New hospital and excellence centres boost research

A 617-bed teaching hospital facility constructed with a US$217 million Israeli government loan is being handed over to the University of Ghana. Vice-chancellor Ernest Aryeetey hopes the new medical facility – and two African Centres of Excellence created under a World Bank initiative – will help boost research.

Ministry of Health Public Relations Officer Tony Goodman told University World News that the academic hospital was due to be officially handed over to the university at the end of August.

Earlier – at his final congregation as vice-chancellor in late July – Aryeetey said the project had started in April 2013 and was being undertaken in three phases.

The first phase provided facilities for surgery, radiology, internal medicine, pain management, pharmacy, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, anaesthesia, medical education, accidents and emergency services, laboratory services and a mortuary.

Centres of excellence

In addition, the World Bank had selected the University of Ghana to host two African Centres of Excellence or ACEs under its research capacity building initiative in West Africa, which has since been expanded to East and Southern Africa.

The West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens or WACCBIP and the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement or WACCI – becoming an ACE for training plant breeders, seed scientists and seed technologists – are being implemented over three years.

“WACCBIP will provide masters, PhD and post-doctoral level training, and conduct research focused on cell and molecular biology of common diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis,” Aryeetey explained.

“WACCI is to be developed as a sustainable centre of excellence to train more plant breeders who will develop superior climate-smart and resilient varieties of staple crops of the West African sub-region as a means of increasing productivity.”

Improved performance

Aryeetey, who is leaving after six years as vice-chancellor, said the institution had pushed steadily towards significant improvements in teaching and learning, with a major focus on quality assurance and the provision of new equipment.

“These efforts have been rewarded with significant improvement in the performance of students and faculty,” he added.

Among other things, the University of Ghana had been ranked seventh in Africa in the most recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which has placed the university at the top in West Africa.

“The rankings take into consideration teaching (the learning environment), research (volume, income and reputation), citations (research influence), industry income (knowledge transfer), and international outlook (staff, students and research),” Aryeetey said.

The university had introduced a new structure for PhD studies from the 2013-14 academic year. “The key additions to the programme are compulsory coursework, a year of practical research training on a project, and a formal defence of research proposals,” Aryeetey said.

The idea was to give PhD courses a clearer structure while making them internationally competitive. Consequently, the number of PhD programmes had risen sharply and so had the number of PhD students.

Aryeetey said that in attempts to transform into a research university, the institution had also developed four centres of excellence with a focus on four distinct thematic areas – malaria research, enhancing food production and food processing, transdisciplinary research into climate change adaption, and development policy and poverty monitoring and evaluation.

Working groups for research in the thematic areas had been set up to provide a multidisciplinary platform to foster collaboration among researchers from various colleges, schools and institutes of the university, as well as other institutions, so as to move forward the growth and development agenda of Ghana and the wider world.

Major expansion

The university’s assets were being threatened by urbanisation and rapidly growing demand for land in Ghana's capital Accra, Aryeetey continued.

“In the effort to ensure that the university derives as much benefit as possible from the land available to it, both for current and future purposes, the university is updating its master plan.” The intention was to enhance efficiency in the use of university land.

He said the institution had put in place a project with international investment agency Africa Integras, which involves constructing buildings for each of the university's four colleges, the Institute of Applied Science and Technology and residential facilities for students.

When completed, the Africa Integras project will increase available floor space for academic work by 60% and should satisfy the university’s space requirements for the next 20 years. The ‘build, operate and transfer’ arrangement will see the university take ownership of the facilities in 25 years.