“Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are the pride of the US, and the UK can equally boast of Oxford University and Cambridge as one of the top universities. If Ghana is having about 240 tertiary institutions, we cannot lump all of them together.
When you do that you are punishing certain universities and giving undue advantage to others” ~ Prof Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, Vice Chancellor, University of Ghana, Legon
“Do we have a top class university in Ghana?” I asked a professor friend after a public lecture on education at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. The speaker, a popular university administrator and Oxford alumnus, had used the phrase 'top class' repeatedly in his presentation. In answering my question, my friend delivered another lecture about global university rankings, accreditation and the flagrant use of academic titles by people who cannot distinguish between a theoretical framework and literature review. In the end, I didn't have an answer to my simple question. Typical of professors.
I asked my wife the same question when I got home. “Ashesi University”, she impatiently submitted. Then, she queried: “Did you mean 'top class' in Ghana or in comparison with standards elsewhere?” She started an argument about the quality of university education in Ghana, free SHS and sexual predators masquerading as university lecturers. She spent the next hour cursing and ranting about young lecturers who are sexually molesting university students, citing the recent case of UPSA where some lecturers were sacked for sexual misconduct. She harped on the flirtatious nature of men who wear their libido on their foreheads. What has university got to do with sex? Typical.
At the office, I asked a colleague who studied in the USA about a possible Ivy League university in Ghana. “Don't even go there; do you know what Ivy League means”, he blurted. He devoted the morning to a merciless execution (military style) of tertiary education in Ghana, pausing intermittently to ask: “I wonder why we call them universities; we should call them univerifools (universally certified as very foolish). He revealed that he realized he had wasted his precious time learning “outmoded stuff” in a Ghanaian university when he travelled to the States. The standards were so high he had to take the undergraduate course all over again. He completed two Master's programmes before returning to Ghana.
What does an Ivy League institution look like? Well, they are usually beautiful. And that is not a stupid submission. To begin with, the term may only apply to the USA where some institutions are classified as top class based on their high academic standards, strict admission requirements, prestige and (emphasis mine) the influence of their alumni. By definition, the Ivy League, which typically refers to eight American institutions, was an athletic league involving institutions that had similar philosophies and played in the same championships, as in a soccer league. The Ivy League universities are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania and Yale.
What about top institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford, Duke, etc which command equally higher levels of academic prestige? Well, they are also considered Ivy League because it is a big deal to gain admission to any of them, just like Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Every country has their Ivy League; that class of top institutions of higher learning which attracts only the best through usually stringent admission processes, and often produces top professionals. So, Ghana can have its own Ivy League, can't we? At least, that is Prof Oduro Owusu's fervent hope.
The Vice Chancellor of Ghana's premier university believes that if we do not have this tier classification, “more top universities will collapse since a gradient will be set up with people moving from the top universities to smaller universities because conditions are the same everywhere,” He also thinks that the top rank universities are the face of the country, so we need to maintain them as such. However, he didn't say which of our universities are top ranked.
The latest university rankings in Ghana by UniRank puts University of Ghana at the top, followed by KNUST, University College of Education, University of Cape Coast, Ashesi, University for Development Studies, with Maranatha University coming last in that order. Central University was the 14th while Jayee University, a former secretarial institute, was 59th. University of Ghana, our national pride, however, placed 1555th in world university rankings.
Around here, we don't take rankings seriously, but we know where to send our kids for the best quality of tertiary education. Strangely, while we are willing to pay more for private education at the kindergarten and Junior High School, our taste buds suddenly develop sweet itches for public education at the senior high school. At university, our Ivy League are the public universities. Not surprisingly, they rank better than the private institutions, except Ashesi, which is in a class of its own. Indeed, apart from Ashesi, our suspicions are that students who settle for private university are those who didn't make the fine grades required by the public universities.
I have tasted the apples here and the oranges in other jurisdictions, so I can compare. I studied for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Ghana, and also collected advanced degrees from the United Kingdom and North America. I didn't attend an Ivy League institution while I was abroad. I had travelled with two degrees but it didn't mean much in the world of work. A potential employer asked during an interview: “I don't mean to offend you; is a degree from your country equivalent to any qualification here?” I couldn't blame her; Yale University is richer than Sierra Leone.
I am sorry, we don't have an Ivy League here and may not have one anytime soon. If the World Bank wants the latest statistics on global economic trends, they would go to Harvard, not KNUST. Even worse, students at KNUST would be quick to quote from the Harvard professor's research paper on the Asantehene than from the official website of Ghana's Chieftaincy Ministry. While we don't have top class universities, we have top class professors teaching here. You wonder how the symbiosis works…only in Ghana.
Tissues of the Issues
By Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin