Prior to the late 60s and early 70s, when most African countries were already savouring their independence from the colonial administrators, the prospects of University education within the African continent was very high but with the dynamics in politics, social and economic factors, the situation took a worse turn for most of the independent nations, In this interview with selected journalists from Nigeria who recently undertook an assessment tour of Universities in Ghana, NAA ADAMAFIO, Dean of International Programmes at the premier University of Ghana, Legon, gives us an insight into Ghana’s education system with its fair share of challenges in maintaining quality educational system, INNOCENT OWEH was part of the visiting team.
As Dean of International Programmes at the University of Ghana, Legon, how do you attract foreign students and what percentage of students do you attract annually?
As Dean of international programmes it is my responsibility to market the university internationally to attract international students to the university. The university strives to achieve a minimum of 10 per cent international student population, but we are currently around three per cent annually. My office is charged with the responsibility of increasing that number.
In addition to this, we work to provide opportunities for our own students to gain international exposure, so all of that is part of the mandate of the international office which I head.
We are primarily responsible for the welfare of international students during their stay at this university.
Ghanaian Universities are thought to be stable academically, were there situations where public universities had to contend with industrial actions?
Let me give a little bit of the backgrounds to strikes and the history of this university.
I would say that when the university was first established in 1948 everything went on smoothly. What are the causes of strikes or industrial disputes? It is usually dissatisfaction with working conditions, remuneration and so on.
Before the 80s when students’ numbers were small and salaries were reasonable and the economy of the country was good, we had no problem, up until I believe the 80s when we started to experience some problems.
Because of the economic downturn then, the salaries were badly eroded it was not peculiar to the universities, by then student population had risen and things got to a point where it was extremely difficult in the university, so if you weren’t careful you will be awarding worthless degrees and something needed to be done about it.
The economic downturn forced many members of the teaching staff to leave the country for greener pastures leaving just a few staff to handle an increasing number of students.
That could be a real scenario for disaster, Imagine where you have larger and larger class sizes, fewer teachers and also to some extent the very qualified people who could easily gain appointment in other universities across the globe leaving the system. Even in situation where the PhD holders left and you got a situation where the university had to rely more on people with master degrees and so on.
It was totally unacceptable; it got to a point where the teaching staff started to agitate that something needed to be done about the situation.
What were the characteristics of your strikes?
Well, I would say the beginning of the era of strikes, it was almost on a yearly basis you had one strike or another and usually they didn’t achieve the intended effect, they negotiate for some time and they would give up.
The universities went through a fairly difficult period because once you have strikes you all know the effects on students and potential students but thankfully at some point the government of Ghana, we have a university council which makes the appointments, if I apply for a position as a lecturer for instance, my appointment is made by the university council.
After the appointment, salaries are paid by the government and workers are allowed to unionize. Hence we have got university teachers association here in the universities, including senior and junior staff associations. Each of these unions negotiate separately with the government and it’s a recipe for disaster, at some point thankfully a former administration reached an agreement with the teachers that yes we understand everything you are saying it is not possible to give you everything you are asking for, we simply do not have that level of resources.
So what we shall do is to agree, a roadmap I forgot what the timeframe was but say it was ten years maybe every two years we shall do this, every two years we will do that, until it got to the point that you are asking for and they did.
And they faithfully implemented that roadmap, so far for many years we had no strikes and we were very happy.
We thought we were forever out of the woods but that was not the case.
Because economic situations are dynamic and always changing, and new cost of living, these categories of public workers now believed that if the universities do not then it becomes a problem.
To a large extent, I would say that one of the things that saved universities here were timely intervention of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, all the public universities all the VCs formed a committee.
In situations where there is agitations and there is likely to be trouble they normally intervened and get involved in that negotiation process to forestall trouble and usually they succeed. We used to have problems because when we resolved the teachers strike then the administrators go on strike, you resolve the administrators strike the junior workers go on strike, they lock up the lecture rooms and so on.
Now, we have made sure that at this university in particular, no junior worker can lock up the lecture room; the senior administrators have access to all keys, if junior workers are on strike, of course it is their right to be on strike but they do not have the right to prevent students from receiving lectures.
Teachers’ strikes to a large extent are fairly short lived. There was one that lasted for just two weeks. The longest we experienced was for nine months. When the Universities in Ghana were first established the salary of a full professor we were told was about the equivalent of that of a Supreme Court Judge but with the economic downturn, the universities came to the very bottom of public service.
The salary of a professor fell deeply to what ordinary public service person collects. That brought about agitation where the universities felt this is no longer acceptable, something had to be done if we must continue to teach.
So the government would not bulge for nine months; in the end the government offered the universities what I would describe as ‘peanuts’.
It was such that the teachers felt insulted and humiliated that they reached a point where they felt it was pointless continuing the strike that they might as well go back to the classroom which they did. Many lessons were learnt from that experience because government had in the past closed down the universities not because of teachers strike, but because there was a military government.
I remembered when I was a student; we decided to agitate for the government to hand over to a civilian government. So they went on demonstration and the government responded by closing down the universities for about three months, the government said since the students were agitating and life was getting harder and things became difficult directed that students go to the farms and work.
In all of these experiences, was there any situation where lecturers embarked on strike and government asked them to re-apply, because a lot of people felt that brought stability to your system?
Not at all, in this university and I am sure I can speak for every other public universities in this country we have not had a situation where lecturers have gone on strike, the universities have been shut down then teachers asked to re-apply. We have not come to that level.
The government threatened to evict us during that nine months strike; it was in the media that perhaps the universities should be closed down and queried why we were still being paid and so on. But they never did and at the same time they didn’t give us what we were asking for, during that strike salaries were never disrupted.