Poor Ranking Of African Universities Has Roots In Both History And Politics
At a conference on Education, Science and Technology of experts from the West African sub-region, held in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, Ghana’s Minister of State in Charge of Tertiary Education, Prof. KwesiYankah, was reported to have bitterly lamented the perennial and consistently low ranking of African universities on the global index (See “Prof. Yankah Laments Poor Ranking of African Universities on Global Index” Ghana News Agency / MyJoyOnline.com 8/11/17). As one who has schooled and obtained advanced graduate degrees here in the United States, Prof. Yankah, who is also a former Pro-Vice Chancellor of his country’s flagship academy, the University of Ghana, Legon, knows fully well that the best students in our five or six major public universities, including the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Cape Coast, University of Education at Winneba, and the Tarkwa-based University of Mining Technology compete favorably among the best and brightest students everywhere around the globe.
The problem is fundamentally one of logistics. But, of course, we cannot ignore the formidable historical factor of racism which can be best overcome only when African leaders and governments across the continent pay serious attention to educational funding from the preschool level to the university, or so-called tertiary, level, with adequate emphasis on language skills, writing, creativity, research, science and technology, engineering and mathematics. In short, all aspects of what makes for an advanced and civilized polity ought to be fairly equally promoted. You see, those who do these periodic rankings look at such institutional fundamentals as budgeting and the pedagogical application of state-of-the-art technology in these institutions. As well, the academic credentials and professional output of lecturers and professors at these institutions in both professional publications and industry.
Even without conducting any extensive research, it is very obvious that the leaders of most of the so-called Third-World countries give the least funding support to education at all levels relative to their counterparts in other parts of the world. This is essentially why the quality of education in our part of the world lags far behind that of the West, for the most part. But even in the latter case this is only relative, because even right here in the West, there are gaping disparities between the quality of education afforded lower-class students and those of the middle- and upper-classes. Here in the United States, for example, your residential zip code, with very marginal exceptions, has much to do with the quality of education that one is apt to receive, especially at the preschool, elementary and secondary levels, but at almost all levels in general.
The good news here, however, is that because the economic level of many a Western nation is much higher than that of most Third-World countries, even the most poorly educated Westerner tends to have a relatively better education and technological know-how than the average Third-World college graduate. The experts who do the global rankings also look at Instructor-to-Student Ratios. The California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) has been consistently ranked Number One on the global index, partly because its Instructor-to-Student Ratio, at about 1: 10 or less, is among the lowest of flagship academies in the world. This means that on average, every professor in that institution teaches at the most 10 students. The same ratio pertains to such globally renowned institutions as Oxford and Cambridge universities.
On the other hand, at the University of Ghana, Legon, as I recently had the shock of my life to learn from one sociology professor, the Instructor-to-Student Ratio could be as high as 1:800! Yes, you read me accurately: one professor, on average, teaches upwards of eight-hundred students. Now, what quality of education can one receive in the Department of Sociology at the University of Ghana, even if one’s instructor or professor was called Dr. Albert Einstein, Max Weber, Wole Soyinka or Sir Arthur Lewis, especially when the same single professor, as the Legon sociologist told me, this mid-summer in Worcester, Massachusetts, is also obligated to grading the exam papers of all 800 students at semester’s end? Contrast the preceding with the following example from the state university community college where I have been teaching for the past two decades, where no instructor or professor of English teaches more than 30 students. In fact, a quick Google search which was last updated in October 2016, notes that the average class size or Instructor-to-Student Ratio at my college is 1:22. The reality is actually about 1:40 in the social sciences. And that is even considered to be way over the top, as it were.
To be certain, 20 years ago, when I began teaching there, the Instructor-to-Student Ratio in the English Department was less than 20! Now, Prof. Yankah, with an 800-class teaching load, and that is only just one class (on average, a Legon professor teaches three or four courses per semester), how can a lecturer or professor be expected have adequate time to prepare lecture notes, let alone produce well-researched conference papers and serious articles for publication? There are, of course, a myriad other issues that could be delved into at a later date.
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Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.