In the first year of high school education, the math teacher assigned to my class introduced us to the SAT. This is strange considering I was a freshman in a Ghanaian high school and this topic was usually broached somewhere in the second or third year. Very early on, my mind and that of fellow colleagues was focused on attaining our undergraduate education in a US institution with some popular names like Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford standing out. What we did not know was that two huge impediments stood in our way. It was not SAT scores for the rigors of a Ghanaian boarding school made rote studying of SAT words and math formulas easy. It was the attainment of a visa and getting funding for our studies. For most of us, the dreams we were sold early on was short lived.
According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year in the USA was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities (collegedata.com). Contrast that to a little over $500 paid each year by Ghanaian students at UG for “academic user fees”, closest thing to tuition we pay, and accommodation. International students have fees totaling somewhere around $6000 a year but with a 2.1% makeup of total student population, their contribution to the school’s finances is of a modicum value. Finances matter a lot in the provision of infrastructure and upgrading of standards at a university. With the budget available to the University of Ghana paling in comparison to that of “world class” institutions, it is a natural conclusion that standards would not be the same.
But this is far from a normalization of mediocrity or feeding into the narrative that it is “…what is to be expected in a “developing” country and continent…” This is an appreciation of the “facts” by situating it in a context of the realities. When you realize that most Universities in the USA were built on the backs of free labor from enslaved black bodies, you would appreciate the progress made by the University of Ghana. Even the University of Cape Town touted as the best in Africa thrived for a long time under a system that exploited the resources of black South Africans to the benefit of minority whites. The progress made by the University of Ghana must be looked at holistically before any proper judgment can be made about its current status.
Built in 1948, the University of Ghana has moved from an institution reserved for the elites of Ghana to one educating tens of thousands of students from all over the country, the West African sub-region at large and playing host to exchange students from all across the world. 69 years down the line, it has expanded the boundaries of its campus, added several departments and colleges and is in the process of building a medical hospital right on the land it currently occupies. On campus housing was once a struggle a few years ago. It was common to visit a room and be greeted by 8 students sleeping on abutting mattresses in a room reserved for 2 students. No longer do we have that happening. The dorms sheltering four students are commodious enough for that number. Water certainly does not flow as frequently as it should be but there has been a marked improvement from a couple of years back. The load shedding affecting the larger nation does not exclude the University from its tentacles but generators do run sometimes, albeit not frequently. All this is done on the backs of the paltry sum paid by students as academic user fees. Governmental subventions is not as forthcoming as it should be and the university scrambles the little it can get to do the best it can do.
Up on the hills some kilometers away from Legon is Ashesi University, the only liberal arts college in Ghana which charges its students thousands of dollars and does not face the problems the University of Ghana does. If UG had the luxury of charging its students humongous amounts, the story would have been different. We have seen the University go in for loans to renovate its crumbling infrastructure and road networks and used these monies judiciously. We have seen campus housing extended to the delight of students who no longer have to worry about being victims of in-out-out-in, an ominous balloting system used to determine who gets campus housing in sophomore and junior years. The University has gone above and beyond in trying to raise funds, even going to extents which brought it in a collision course with the government of the country because the former decided to charge tolls for those plying its roads. The “beautification” endeavors of the University is an infinitesimal portion of the amount of work undertaken over recent years.
It is not all milk and honey in the University of Ghana but neither is the entire experience bitter and sour. Admittedly, there were times I wished I was in a school far away from the lecture halls of JQB. This was when some lecturers acted like academic versions Iddi Amin and Josef Stalin. But there were also moments during Ghana’s Foreign Policy and Economic Planning lectures when I knew I made the right decision by choosing to attend the University of Ghana and not taking a gap year to try and get funding for schooling overseas. There are lecturers all over the world who allow their faith to interfere with their academics. Relating an anecdotal example of a professor who said something ridiculous about an issue does no justice to the larger teaching body. Neither does telling the story of students who plagiarized and got away with it. There is a very famous case of plagiarism in Ghana against a former minister who is now the leader of minority in the current parliament and Surprise Surprise, it occurred in the University of Ghana and he had his master’s degree revoked!!!
As already stated, there is a lot that needs to be done and the University of Ghana does not look like it is resting on its oars. Five or so years ago it did not feature on any global ranking of Universities. A couple of years ago, it emerged as the 10th best school in Africa. Just last year, it found its way to number 7. When I first read the article Failing the Test: University of Ghana, I agreed with all what was said and proceeded to even leave a comment supporting the assessments made. But then it hit me that the facts where not appraised in a healthy manner. The article sounded very much like Donald Trump’s inaugural speech; full of carnage and painting a gloomy picture of a land and decrepitude. It presents the University of Ghana as an undesirable destination headed by folks with deluded goals. That portrayal is wrong in several ways and is eerily similar to that of aid agencies who send “saviors” to live for a short time in other countries on fact finding missions to postulate the “problems” of those countries. The University of Ghana is certainly not there yet but it is also not stuck in a quicksand. It is taking steady strides and picking up pace along the way!!!