Universities’ employment data should be linked to funding
Dr George Afeti, skills development expert at Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA) of the African Union Development Agency, said that the high employment rate could be a unique selling point for technical universities if they had the information.
In Ghana, the Technical Universities Act 2016 (Act 922) converted the polytechnics that had been in existence since 1992 into technical universities. This was after the technical institutes in Accra, Takoradi and Kumasi were redesignated as polytechnics in 1963.
Programme and course levels need attention
Speaking on 28 March 2023 at a policy dialogue organised by the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences to access the conversion of the polytechnics funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Afeti said: “The development of the polytechnics as tertiary institutions has been based on a strategy of elevation or re-designation of tertiary institutions or by simple government pronouncement [with] no eligibility criteria for the change in status or qualifying benchmarks for the elevation to tertiary polytechnic status and no mentoring.”
He said the government’s White Paper on the Reforms to the Tertiary Education System in 1986, which said programmes and courses (in the polytechnics) were to be offered at the higher-middle level of technician training leading to the award of higher diplomas (HND) equivalent to first-degree level but not departing from syllabi dedicated to practical technician training, attempted to equate the polytechnic qualifications to traditional university first degrees.
“In an attempt to clarify this controversial clause, the ministry of education issued a statement that the HND is next to a degree,” Afeti said. “The mishandling of the elevation of polytechnics to tertiary status led to the wave of student and staff demonstrations that rocked the polytechnic system in the early years after the upgrading in 1992, demanding recognition of the HND and academic progression of HND graduates.”
Strong link with industry is crucial
He said there is the need to re-position the polytechnics as strategic institutions for the training of a highly skilled workforce to drive industrialisation and economic growth and, to be able to achieve parity with the universities, this must be done with a different mandate.
In addition, Afeti said logical progression pathways at the tertiary level should be created for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students and HND graduates to enhance the image and attractiveness of TVET. He also called for a practice-oriented curriculum and training for the world of work and suggested a strong link between industry and business with emphasis on engineering, technology, and business, but not humanities.
Afeti said the technical universities should be involved with skills training at all levels: certificate, diploma, first degree, and masters degrees but not PhDs, and the faculty must be staffed with people with both academic and professional qualifications to research into and provide technology solutions and innovation support for micro, small and medium enterprises.
He said technical universities want to be recognised as traditional universities. This has resulted in debates about whether their heads should be ‘rector’ or ‘vice-chancellor’, and also whether they should be research-oriented or industry-related. This is due to an absence of explicit national policies to differentiate the technical universities from the older universities, he said.
Renaming programmes suggested
Afeti said the BTech programmes that are not technology-intensive should be redesignated, stating that these should be called BSc Statistics instead of BTech Statistics or Bachelor of Marketing instead of BTech Marketing. “Industry and professional or work experience should carry a higher premium when appointing staff to make sure teaching and learning activities are practice-based.”
So, he said GTEC, and the Commission for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, or CTVET, should support the technical universities to develop niches or specialisation areas that align with the skills the country needs, the emerging economic growth sectors, and to promote efficiency in resource allocation.
“GTEC should initiate performance-based funding for the technical universities, based on agreed performance contracts which may include graduate placement in employment, the use of adjunct lecturers from industry, and female participation in science and technology programmes,” Afeti added.
Practical identity should be preserved
He said, for now, the technical universities should be limited to awarding HND, BTech, MTech and lower-level technician certificate qualifications. In future, the enrolment of Doctor of Technology (DTech) students should be done in collaboration with relevant well-established research or comprehensive universities.
Afeti said the technical universities do not appear to be losing their identity as practical skills development institutions as some have feared, as they are responding to their mandate of offering skills training across all levels of the skills development spectrum.
He said there is, however, little information on the quality dimension of the programmes and courses.
Afeti said financial support to the institutions has not been adequate, especially in obtaining training materials, teaching practice-oriented courses, and maintaining training equipment and machines.