The University of Ghana is the only university in the world I can call my own, it is a University I love.
I have three university degrees and I got all from there.
I am too attached to the University to sit and watch quietly, unconcerned, as it stumbles to the edge of the abyss of mediocrity and irrelevance.
So, yes, when I get the chance to speak about the University and what needs to be done to make it retain or maintain its position as the nation’s premier university, I speak with unbridled passion and condor. I have no regrets for that.
I wish nothing but the best for my university. I hope that someday when I am old and frail, or even dead and gone, my grandchildren will be as proud of the University as I am today and that they would be more enthusiastic and excited about attending the University of Ghana than they would be about Harvard University.
The Citi TV video drives home some points, but the editing slightly took away some of its context and completeness. I therefore find it necessary to clarify my position, placing my views in context and addressing some matters arising.
To give some context I will go back to the day of the launch (Friday, August 9th, exactly two weeks ago). I joined a session at the [email protected] Alumni Homecoming to discuss the topic “Tertiary Education and Youth Employment” which was moderated by Prof. Peter Quartey, a man I have so much respect for. The panel members for the conversation were Mr. Pakwo Shum, Director of Aviation Alliance Limited and Nana Osei Bonsu, CEO of the Private Enterprises Federation. The conversation at a point centred on the poor quality of graduates being churned out in Ghana and their employability. As a member of the audience, I sought to draw the attention of the University of Ghana to a competitor right here in Ghana, Ashesi University, which is producing graduates who are preferred in the job market. I was categorical that as an employer today, I will generally choose an Ashesi graduate over a UG graduate.
I spoke at a session I believed was a forum for candid conversations about the employability of university graduates. I spoke passionately yet objectively about this matter as a concerned alumnus and citizen because of my great respect and love for my University and Ghana our motherland. At no point did I intend to insult or disrespect the University of Ghana or its lecturers. I notice some lecturers, some personal and dear to me, have been hurt by my ‘thinking’ argument. As a result of the video editing which short-changes the meaning and context of the submission, I absolutely understand their sentiments and humbly request their pardon. It is however not the case that I sought to insult and I have clarified this in my submissions below.
We pointed out that we should approach the problem of graduate unemployment as a collective responsibility and work towards improving quality of teaching and learning in our universities. I implore the university and the public, especially the university’s authorities and alumni to openly receive and seek constructive and candid feedback from other alumni and employers. After all, the university is not an island. If the chasm between the University’s ultimate products and the needs of the industries it serves continues to widen, it will lose its essence and fail in its mandate to help stir up the economic transformation Ghana needs.
As things stand, a number of employers (and I engage with a lot of employers in this country) complain about the lack of skills and the general poor-quality graduates they encounter. I know many Ghanaian employers who are compelled to spend a great deal of money and time retraining university graduates just to make them employable. I am an employer too. Most of them lack the critical thinking skills, candor, creativity, curiosity, emotional intelligence, integrity, analytical skills and the standard IT skills the job market requires. This can and must change.
Clarifying some views
- My reference to ‘thinking’ was in respect of the strategic positioning of the school towards the suitability of its students for employment going into the future. The University of Ghana is an institution of higher learning and must be one for futuristic thinking to shape policy and society. I questioned whether there has been thorough analysis and thinking into the implications of current and future dynamics like Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is set to reshape the human resource landscape. How ready is the University for that? Is the University positioning its programmes and methods of teaching to ensure the students they churn out can compete and be viable in that very present future?
What assessment has the University been making for each department about the suitability and superiority of their products to employers? Is there a feedback and evaluation system? Who is doing the tracer study, who is doing the thinking? Have we wondered how and why those who can afford will largely rather school their kids in Ashesi or abroad and not UG for similar courses? Who is doing the thinking and strategic positioning to effectively compete in student impact and superiority in industry?
How and what skills do the students need to be useful and productive to industry today?
It was clear from the panel discussions and contributions from the audience that there was the disconnect and hence the conclusion that the strategic thinking on the issues raised above is absent in a university that teaches strategy. Soon UG will lose its usefulness if the situation is not remedied.
