Removing Barriers, Impacting Higher Education Institutions Globally

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The Secretary General of   the International Association of Universities (IAU),  Dr. Hilligje Van’t Land, Ghana Minister of Education , Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, President of IAU and former Rector Gothenburg University, Sweden, Professor Pam Fredman and Minister of  State for Tertiary EducationProfessor Kwesi Yankah during the 2017 Global Meeting of Associations (GMA)  of IAU held in Ghana…recently

Tackling the biggest challenges of higher education institutions globally and ensuring that the goals and purposes of higher education for the students, nation and society are met, were the focus of the 2017 Global Meeting of Associations (GMA) of the International Association of Universities recently held at the University of Ghana, Accra. Funmi Ogundare reports

Some of the issues at the front burner at the 2017 Global Meeting of Associations (GMA) of the International Association of Universities (IAU), a membership organisation consisting of universities, institutions of higher education; national and regional associations of universities all around the world, were to ensure that changes in public-private landscape influence the profile of institutions and the disciplinary mix or curricular they offer; and how these changes redefine the role of the higher education leaders.

For three days, experts converged on the University of Ghana, Accra, discussing the theme, ‘Leadership for a Changing Public Private Higher Education landscape’.

The meeting which seeks to provide a forum for members to learn from each other, partner and implement global programmes for the development of higher education, saw participants shedding light on the; implications for higher education associations, new funding realities and its impact on quality assurance, accreditation and other regulatory mechanisms; whether the changing funding landscape bring in more risks such as corruption, unfettered competition and shift in values, expectation and place of students in the changing landscape; how private higher education funding impact on calls for social responsibilities and its influence on research choices.

Other issues discussed were ‘Corruption in Higher education’, ‘Ethics in Curriculum’, ‘Academic Integrity in a Competitive Higher Education Landscape’, ‘Value-based Leadership and Mind-set Change as Catalyst for Building Effective Universities’, ‘Impact of Competition Rankings and other Market Forces on the Development of Higher Education Institutions, among others.

The President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, who declared the meeting open, said the existence of an International Association of Universities (IAU) clearly implies the presence of an interconnected world and a global research community, where the standard of a country’s intellectual output and resources naturally affect the total output, whether positively or otherwise.

“An IAU consisting of universities that are big and small in stature, and coming from countries with highly contrastive wealth profiles, also facilitate dialogues on issues of common concern. It enable consensus to be reached on acceptable international standards and quality assurance policies, but this also compels the adoption of best practices in academia.”

Akufo-Addo, who was represented by the Minister of State for Tertiary Education, Professor Kwesi Yankah, opined that in a globalised world of today, where healthcare, food security, climate change and education fiercely compete for attention, rising expenditures and economic downturns are bound to lead to a general decline in state resources.

“It is not surprising that the slice of resources available to fund higher education has diminished across the globe. The ripple effect on local economies is obvious and has constrained governments the world over to pull-back on public spending, challenging nations to discover innovative ways of revenue generation for nation building.”

He expressed concern that “our current funding models for both public and private higher education in Ghana are not sustainable. Indeed, while government cannot continue to wholly foot the bill for higher education in the public sector, private institutions can also not continue to solely rely on tuition fees, as the two models have serious implications for the mandate and overall output of higher education.”

The president stressed the need for IAU to revise its policies and enable more African universities to both enrol as members, as well as afford participation in conferences, adding that such policies must ensure maximum participation by host communities through the application of differential rates of enrolment and registration.

“How meaningful is an international conference after all if the host community registers the lowest representation?” He said African universities must also work harder to advertise themselves in the global village.

“For Africa has a huge potential in higher education which has been exploited only superficially; knowledge is indeed the most inexhaustible resource any country can ever possess, as well as secure. Let this historic conference by IAU on an African soil trigger dialogues and actions that will progressively narrow the idntellectual gap between Africa and the world.”

The Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana, Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu recalled when there used to be a clear distinction between two dominant types of university; public versus private universities, with each serving a unique market with distinct governance and funding structures, adding that they had a unique cultural environment, but it is not the case now.

“With the world becoming increasingly globalised and borderless so are the boundary lines of public and private institutions overlapping, and this is the case world round.”

