Tertiary council considers bill to upgrade polytechnics

Ghana’s Technical University Bill, which will convert a number of polytechnics into universities, has been finalised by the attorney general and is currently under consideration by the National Council for Tertiary Education, President John Mahama has announced.

From the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, six polytechnics – Accra, Ho, Koforidua, Kumasi, Sunyani and Takoradi – will operate as technical universities and the government said the institutions have upgraded laboratories and workshops.

Announcing plans of the conversion, Mahama said the bill “will go to cabinet and then will be presented to Parliament when the [House] resumes later this month. I can assure you the bill will be passed at the next sitting of Parliament.”

The conversions

Initially six polytechnics have been selected for the conversion out of 10 in the country.

The committee in charge of conversions reportedly established 16 criteria that needed to be met for a polytechnic to achieve university status. Among the criteria were infrastructure, equipment and training facilities, qualification levels and collaboration with business and industry.

This has created some problems for the government, with those that have been left out agitating – there have been student protests on at least two campuses.

Mahama said that two of the institutions left out – the Tamale and Cape Coast polytechnics – had requested reassessment of their status to become full-fledged technical universities: “We shall await the report of the reassessment.”

The president said the government would continue to prioritise technical and vocational education, which was necessary because “the demands of the job market in Ghana have changed”. One reason why many graduates were failing to secure jobs was their unsuitability in relation to current demands by employers.

Businesses and industries, he said, were no longer looking for grammar school education. “The economic strength of every country is linked to the skills and competences of its workforce, and these skills and competences are bountifully supplied by well-resourced technical universities.”

A major investment

Opposition political groups have accused the government of using the conversion exercise as a ‘rebranding’ to pull votes for the 2016 general election to be held in November.

But Deputy Education Minister Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa said this was far from the truth. “Over the last four years, the government has pumped more than US$200 million into the development of technical education in the country,” he said, adding:

“This is not a rebranding exercise being undertaken by the ministry, or an action to mimic the traditional universities, but a move to ensure hands-on training and skills acquisition to meet the current needs of industry, as a measure to accelerate the country’s economic growth.”

Okudzeto-Ablakwa said technical experts had already travelled to Germany to study how the Germans operate their technical institutions, and had learned best practices as well as the sector’s overall benefits to industry and economic growth.

The mainly skills-driven polytechnics should play a leading role in economic transformation. Polytechnic education, said Okudzeto-Ablakwa, should be refocused, evaluated and restrategised in order to build a strong industrial base for development.