- We live in a system where students from primary to secondary school are trained primarily to pass exams instead of becoming educated. How do you expect any different when they get to UG? If you wish to get the best out of them, measure them on the education you seek which may include formal interactive skills, responsibility, complex problem solving skills, emotional intelligence, accountability, candor, integrity, confidence, curiosity, initiative, critical thinking, creativity, organization, passion for excellence as well as the technical details of a given subject matter. Ghana perfectly reflects the proposition that what you don’t measure, you can’t manage. Are we scoring students’ participation in class? Are we structuring programs to require them to show critical and creative thinking before they pass?
- Prof Quartey stated during the discussions that the students don’t like to read. I agree but I ask, if reading is key, why pass them if they don’t show they do? Score what you wish to see and the UG students will deliver for you. If you allow shortcuts, they will take them. How many children will take working over playing if there are no motivations or consequences? Passing such students hurts the country. They will not appreciate hard work, thoroughness, critical thinking, problem solving etc. We must remember that s/he who carries our certificates and can’t live the certificate, does UG a gross disservice.
The world is fast changing, and no one pays a salary or hires for just a degree but rather the value they receive from the holder of that certificate.
- I agree with Prof Quartey that the high numbers don’t help. But as a University, excellence must not be compromised. We must innovate on ways to effectively educate the high numbers and or reject the over burdening effect of partisan political pressure that thrusts the unsustainable numbers on us. We are a developing country and hence it is expected that the capacity of the University will be stretched but must not be allowed to fracture quality. The political push for high numbers can be well intended but must be accompanied with the minimum required resources. As it is said, one must put their money where their mouth is. Overstretching the resources beyond reasonable limits will only compromise quality and in the end hurt us as a country. I believe we as the alumni have a role to play in protecting the University against unhealthy political interferences.
The UG education absolutely needs reform. We are losing ground, but we can win.
I recommend the following:
- As a matter of policy, the University must commission annual tracer studies to assess the impact of their graduates and procure feedback from employers and managers as input for modifying or reaffirming educational strategy. This should include comparative and competitive studies to evaluate the superiority of the UG graduate.
- Undertake a thorough study on the implications of the evolving 4th industrial revolution, artificial intelligence and other present and emerging disruptive technologies, geopolitical and socio-economic shifts on Ghana’s Human Resource. Present a position paper and reposition the educational curriculum and system to ensure graduates are equipped with the right skills they need to thrive in that present future.
- As a matter of policy restructure the Business and Executive Committee and the Academic Board of the University to include illustrious alumni and industry executives. Also promote the engagement of experienced, innovative and proven corporate and public executives as part of the faculties. This will improve greater connection with industry and help sustain the relevance of the education. It will facilitate student and faculty ability to translate theory into practise.
- Commission the Business School (UGBS) to develop and implement a strategy to connect and re-energise the alumni for the development of the school. This strategy must include a customer experience imperative to manage all the University’s stakeholders. It is key that as a school, we optimize every opportunity to translate theory to practice on campus. Building a vibrant alumni will be helpful in connecting effectively with industry.
- Consider establishing a marketing and communications unit to develop and implement a strategy to promote key research from the University to relevant sectors (including industry) and the public. In other words, take your research and successes to the public in relatable forms. This will boost our visibility and socio-economic impact in the primary market we serve.
Frank and transparent discussions to harvest ideas from industry may yield more and superior recommendations. The days of monopoly over higher education in Ghana are long gone. Competition exists locally and internationally but we can outcompete and win. The time to act is now.
- The organization of the 70th anniversary typifies what we have become. We organized an event more as though we just had to say the year was commemorated. At UG, we are generally not taught to be excellent or remarkable. We are made to feel entitled by virtue of our name. There’s no hunger for excellence, if any, no effective accountability or monitoring. Impact seems not to be the goal. There were too many failings in the organization of the [email protected] celebrations but I opt not to discuss them any further. One should ask, how will that quality of the organization of the [email protected] celebrations shape the behaviour of the students? What culture or value does it reinforce? If the school cannot practice what it teaches, what then has it become? Needless to say, as Socrates puts it, an unexamined life is not worth living. There is no way that any well-meaning alumnus or officer of the university will attempt to, in any fashion, defend the organization of the event that was to celebrate the platinum jubilee of a university that has produced hundreds of thousands of graduates. It must be noted that the University’s management of its own affairs are observed by the students and it influences their culture, values and soft skills. The University needs to be a bright example.
