The Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana, Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu told Funmi Ogundare at the just concluded 2017 Global Meeting of Associations (GMA) of International Association of Universities (IAU) held at his institution why African universities must get their funding right; harness the right infrastructure and equipment; and adopt a teaching and learning style that will strengthen the quality of research in higher institutions
What are those features that make University of Ghana stand out among universities in Africa and probably in the world?
The University of Ghana is known for quality so basically we try to ensure quality at all levels of academic endeavours. We are also working to attain national recognitions. For instance, we are a member of the World Bank African Higher Education Centre of Excellence (ACE); we are doing very well when it comes to attracting funds.
Your institution recently hosted the IAU, what impact will the conference have on University of Ghana in terms of opportunity?
It places the university higher among sister institutions not only in Africa but in the world. For the university to have been selected by IAU to host the conference, it means that they have high regard for us. The other aspect is that because of the recognition, it opens an avenue for us to compete in funding for research and others. It gives the university the opportunity to define its brand; that people should recognise the university and know what it is about and people should be able to have a feel of it and see that this is a good university. So it opens doors and avenues to the institution in so many perspectives.
What lessons can be learnt from the meeting the world over?
For the world over, what is quite critical that works round as a common denominator is that we all talk about the same funding purpose especially funding of tertiary education and so we need to put our efforts together and see how we can fund higher education. Of course we have differences; these are differentiated across the globe depending on where you are coming from. There are bigger and smaller fishes but we need to have a concerted effort possibly. All we are doing is to use knowledge. So we need to bridge the gap and make sure that wherever you are, as an institution you are able to fulfil this kind of openness.
The minister of state for tertiary education said Ghana is placed about 1,800 on the webometric ranking, what efforts are you making to boost your institution’s ranking?
We don’t want to be pushed by those world rankings, we want to live our normal life and go by our normal strategic plan so we are not distracted by world rankings, that is to say that we are moving at our own pace, trying to catch up with quality. Indeed these rankings are quite tough but an aspect of the real world ranking has to do with recognition for example, so recognition means that when the name of the university is mentioned, so many people should know and how can we compete with the likes of Cambridge, Oxford, Stanford MIT and Harvard, in Africa? The other aspect has to do with postgraduate training.
For instance, there is an aspect of the ranking that they have to look at the number of PhDs and divide by the number of faculties of African universities; we always have less than one in terms of the decimal. Obviously, it is going to be very difficult for African universities to come out and say we want to be in the first 500 or 600. If you try to do that, then it means that we have to sacrifice a whole lot of things and we may lose focus. So we need to go at our own pace and make sure we do the right things hoping that with time, quality will catch up with us.
So much was said about funding at the conference, what are the challenges that you encountered in funding the university and higher institutions generally in Ghana?
In Ghana and the rest of African countries, tuition is free; what this means is that because it is a public institution, government is responsible for funding higher education, but with time, there has been an erosion. So we have gotten to a point where government’s efforts look difficult. We are spending 45 per cent of our total expenditure, what it means is that we need to find money to fill in the gap. There is a funding gap. So we introduced things such as academic fee, residential facility user fee, it is not a true fee, but it is just to pay for maintenance, utility and others, but that aspect of money in government is not forthcoming and we cannot just sit and see our infrastructure deteriorating, we need to maintain them. We agreed with the students that they need to at least contribute a token for us to be able to maintain them. So those are the fees we got. Normally we collect these as part of our internally generated revenue.
Have you been partnering with the private sector?
We have, especially in the area of research, industrial attachment, experiential learning and provision of scholarships for needy but brilliant students. We have a lot of partnerships with industry as compared with the past when academics stood alone, so there was no bridge between academia and industry. Now we have a whole institute responsible for bridging the gap between the academia and the industry.
In terms of concerted efforts, what strategies have you adopted to attain global relevance?
One of them is strict partnership with global institutions. My personal philosophy is that no institution is an island on its own, we need to learn from others and others need to learn from us, so it is part of the strategic plan. We are deeply involved in partnerships with international organisations and institutions to make sure that at least we engage in best practices in the world.
How do you strengthen research and quality of teaching in your institution?
That comes with multifaceted parameters, one has to do with the numbers, for instance the more students you have, the bigger the student population, the lesser the quality. At this point you are faced with the number of students, so what it means is that we have to make sure that we increase the number of faculties and that is one thing that we are doing so that we narrow the gap between the lecturer/students ratio. The other one is to make sure that we have the right infrastructure and equipment to be able to harness this and the third one has to do with attitude. Basically how do we regard the students as our best customers? How do we relate to the students? It all reflects on the teaching style, we need to adopt that teaching and learning style, you have to make the students feel comfortable.
Do you involve students in the decision making processes of the institution?
At all levels we have students, even at council; we have students who are involved in all our decision making in the institution.
Team leadership is very germane for universities to run effectively, how do you sustain the internal cohesiveness of the institution?
My personal style of leadership is based on team work and I have a very strong team. My point is that in my absence or the absence of any member of management, the system must not grind to a halt but must continue to work. So we have a very strong management team as part of our vision to push our strategic plan ahead, I have eight different teams that are taking care of all aspects of the strategic plan, so basically I still receive reports and interact with them; and also give them directions and they carry on with the work, so we have a viable institution that revolves around the team.
What is the way forward for higher education in Africa?
Higher education for now is being threatened by funding, so the way forward is that we should get our funding right and especially for those of us in Africa, our government should push in more money to sustain it.