Making universities more relevant

The roles of universities as reported in the literature could be broadly classified as teaching, research, service and advising. The service role is further divided into outside-of-university service and inside-of-university service.

The former focuses on the provision of direct services whose beneficiaries are individuals or institutions of the larger society. It is in the provision of these services that university faculties have a contract and interaction with members of the larger society. Offering consultancy and clinical advice to and organising a national forum for professional and community bodies are examples of outside-of-university services.

Inside-of-university service consists of direct services that universities provide to their immediate community. The beneficiaries of these services are individual students, student groups and members of the faculties rather than the larger society. An example of this service is universities liaising with industry, business or community organisations about student placements or a member of a faculty representing the department on faculty/university committees/boards.

What type of outside-of-university services do Ghanaian universities provide to the larger society? What is the significance of these services to the universities’ core operations and priorities?

To answer these questions, we looked at a sample of three Ghanaian universities, namely the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and the University of Cape Coast. These universities were selected for four main reasons.

First, they are the oldest universities in Ghana. The University of Ghana, or UG, was established in 1948; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, or KNUST, in 1952; and the University of Cape Coast, or UCC, in 1962.

Second, these universities have more experienced and stable faculties. Third, they command more teaching, learning and research resources, such as libraries, laboratories and research centres. In terms of enrolment these three universities rank the highest. In the 2011-2012 academic year, for instance, UG had an enrolment of 29,764, KNUST 23,591 and UCC 15,835.

Finally, in the academic rankings of higher institutions in Ghana based on research publications and citations from the last five years (2010-2015), UG takes the first position, followed by KNUST and then the UCC.


The vision, mission and values, or VMV, statements of each of these universities as posted on their websites were reviewed. A vision statement is a written declaration of an idealised picture of the future that an organisation aspires to attain.

A mission statement, on the other hand, declares an organisation’s core purpose, focus and direction and typically remains unchanged for a considerable length of time. It defines the compelling purpose of an organisation: what it does and why it exists. It gives university leaders and faculties alike a purpose and central theme by which to plan and organise everyday practice. A values statement lays down a set of values or beliefs that forms an organisational code of conduct.

Normally, these statements are constructed as a key part of the strategic planning process, but they are also documents that allow outsiders to get acquainted with an organisation. And once constructed they become an integral component of the university’s strategic plan and, for that matter, the strategic thinking of its governing bodies, committees and faculties.

A blueprint for the long-term, the strategic plan sets the direction for the university organisation and serves as a legitimate template for the formulation of policies, the design of programmes and the enactment of administrative and management procedures. Each of the three universities has a strategic plan with its corresponding VMV statements.

The study was approached from the assumption that if the outside-of-university service (OUS) role is of any significance to the universities’ core priorities it will visibly be reflected in at least one of those statements. Though VMV statements are palpably summaries and are not definitive proof that the institutions are actually enacting the goals and ideas enshrined in them, they yield valuable insights into the values institutions recognise as important. That is, when read carefully and critically VMV statements will indicate how much emphasis the university has put on the provision of OUS.

OUS is an important conduit for Ghanaian universities to break out of their traditional isolation shells and forge relationships with the larger Ghanaian society. African universities’ isolation from the larger population they are supposed to serve has been one of the most common criticisms. A Ghanaian university could be described as irrelevant when it is inward-looking – focusing solely on the financial and material resources it can extract from the government without making any reciprocal contribution to the larger society.

Additionally, the provision of OUS would also help Ghanaian universities to identify areas where they have to focus their research activities and contribute to the development process in the country. Ultimately, many of the research activities of Ghanaian universities should benefit the larger society, not necessarily the universities.

Further, offering OUS to the larger Ghanaian society would provide vital information to the universities about the kind of courses and programmes that should be designed to address the human conditions in the country.

Thus, the provision of OUS has the potential to make Ghanaian universities more relevant to the development needs and problems of the country. Furthermore, Ghanaian universities should take a leadership role in the social, economic and political issues in the country.

Ghanaians would then look up to the universities with regard to their stance on local as well as national issues. Accordingly, OUS provision would allow Ghanaian universities to assert considerable leadership influence on the larger society.


The study’s findings show that the three Ghanaian universities place most emphasis on teaching and research roles rather than on OUS. The UG’s vision statement reads: “To become a world class research-intensive university over the next decade”.

The KNUST, on the other hand, strives to become the provider of excellent teaching in the sciences and technology for industrial, social and economic development. The UCC’s mission statement stresses the provision of quality, comprehensive liberal and professional education anchored in creativity, innovation and morality.

Forming linkages with industry and other institutions also runs through the mission and value statements of the three Ghanaian universities. UCC in particular aims to have links with local and foreign institutions and partnerships with industry. The KNUST’s mission also states that it offers services to community. However, it does not specify the nature of the services and neither does it suggest whether the services are for communities inside or outside of the university.

In addition, all three universities want to have an impact beyond the boundaries of their internal communities. For instance, UCC wants to promote an outreach programme as part of its strategy for positioning the university as a centre of excellence. It could be speculated that the outreach programme is about making university education accessible to all the population groups in Ghana rather than providing OUS to communities across the country. The UCC also wants to provide consultancy services to the general public as a means of generating funds.

One of the values of the UG is to generate knowledge that will have a positive impact on the lives of those within and outside of the university.


Much of the content of the VMV statements of the three Ghanaian universities is devoted to teaching, research, organisational self-improvement and other internal issues. Scant reference is made to the provision of OUS. Although UG has identified its priority areas along with its VMV statements, OUS is conspicuously absent from the list. Yet OUS is so crucial to making Ghanaian universities more relevant to the development of the country.

For that reason, we recommend the following types of OUS:
  • • Tutoring services in mathematics, science and literacy for elementary and secondary students with the object of developing skills and positive attitude toward these disciplines.
  • • Professional development activities for teachers, particularly of mathematics and science.
  • • Professional development seminars for head teachers and headmasters to teach leadership, community relations, effective disciplinary strategies, using data for effective school management, etc.
  • • Seminars for small businesses in record-keeping, marketing and financial management.
  • • Serving on the boards, committees and management of professional and community organisations.
  • • Designing and carrying out research projects involving community groups and institutions.
  • • Initiating and implementing community development or improvement projects.
  • • Organising conferences and fora on issues affecting communities.
  • • Establishing business ventures to model the production of specific services, products or business practices.
VMV documents are important for both the administrators and faculties of the three universities to reflect on and to use to evaluate their performance as well as the direction in which their institutions are going. Nonetheless, VMV documents should reserve a prominent place for the OUS role.

Eric Fredua-Kwarteng recently completed his doctoral studies in educational administration and policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. Francis Ahia is professor at the University of Toronto, Canada, and director of the Transitional Year Programme.