Review focus of Ghana’s Education Trust Fund, urge experts

The work of the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) needs to be reviewed, with more emphasis on its financial support to higher education institutions than on the pre-tertiary sector, to enable universities to finance infrastructure projects to cope with high enrolment numbers, said Abednego Feehi Okoe Amartey, the vice-chancellor of the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) in Ghana.

Set up in 2000, the GETFund is financed with 2.5% value-added tax, or VAT, and has to provide financial support to public institutions, under the ministry of education, for the development and maintenance of their essential academic facilities and infrastructure.

In addition, the fund is to provide supplementary funding to the Scholarship Secretariat for the granting of scholarships to gifted but needy students to enrol at accredited tertiary institutions in the country.

Presenting a paper with Professor Kofi Osei-Frimpong, also of UPSA, Amartey said: “The current 12% fund allocation of GETFund’s finances to public higher education institutions is inadequate.”

They were presenting a paper, ‘Making GETFund fit for purpose’, as part of a Ghana Academy of Arts and Science project sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York on ‘Motivating Higher Education in Ghana Towards Equity and Sustainability’.

Amartey said that, though the fund has made some contributions in the areas of infrastructure, student development and faculty research support, together with growing the fields of mathematics, science and technical education, “there are challenges that require innovative means to address”.

A cost-sharing model

Amartey said the costs of higher education in the country are influenced by the available funding from the government and donor agencies, stating that, “higher education used to be free up until the mid-1990s, when, as a result of low expenditure on higher education, government could not absorb the growing expenditure due to increased student enrolment”.

Following this, the government held a stakeholder meeting and came out with the Akosombo Accord (Akosombo is where the meeting was held) in 1997 and accepted the cost-sharing models of funding education whereby the government pays 70% of the funding needs of the tertiary institutions and public universities mobilise the remaining 30% from three sources, including internal revenue-generation, private donations and students’ academic user fees.

Amartey added the, since its coming into being, the fund has “engineered the creation and establishment of the Student Loan Trust Fund (SLTF) in 2005. Since then, it has continued to be a major source of funding to the SLTF to cover both loan disbursements and operational expenses through its annual allocation.

He mentioned the poor release of money from the GETFund to finance projects from beginning to end and cited a case in his university in which a project valued at US$1 million could not be completed early and the contract value increased to US$20 million. As a result of this, the university had to seek the permission of the fund to complete the project on its own and to reimbursed.

He also deplored the practice whereby “limited resources are used to sponsor students for higher education in foreign countries using scarce foreign resources and further deepening the balance of payment deficit”, adding that, “a clear working policy must exist to focus on sponsoring Ghanaians within Ghanaian higher education institutions, especially for programmes offered in Ghana”.

Accordingly, the paper called for “efforts to be made to introduce efficiency, reduce waste and create value in the administration of the fund”.

In addition, the fund must also develop a comprehensive public-private partnership framework to provide incentives to the private sector to drive the sector to support tertiary education in Ghana.

A ‘national conversation’ needed

Dr Francis Atuahene of the department of public policy and administration of West Chester University in Pennsylvania in the United States, questioned the role of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund dating back to the 1980s in the educational sector and said the Structural Adjustment Programme that was implemented focused more on secondary education and relegated support for university education.

“Some of these policies have impacted on our universities,” he said, adding that the “GETFund is not efficient in getting into unbudgeted liabilities”. For this reason, Atuahene suggested a “national conversation on higher education to find a way forward”.

Dennis Asare, a representative of the Imani Centre for Policy and Education, abhorred the recent use of the fund’s money as collateral to borrow from the bond market and said there is the need for the country to be clear on what the fund’s resources are to be used for, adding that its core activities were being neglected and this was putting pressure on the institution.

Richard Ampofo Boadu, the GETFund administrator, blamed universities, in part, for problems with the funding of some projects such as infrastructure developments which could not be paid for because they had not been planned properly.