He listed the challenges confronting higher education to include declining sources of funding against rising tuition and operating costs, consumer oriented students with a palette for innovative and technological driven methods of teaching and learning, how to sustain academic excellence in teaching and research, among others.

As education becomes increasingly commercialised, Owusu said the share of operating costs covered by tuition fees continues to grow, including funding, philanthropy and public private partnerships, noting that the ramification is not only changing the funding mix but impacting tremendously on other key aspects of the university which in turn place new demands on and pose new challenges for institutional leadership at all levels.

He appealed to the association to learn from each other with a view to promoting and fostering values that society need through providing students with the academic skills, creativity, analytical and critical thinking capacity to successfully address the challenges of vision 2030 agenda.

The President of IAU and former Rector, Gothenburg University, Sweden, Professor Pam Fredman, opined that if members share values in their respective institutions, it will go a long way in creating the necessary impact, while expressing concern about the challenges of mistrust and denial of knowledge by leaders.

“The future is a knowledge-based society all around the world. We have a platform and we must use that to promote higher education to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It is important we discuss these issues and do the best for higher education and give people opportunities for the future,” she said.

She told THISDAY in an interview that leaders should be familiar with the academic value of institutions and must be able to manage different sources of funding coming in so that quality can be achieved for higher education, especially for the students.

“It is not all that easy for the leaders all the time, because there might be frustration. For public or private funders, we want to see how best they can achieve this and it must be the best quality. For the students if you pay a lot of money to enter into the institution and by the time you are ready to graduate, and records show that students pass without getting the knowledge, that is the root of corruption.”

She cited an instance in her country where education is free from primary school to the tertiary level, saying that it is public funded and that irrespective of one’s background and the tax being paid, one is entitled to free education and healthcare services up to 25 years of age.

“Swedish education is free and has been free from primary school, students don’t pay any fee at all, it is all public funded, but the difference is that we pay a lot of taxes. As a student for higher education, you can take students loans for your living. Those who are earning less money pay small tax and get the same provision from the government and your children will have free schools and medical care. You tend to give the cash money to the government and get it back as a provision to the society,” Fredman stressed.

The Secretary General of the association, Dr. Hilligje Van’t Land, highlighted the funding issues faced by higher education, noting that as a result of increase in demand by those who are going into, the government who are meant to pay for it are becoming very difficult to address.

“The local situation is linked to what governments are ready to do in terms of supporting higher education institutions. In certain countries, there is a decrease in student population, while in some others, you have such high student demands that each year 30 or more institutions are being created and funding is a bit difficult for the government and that also goes for the leaders within the institutions.

“They have to find appropriate resources for the building and faculty and running the whole institution. It will always be a mixed of funding between the public and the private. The university leaders have to be more attentive to institutional level discussion taking place, what is happening in the higher education community and integrate the demands for the development of their strategic plan.”

On the lessons learnt from the meeting, Van’t Land said: “the big lesson is that we have to understand much better what private needs are and the difference between private and public higher education. The boundaries are glaring, we have to better understand what are the new impacts on the public and how we define the private, what is and what kind of institution it will be for the future and how will it contribute to the development of the society. Will it contribute to the agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goal and how will the public and private work together? That is the message we want to bring home.”

Emphasising on the expectations and the place of the students in a changing landscape, the Director, Students Services, Global Universities Network for Innovation Africa, Mr. Fred Awaah, recalled when he was Secretary General of All Africa Students’ Union, saying that its leaders always wanted to get involved in decision making processes of higher education institutions, but the heads of such institutions then made conscious effort to stop them from being represented.

“That is where we always have challenges leading to tension,” he said, adding that students expect value for the tuition they pay and an undisrupted academic calendar from those in the private universities.

In Ghana, he said the students have a voice in decision making process. “To some extent, we can’t say that for the entire African region because we know that in a number of countries, students are not given voice at all. In such instances, there will always be resistance.

“In the case of Ghana where there are some involvement, there is room for improvement because it is not enough to put in the status that students are represented but there should be a manifestation of their contribution at the academic board meeting and all other statutory boards. It is the only way that we can say students are truly being involved in African higher education institutions.”