For an institution to call itself a university, it should meet certain basic standards. Some of these basic standards are:
- The pursuance of academic programmes which are current in content and relevant to the national development agenda,
- Well-defined policies which deal with the assessment of students, programmes and lecturers,
- The possession of competent academic and administrative personnel
- Availability of facilities such as ICT laboratories, well-stocked library, lecture rooms, bookshop which aid the teaching and learning processes,
- Congenial environment with improved sanitation, safety, regular water and electricity supply, clinic and sporting grounds
Every institution which wishes to qualify as a university must go through the accreditation process of the National Accreditation Board (NAB). The guidelines established by NAB to deal with its accreditation process, in a large measure, attempts to assess the applicant institution on the five criteria outlined above. The process is the same for both the public and private institutions. The system of accreditation involves cost to NAB which must survive by passing on the cost to the institutions. This places a heavy financial expenditure on the institutions. Apart from direct fees paid to NAB, the institutions must deal with the cost of paper work which creates its own enormous financial burden.
The process also requires that before a new institution is accredited or an old accredited institution earns its own charter whereby it can award its own qualifications, it must be affiliated to an old existing university which almost invariably turns out to be one of the public universities. Affiliation simple means that the affiliated institution is mentored by the mother university to which it is affiliated. The mother university is expected to offer guidance to the affiliated institution, send representatives to sit in an interview panel, admission panel, assess the examination syllabi, examination questions, marking schemes, marked scripts, to ensure that everything confirms to the mother university's own standard.
The rational for this is that the affiliated institution awards certificates which bear the name of the mother university until it attains its own charter. While the scheme is necessary, it comes at a great cost to the affiliated institutions. The mother institutions almost invariably charge the affiliated institutions based on students' population denominated in dollars. Some of the public institutions have perfected the scheme to such an extent that the revenue earned from the scheme provides a large percentage of their internally generated funds (IGF), which in turn is a huge cost to the affiliated institutions.
The main source of revenue for the private universities is what is generated from school fees which consist of two main components; tuition fees and students user-fees. Sale of application forms form an insignificant aspect of the revenue. Some private institutions are lucky to access grants from benefactors within and outside the country. Some of the church founded universities receive grants from their mother churches, irregular as it may be. One particular university has arrangement with some foreign commercial organisations which fund its scholarship scheme for its bright but needy students. Aside the identified sources of revenue, it means, the private universities must rely on the income generating activates of the proprietors who founded the institutions to survive during the initial period of existence.
In the current situation, there is no way a newly established private university can achieve breakeven point, let alone start making profits within five years. Unfortunately, this is one of the aspects among others, which is lost on many of the proprietors of private universities. They look on the university as an industry similar to owning a check-check;” wayside eating place.
Establishing a university requires the formulation of a strategic plan, the meeting of minds, the pooling of resources, the willingness to employ knowledgeable consultants who can offer competent advice on the structure and content of programmes, a well-functioning academic registry, and above all, constant interaction with the authorities at NAB who are always willing to offer any needed assistance. If today many heads of some private institutions are bemoaning at the numerous challenges they are faced with and thus calling for the merging of some of the private universities and the reduction of affiliated fees, it proves the point that while the government has failed to recognise the good work the private universities have done in the past and offered any meaningful help to them beyond the provision of 50-seater buses to some of them, it must also be recognised that many of the problems facing the private universities are self-inflicted.
I had expected the private universities to have formed a strong vibrant association and taken advantage of the appointment of Prof. Kwesi Yankah as the Minister of State in charge of Tertiary Education to dialogue with him. After all, the erudite professor was once the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana and at another time the Vice-Chancellor of the Central University College (now Central University). Therefore he is a veteran of both public and private institutions and stands in better position to help resolve many of the challenges facing the private universities.
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BY Kwame Gyasi