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13.03.2005 Education

Govt. committed to increase stakes in polytechnic education - Kufuor

By GNA

Ho, March 13, GNA - President John Agyekum Kufuor has said government's commitment to pursue policies that would increase the stakes of polytechnic education in the national economic renaissance remained resolute. He said the experiences of the countries referred to as the Asian and Far Eastern economic giants underscored the indispensable role that a well-trained and disciplined technical workforce could play in the development of a country.

President Kufuor said this in an address read for him by Professor Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, Minister of Ports, Harbours and Railways, at the Fifth Congregation of the Ho Polytechnic on Saturday. He said time had come, for the country to place renewed emphasis on the teaching and acquisition of technical knowledge and skills that were necessary for transforming the nation's tremendous natural resources and primary commodities into wealth.

President Kufuor said industries, small businesses and the private sector needed the services of trained and highly skilled workforce in order for their manufactured products to become more competitive on the international market. "We cannot sell our goods and services at competitive prices in the global market place, unless they are of high quality," the President observed. He stated that the focus of the polytechnics should therefore be on the training of this type of technical human resource, "a skilled workforce that is in tune with the world of work and responsive to the changing technological needs of industry and the private sector".

President Kufuor also re-affirmed government's commitment to the strengthening of the human and technical facilities of the polytechnics to enable them to respond effectively to their mandate of training the "hands-on technical personnel to move the economy". On funding, President Kufuor said government's capability to provide additional outlays to the polytechnics at the level required for training to international standards was severely limited by the fact that education already took the largest share of the budget. He implored Ghanaians to acknowledge that funding of tertiary education in advanced countries was built on "partnership involving government, students and other stakeholders and accept that cost sharing was an inevitable option in Ghana too".

President Kufuor, however, stated that government would not implement cost sharing policies "in a manner that will undermine our efforts to fund quality education and training or make it financially difficult for the poor to receive tertiary education". He said government would in this regard ensure that sustainable financial support systems and loan schemes were available for those who could not afford to pay their way through.

President Kufuor asked polytechnics to "tap into the experiences of the older universities, suggesting that polytechnics and universities formalised "areas of cooperation, including staff exchanges and sharing of experiences, rather than see each other as competitors". He called on industry and commerce, including banks and major international businesses to recognise the potential of the polytechnics as partners in driving the economy and support them accordingly. "The polytechnics are equally as important as the universities in the area of human capital formation and are perhaps more deserving of support from the private sector and industry in view of the symbiotic relationship that should exist between them," the President said.

President Kufuor said the frequent work stoppages by lecturers and workers and students' boycott of classes that had characterised work atmosphere in the polytechnics in the past 10 years, as methods to seek redress for grievances had undoubtedly damaged the image of the polytechnics. "Let us therefore, by all means choose the path of dialogue and consultation in settling grievances and resolving conflicts when they arise," he cautioned. A total of 519 were awarded Higher National Diplomas (HND)in disciplines, which fall under the broad areas of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology, Business and Management Studies and Fashion. There were eight First Class scores, five in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management, one in Agricultural Engineering and two in Electrical/Electronic Engineering.

Dr George Afeti, Principal of the Polytechnic implored government to address the causes of the "perennial bouts of agitation" at these times when there was relative peace at the campuses to create the "desired stability that will enable us concentrate on our core business of training the skilled human resource that the country needs". He explained that the congregation, which should have taken place last year, was delayed by the "series of strikes that characterised the polytechnic landscape last year.

Dr Afeti announced that the polytechnic had been allocated 120,000 US dollars under the Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TALIF) of the World Bank to set up a satellite (V-Sat) Internet backbone for unlimited wireless Internet connectivity anywhere on campus. He said with the project expected to be completed within six months, Ho Polytechnic could host its own website and provide both staff and students with internet services on a 24 hour basis and also extend the same services to senior secondary schools in the municipality.

Dr Afeti also announced that the Polytechnic, with the support of the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC) was undertaking a project to streamline Competency Based Training (CBT) into teaching and learning activities of the institution. He said the objective was to make "polytechnic education more relevant to needs of industry, equip graduates with the required workplace and professional skills and reduce graduate unemployment". "...Over the past two decades or so CBT has been receiving renewed attention world-wide as a teaching and learning methodology that can effectively respond to the skill needs of industry," Dr Afeti explained. He acknowledged that a number of physical development projects were currently at various stages of completion and appealed to the Chairperson and members of Trustees of the GETFUND, which is funding the projects, to significantly increase this year's outlays to enable speedy completion of the projects.

The projects include a multi-billion cedis auditorium complex, a four-Storey Classroom Block, extension works to the library and a modern computer centre.

Dr Afeti expressed joy at the cordial relations that continued to exist between the polytechnic and the traditional authorities. Professor Frank Obed Kwami, Chairman of the Polytechnic Council said there still remained issues to be addressed by government to avoid new strike actions and disruption of academic work in polytechnics. He said low staff salaries and poor working conditions had made recruitment of new staff difficult, raised number of resignations and rendered the remaining staff not sufficiently motivated.

Professor Kwami said the polytechnics needed more budgetary allocation than they currently got, counselling that the institutions were too young to generate any significant incomes internally to augment government subvention. "In fact, pushing the polytechnics too hard to generate substantial income internally at this stage of their development may cause them to lose focus of their core business and distort their academic programmes and activities," he stated. He said government's commitment to the development of the polytechnic needed to be total, unequivocal and positive and expressed the hope that the swap of portfolios by the Ministers of Education and Finance would bring positive results to the polytechnics, since both Ministers, at their previous jobs, had insight into the needs of these institutions.

"Between the two Ministers and with the Council Chairmen looking on keenly and pressing hard, there is bound to be the necessary understanding and collaboration to squeeze funds from where they are hidden and help the polytechnics out of the crippling instability and thus create for them the firm foundation they need for their steady uninterrupted development," Professor Kwami stated. He appealed to the Volta Regional Co-ordinating Council (VRCC) to facilitate the construction of the approved access road to the polytechnic

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