- My argument that “the old men should be out” is in reference to the administration and strategic management of the University and not about their academic knowledge. Their academic knowledge and experience are invaluable, they can inspire, advise and focus more on their academic roles. Similar calls have been made many times by many important senior personalities but the change has been excruciatingly slow. The University needs new energy, absolute openness and a radical and disruptive new thinking. That freshness is key to transforming the University from the colonial construct it once was (and easily is today) to being the bedrock of Ghana’s transformation from third to first world.
I have been accused of generalizing or exaggerating the absence of strategic thinking. I respect the concerns and I need to point out that it was not my intention to generalize. My position is not to assert that lecturers don’t individually think. My heart goes to all who understood it differently as a result of the video editing. It is also not to assert that there are no fine lecturers at UG. My argument is to the effect that strategic thinking by a university cannot be an isolated act but rather a collective wave. The culture and values that UG may seek to have its students typify is a collective position with agreement on strategic actions to deliver them. I have been taught by great lecturers at the University of Ghana and many who have taught in places like Ashesi, Stellenbosch, etc. But the students vary in culture and values. The right culture and values must be set with the education and social structure reinforcing it.
Who Am I?
Some have questioned who I think I am. I am not the smartest of my class. I have never been. For a University as great as UG should be, any success I have had should be minimal and too regular. In any case what success at all do I have? I appreciate the contribution of the University to my growth, but it has been a struggle to overcome the unconstructive components of its culture that fails to inspire excellence. From being selected to graduation, a University as important as UG should inspire and change you, it should inspire excellence.
It is worth noting that some rare lecturers like Martin Adjei nurtured attitudes like candor and the need to challenge the status quo. Others like Dr. Margaret Amoakohene ensured thoroughness and Prof Dordunoo did not hesitate to build a problem-solving orientation. There are others as well but the general culture at UG does not demand excellence. I must be honest, the poor organization of the [email protected] was no surprise. It is for that reason I believe someone had to bell the cat. I have no regrets that the task fell on me.
Speaking truth to power is not a display of arrogance nor pomposity motivated by some falsely perceived superiority. I have no exaggerated sense of importance of myself. I am simply candid and passionate. Candor is a culture we badly need in our Ghana and it is one that our forebears demand of us, hence the call in our national anthem the we “cherish fearless honesty”.
The issues I raised are open secrets, many talk about them in the privacy of their closets. On many occasions, these have been raised diplomatically by prominent personalities but the University authorities have largely not been responsive. Time is moving and now moves faster than before. With deliberations at the [email protected] sessions showing more and more of the status quo, I was compelled to use the approach I adopted to drive home and force the discourse and introspection. My heart goes to all who have been unhappy with my approach and I request their pardon but sometimes change must be forced, egos bruised, friends lost to yield the needed transformational impact. The discussion has started and the effect much farther than I thought. As the dust settles, introspection shall set in and the truth shall stand in hope for change. The issues of policy are so far reaching that amidst any hurt, substance must prevail over form. Like Pakwo Shum said, “the preparation of a generation of people who can lead Ghana into an advanced nation status is one thing far more critical than how much gold, oil, bauxite, arable land, or other resources we might have. And it won’t happen by chance or wishful thinking”.
I am certain my honesty may cost me relationships in my University. But if it is what is required for a healthy national conversation on repositioning UG and tertiary education in Ghana to serve industry and the nation better, that for me is enough and worth the bullet I may take for truth. I however remain open and willing like many alumni to still assist where I can.
It is difficult, but to truly love, is to truly speak. If anyone wishes to be like the kingsmen in Hans Anderson’s tale and assert that the ‘Emperor is wearing new clothes’, then I wish to be the child and will exclaim, “he is naked!”.
I rest my case. The time is ticking.