Since I mentioned it, here it is. Last week when ‘Stealing From All Angles’, I made reference to this old piece of mine, ‘Higher Learning; Low Expectations’, a piece written during the very height of the pandemic.
I find myself saying the same things over and over again of late. I am like a broken record—seriously. I am tired of it; I must tell you. Like a stand-up comedian, I am in some sort of an open loop, repurposing old materials. Without changing a word of it, I am repurposing articles. Because, after all what more is there to be said?—especially when new developments go on to rehash old soundings. When we have the ‘benefit’ of having our past warnings, word-for-word, applicable to new situations, what can we do but to go back, polish these oldies up, and present them as new advice? And in doing so, aren’t we in the right starting these pieces off with words like: ‘foreword’, ‘preface’, ‘preamble’, ‘prelude’, ‘prologue’, ‘epilogue’—the list is long.
Covid-19 has showed its head a third time—and you know what they say, third time is a charm. ‘Third time is a harm’—would be more like it in this pandemic-ridden world of ours. I do not know about you, but I am sick and tired of this pandemic! I crave lasting solutions to Covid-19. I do crave too lasting solutions to the nation’s and continent’s own set of pandemics—be they (aptly) health-related, economic, sociopolitical, or socioeconomical. Because after the pandemic, life will still go on. After a lasting solution to the pandemic is derived, worldwide, there will be people left in each and every country tasked to do this ‘living’. And the quality of life for one country will differ from the other. And the decisions we as individual nations make today, will go on to determine which side of these two polar ends of the spectrum we will find ourselves.
So, I am going to rehash one of such crucial national and continental decisions that need be made. And I am not even going to bother giving it a different title. So, there you go: ‘Higher Learning, Low Expectations.’
Where the Article Originally Begins
It was on February 14, 2019, that this writer wrote an article with a misleading title: ‘THIS IS NOT FOR RICH PEOPLE’ it said—when in fact, it was an exposition into the nation and continent’s industrialisation journeys. It proffered public/private partnerships, university/industry collaborations, the creation of research universities et al. as sure ways of fueling this sluggish journey. It did not help that the first line of that article read, “You need money to make money.” The writer got a number of feedbacks commenting how true it was that one needed money to make money. They really did miss the point—but I digress.
A Brainy World
A country is only as good as its demonstration of brain prowess—in this information age. In this close-knit global community, a nation is only as good as its ability to join the knowledge-hunt race. And if a nation is to render itself competitive, it ought to understand this key feature of knowledge: its mutability. Knowledge is fluid; it is subject to constant and rapid changes; it runs with the speed of lightning, yet its indispensability requires of nations to chase it; with all they have got, nations must invest profusely in knowledge to buy themselves a place on the international plane.
If these facts be undoubtedly true, then one is right in wondering: which body or institution in a country is of a nature that makes it the forerunner in spearheading the nation’s journey towards catching up, and positively affecting this global knowledge age? Call them institutions of higher learning, tertiary institutions, universities—the essence is same.
In this article, as done in ‘This Is Not For Rich People’, we prove the indomitability of universities as engines for growth—we show in more specialised terms their contributions to global health.
The Successful Copycats
What Ghanaian universities are now, the developed world’s universities have been in time past—and have evolved therefrom. Universities from their inception, were intended to serve as teaching grounds, places for the attainment of a sense of value, social standing, and self-worth. But the developed world has quickly morphed their universities from this solely individualistic nature; they have individually uplifted their tertiary institutions from mere grounds for education and training—from mere Teaching Universities, to Research, Entrepreneurial, and Developmental Universities, serving the common good.
For centuries to come, these countries were to painstakingly elevate their tertiary institutions to positions of engines of growth. Universities were to employ their principal tool—knowledge, for the advancement of science, technology, and innovation. This trend of a higher-purposed university was to proliferate and succeed in Germany, USA, UK, Japan, etc. There is no shame in playing copycats when the advancement of a nation is at stake. For the notion of a university-driven development agenda, for instance, is not an invention of the West, neither is it of Asia, it is common sense—hence, should be commonplace.
By the 19th century, universities of the developed world had found their place as the new El Dorado, serving well, their new-found purpose of advancing global science, and spurring the developments of their respective countries. Ours is a world quietly shaped by universities—other countries’ universities to be precise. In manufacturing, agriculture, information technology, and—the reason behind this article—global health, universities’ impact, be they direct or indirect, can be felt overtly and covertly.
Countries in the wake of the realisation of the vast potentials of universities, scraped the bottom of the barrels to provide funding for these institutions to conduct basic and applied researches. The world continues to benefit immensely from these investments made by these countries. The internet, web browsers, Google, computers, smartphones, touchscreens, radio, television etc. all were invented by or have their foundations in researches by various universities across the globe. In health, antibiotics (like Tuberculosis antibiotics), insulin, anti-malarial drugs, chemotherapy drugs, vaccines (for polio, Hepatitis B, flu etc.); medical procedures such as artificial blood transfusion, artificial insemination, open heart surgery, bone marrow transplant, etc.; medical devices like pacemaker, x-ray, MRI scan, CAT scan, heart-lung machine, ultrasound, etc. are also products of universities. It is a very long list we are dealing with here!
No Nation of Fools
It is brutal having to sit through recommendations of a ‘university-driven economy’ when made to the African continent by the developed world. Because such recommendations always are pandering and have a tinge of condescension—one that wonders more than it employs: wonders why this sole continent has failed in replication—in employing too this developmental tool. Then one begins to sense in their recommendations a masked chalking-up: ‘an unintelligent black’ race, it begins to feel like they are saying. All people interspersed throughout the world have the capacity to effectively transform their human resource capital, their institutions of higher learning into drivers for this new age economic tool, information technology—and the not-so-new one, industrialisation. Ghana/Africa’s weakness is not in her ‘mental prowess’ but in ‘priority’
Money and the diverse ways to find it.
You hear our leaders complain often of a government-to-do-all populace—that the average Ghanaian shuns inclusiveness. I have come to find the opposite to be true—precisely, that Ghanaian governments are Kafka’s Poseidon—the government seems to want to do it all. Perhaps, it is for a need for an unadulterated, unshared political point and acclaim that they behave so—because they seem to want to carry the burden alone. Or, perhaps it is due to the fact that this development imperative, not yet ingrained in the public consciousness, is just best swept under the carpet, for it does not earn as quick a return as say, building a new school block. And this has such long-term and everlasting repercussions, one that is being experienced by the country and continent. For our universities—supposed to be institutions of higher learnings—are looked on with low expectations: ‘educate these students, mark their exam papers, grade them and graduate them’—that, in a nutshell, seems to be our only expectations from these knowledge institutions.
(To be continued...)
BY YAO AFRA YAO
[Published in the Business & Financial Times B&FT - 28th June, 2021]