Role of private universities as partners in national development in an IT era

l   Front view of the Ashesi University.  Most of the private universities have made a mark in teaching innovation.

l Front view of the Ashesi University. Most of the private universities have made a mark in teaching innovation.

Education is one of the fundamental rights of individuals. It is a critical factor for any nation’s developments and has always played and continues to play a significant role as change agent. This explains why most countries invest a sizable percentage of their resources in the educational sector and a number of global declarations affirm the right of humans to education.

Private universities are universities not operated by governments, although many may receive tax breaks, public student loans, and grants. This is in contrast to public universities and national. Whether public or private, all universities have the same core functions-teaching, research, and public service.

The contribution of private universities to national development is something that Ghanaians can attest to. Private universities are fulfilling a very essential need by providing access to qualified students as the spaces at the nation’s public universities are woefully inadequate to meet the requirement of a rapidly increasing student population. Until recently, many Ghanaian students who completed their secondary education couldn’t gain admission into the existing public universities.

One measure of access to education is the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). This is the Total Tertiary Enrolment divided by the population within 19-23 years, times 100. The National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) put the total tertiary enrolment for the 2013/2014 academic year at 318,607,000.

Based on the 2010 Ghana Population Census data, the population within 19-23 years from the Ghana Statistical Service data is 2,345,048.

This corresponds to a Gross Enrolment Ratio of 13.59%. Even though this is somewhat higher than the average across Sub-Saharan Africa, the NCTE norm for GER is 25%. And the GERs of the UK is (62%), China (27%) and Malaysia (36%). In order to match the GER of Malaysia by 2023, Ghana would require a tertiary enrolment of approximately 1.25 million. And there is no way the country can achieve this through the current public university system.

This is where private universities come in, to supplement the effort of the public universities by providing additional access to tertiary education.

According to National Accreditation Board data, Ghana has over 80 private colleges and universities that admit over 26 percent of students who complete secondary schools every year.

Another area where private universities have made a mark is teaching innovation. Some of the private universities have adopted innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and have introduced new approaches to providing education. One such approach is the introduction of what has become known as transnational education (TNE).

This generally refers to all types of higher education study programmes, or sets of courses of study, or educational services in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based.

Today, many students that traditionally would have traveled overseas to pursue their education are now pursuing foreign degrees in their home at local institutions through TNE. The aim is to enable students to study for the degree of a foreign university without being taught on the home campus of that university.

This type of education is innovative and it has transformed the tertiary education landscape by making it possible for countless number of students to have access to education without sacrificing their jobs or family obligations.

In addition to the above, new information technology tools have brought about innovation in teaching and learning and provides the opportunity to communicate with anyone, anywhere at a very rapid speed.

Open Educational Resources (OER) (including open textbooks), Open Access to education, and online education have all gained traction as significant drivers of education innovation.

For example, online or e–learning is becoming core to the learning environment of today’s top institutions of higher learning. Some of the private universities are moved in this direction by offering creative and flexible online and mobile platforms to deliver education.

Consistent with the growth of private provision in education, the year 2011 saw the emergence of what has now become known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance.

MOOCs are delivered online, in virtually all fields offered to people from around the world. MOOC courses are free or “open” and most of the courses are being offered by some of the most prestigious of universities in the world.

The entry of the “big guns” of education in the world of MOOCs have attracted lots of attention and this has increased student enrollment in these courses.

Some private universities have been attracted by this innovative way of borderless education and have adopted most of the MOOCs principles as a way of bringing innovation to the classroom.

The varying crises in the university sector, which had been paralyzing the academic calendars over the years constitute a source of worry to educational stakeholders. Private universities are less prone to disruption in their academic calendars.

This is because of the dynamic nature of education, exacerbated by the enormous resources required for the realisation of national goals.

Private universities provide employment avenues to a sizable number of educators. Over 20% of the current managers and administrators of private universities are from the public sector.

Today, we have become a global learning society. As such, our educational systems must become a primary vehicle for assisting learners to become successful citizens of the world- a world that demands new knowledge, new thoughts, new frameworks for problem-solving, and new ways of caring for one another.

I believe that all of us in the higher education ecosystem have something to contribute to the overall landscape, and our continued success will depend on our ability to work together across both public and private institutions to achieve greater results for our students and our society as a whole.

ICT WORLD with Dr. Osei K. Darkwa

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