Ghana’s vice-president calls for move from liberal arts

Universities across Africa must move away from liberal arts courses in order to make higher education relevant and ensure the continent is not left behind in today’s technological world, Ghana’s Vice-president Kwesi Amissah-Arthur said while opening the second Times Higher Education Africa Universities Summit in the capital Accra.

“We cannot continue to maintain the original emphasis on liberal arts education,” he said at the summit held from 27-29 April at the University of Ghana, Legon, adding that statistics on Ghana’s public universities suggested that the “lessons of globalisation and the impact of technological change have not been taken seriously".

Student intake was still dominated by the humanities, which enrol close to 60% of students in Ghana’s public universities, said the vice-president. Also, gender access was below target. “Female students constitute just a third of the student population, and only a third [of that third] are enrolled in scientific-oriented courses.”

Amissah-Arthur called for a more radical admission policy founded on a technology-based curriculum.

A changing world

“African universities are subject to the new information-driven global economy, the impact of new information and communication technologies and the growing expectation for higher education institutions to survive and thrive as market-like organisations while facing resource constraints,” said Amissah-Arthur.

“Increasing access to non-marketable skills has created graduates with expectations but few employment prospects.” He added: “Unemployment for highly trained persons is a waste of resources that could have been better applied. It is the kind of waste Africa cannot afford.”

Amissah-Arthur said that like their counterparts on other continents, African universities must develop ideas through critical thinking and must challenge orthodoxies that impede progress.

“Africa cannot afford to stand still. We need to avert the danger of being overtaken and consequently losing relevance.”

The vice-president said higher education institutions across the continent must reinvent themselves as well as maintain their relevance. Among their key objectives should be the pursuit of scholarship and developing and maintaining academic standards.

“Universities are in the marketplace for ideas. Its products operate without boundaries.” Institutions therefore need to remain relevant to the needs of the global market.

In addition, he said, they need to operate with strong governance systems that pursue financial integrity and transparent accounting for the spending of taxpayer resources, as well as broaden sources of financing so as to contribute to independence and academic freedom.

Universities free from interference could teach and conduct research without being dictated to. It was crucial to identify new and efficient ways of delivering outputs, Amissah-Arthur added.

Engaging globally

The vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Ernest Aryeetey, said African universities had not been able to take advantage of globalisation that saw the expansion of higher education in other parts of the world and introduction of massive open online courses or MOOCs, which could be replicated across the continent.

Globalisation had opened up Africa to problems including competition for students and faculty from Africa countries. “We are also competing for resources,” Aryeetey added.

Africa needs to meet changing trends in higher education across the world, including the way that knowledge is delivered. Accordingly, Aryeetey said, higher education institutions must develop strategies that do not allow internationalisation of education to leave them behind.

“We need to produce graduates with a more global outlook because there are many benefits we can derive from this,” he said, and make more attempts to attract international students. The outbreak of Ebola had shot down the little inroads universities had made in West Africa.

Aryeetey suggested that institutions should take a look at the fees they charge to make them competitive as well as put in place strategies to improve governance systems and policies that enable them to partner with institutions across the globe.

As part of the University of Ghana’s efforts to attract more foreign students, Aryeetey said, five companies had been engaged in Nigeria to recruit more Nigerian students. He was worried about the recent clampdown on currency transfers from Nigeria, which has affected the payment of fees by students studying outside that country.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Ihron Rensburg, said there were plans to turn about 200 universities across the continent into centres of excellence within the next 20 years to increase Africa’s contribution to global development.

Africa’s current 2% share of world knowledge must increase, Rensburg said. Africa is rising and universities on the continent must be at the core of this development.


Liberal. Arts. Are. Always. Relevant! I know this because every job requires thinking and every community benefits from a pro-socially engaged citizenry. There may be a need to add additional servile and technical arts but this should not mean the abandonment of liberal arts education.

Loretta Brady on the University World News Facebook page

We should be very careful in endorsing the call by Ghana Vice-President on moving away from liberal arts courses in order to make higher education relevant and ensure the continent is not left behind in today’s technological world. The recent Ebola outbreak was devastating largely because we abandoned those issues - culture, tradition, trust of leaders etc...all in the zone of liberal arts. While we may shift the ratio in favour of science, our scientists must have a dose of liberal arts or they end up as unfeeling animals. We need a blend of both liberal arts and science, but not moving away, but walking in the same direction for the sake of our communities. Our primary focus is to be relevant to the needs of our communities - and science needs liberal arts to do that.

Oyewale Tomori on the University World News Facebook page