”

Strong institutional governance and leadership were needed to foster conditions that would support quality teaching and research in order for institutions to achieve their visions and missions, the communiqué stated.


Participants in the dialogue agreed to resolutions on a vision and plan for tertiary education, tackling graduate unemployment, and funding.

National vision and plan
A national tertiary education vision and plan needed to be formulated and implemented, if the sector was to contribute meaningfully to Ghana’s development. The vision and plan must:
  • • Be formulated and agreed by key stakeholders including government, regulatory bodies, tertiary institutions, industry, professional bodies, national research councils and civil society.
  • • Be anchored in Ghana’s national development vision and plan.
  • • Promote research and innovation.
  • • Provide for a diversified and differentiated mix of institutions with “clear mandates, characterised by a robust and relevant knowledge production focus”.
  • • Include centres of excellence to be established in tertiary institutions to focus on strategic areas for national development.
  • • Recognise that with the proliferation of institutions, there was a need to develop strong governance and leadership structures to ensure accountability and realisation of the full potential of the sector.
The challenges of graduate employability
Participants acknowledged that the graduate employment problem was partly the result of the structure of the economy, which was unable to absorb graduates, and partly due to factors internal to the higher education sector. It was resolved that:
  • • Government should articulate and promote an industrial policy that would diversify the economy and, among other things, promote the manufacturing sector.
  • • It was necessary to put in place an appropriate policy framework to ensure a well-differentiated tertiary education system that would ensure steady production of a workforce with the right mix of skills.
  • • Higher education institution needed to review curricula to give graduates diverse skills and knowledge.
  • • Institutions should adopt new pedagogies, including ICT usage.
  • • The National Development Planning Commission should collate data on labour market trends, to enable institutions to develop relevant courses to meet Ghana’s human resource needs.
  • • Government should provide a policy framework to encourage and foster participation of the private sector in skills development among the youth.
  • • Over the next five years, government should prioritise research and innovation, and skills development, to tackle the problem of graduate unemployability.
The dialogue acknowledged that there was over-reliance on the government to fund tertiary education. It was resolved that:
  • • Government, business, parents, institutions and other stakeholders should develop a sustainable funding policy for higher education, including mechanisms for diversified funding.
  • • The era of government as the sole provider of higher education seemed to have ended. As a result, an institutionalised mutually beneficial relationship should be built between private providers and the government.

The dialogue concluded that there was no “institutionalised platform” where national higher education stakeholders could share ideas and information, discuss challenges, propose solutions and build consensus on and ownership of a common agenda.

It was resolved that the NCTE, in partnership with other key stakeholders, should hold a biennial Ghana Higher Education Summit. “This will institutionalise regular interactions among stakeholders in the sector,” said the communiqué.