University makes its mark through quality assurance
UPSA has been in existence for 65 years. It started as the private Institute of Professional Studies, or IPS, offering business and professional courses. In 1978 the institute was taken over by the government and 12 years later parliament passed the IPS law, mandating it to award diplomas and professional qualifications.
Two years ago, with the passing of the UPSA law, it became a fully-fledged university and today it has a total student population of around 11,000.
"It has not been an easy road from the beginning to where we are now," said Alabi. That was one reason why he decided to focus attention on maintaining and improving standards and volunteered the institution for the quality assurance exercises.
Quality assurance exercises
Besides, he told University World News, "quality assurance is now key not only in Africa but in the world. This is because the world is now a global village and there is this cross-border recognition of academic qualifications and so there must be standards."
Many universities do not subject themselves for critical evaluation, Alabi said, because of the work it may entail afterwards. In the case of UPSA, the results showed some plusses and the evaluations assisted management to bring about changes suggested to boost quality.
"We had to increase our lecturing staff. Our ICT infrastructure was not strong and that we had to improve. Based on their recommendation, we had to improve our records and documentation centre, which is key to quality," Alabi recalled.
"The process helped us. We participated because we wanted to be sure of what we were doing in terms of international standards."
Alabi said UPSA was also subjecting itself to evaluation by the American Accreditation Program for Business Schools, also because it hoped to improve. Further, it would lead to recognition of UPSA students. "It is a marketing tool for the university as well".
Ghana has become a popular destination for Nigerian students, but recently there have been some Nigerian newspaper reports questioning the quality of higher education in Ghana.
Alabi dismissed such claims, which he said could be due to growing competition for students between institutions in Nigeria and Ghana. "Nigerians know we have standards in Ghana," he said. "We are competing for their students and this could be some attempt to draw attention to themselves."
Alabi said research was key to UPSA programmes, because the institution recognised the need for academic institutions to conduct research and contribute to knowledge.
For this reason, he added, UPSA took the threat of plagiarism very seriously and has taken measures to discourage the practice, which was "not rampant" among students. All first year students take a compulsory course in communication skills. "This exposes them to the disadvantages of plagiarism and the need to stay away from such a practice."
In the 2010-11 academic year, through the use of 'Turnitin' software, four undergraduate students were found to have plagiarised and had their work rejected. Last year an MBA student was detected as having virtually copied his entire project - including the abstract, tables, data and even references. He was not prevented from graduating and had to rewrite his thesis.
"You just do not go and use somebody's work and claim it is yours," Alabi said, adding that the university needed to strengthen its monitoring mechanisms to achieve 'zero tolerance' of plagiarism.
Alabi's determination to make UPSA a world-class university has been building over many years. He was a student at the institution and also worked there as a lecturer and a dean. He left higher education at one point to become a member of parliament, before returning to head up UPSA.
He is also a graduate of three overseas institutions - the Moscow Institute of National Economy in Russia, Strathclyde University in the United Kingdom and Kharkov State University in Ukraine. He holds a double masters degree in industrial economics and international marketing.
Alabi is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing in Ghana, chair of the governing council of Accra Polytechnic, chair of the Ghana Book Development Council, a member of the Ghana National Commission for UNESCO and chair of its social science committee.
UPSA recently launched Africa's first MBA in total quality management, designed by Alabi's wife Goski Alabi with support from Lionel Abbey, senior quality manager for the London underground - both members of the globally recognised Chartered Quality Institute.
The 24-month MBA is a blended learning course that supports the development and growth of organisations through principles of total quality management - a management approach that seeks to improve the quality of products and services through ongoing refinements in response to continuous feedback.
In an article in January 2014 in Quality World magazine, the Chartered Quality Institute commended UPSA for taking the initiative and leading Africa in the area of quality management.
Currently, UPSA is also the only public university in Ghana mandated to provide both academic and professional business training, leading to the award of diplomas, bachelors and masters degrees as well as high-level professional qualifications.