THE DEGREE RUSH

Back in February the National Accreditation Board showed us that they had the teeth to bite. They had ordered authorities of the Central University College to withdraw 695 unqualified students who were admitted by the Central University College (CUC) to pursue various degree programmes in the current academic year. The students at the Central University College did not obtain grade C6 or less in one, two or all three of the core subjects of Mathematics, English and Integrated Science or Social Studies in the WASSCE. And just last week, news reports had it that the NAB has again ordered the Methodist University College Ghana (MUCG), to withdraw 1,465 unqualified students it has admitted to various degree programmes by the end of April, this year. The reports said the action follows an audit inspection conducted by the NAB at the university which found out that some of the students who were at various levels were admitted with only proficiency certificates in Computer Studies and other courses. It goes on to say that others had not attained grade C6 or less in one, two or all three of the core subjects such as Mathematics, English and Integrated Science or Social Studies in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

The NAB is undertaking more audits and my guess is that a lot more ‘students’ are going to be ‘dismissed’ from a lot more private universities. There is a common belief among people in school that truthfully, most people who were unable to gain admission to the public universities find their way into the private universities. Indeed the only stage in the educational setup where being in a private institution was what young people say was a ‘flex’ is being in a private junior high school. At that level those in ‘cyto’ feel they are lower in standards and everything else compared to their folks in the private ones. But when you move to the secondary school the schools everyone wants to be in are PRESEC, Achimota, Wesley Girls’ High School, Holy Child, Adisco, St. Augustines, Aburi Girls, St. Roses and the like. These are the ‘cytos’ of the secondary school but they are the most sought after. Move on to the universities and it is a similar story. Perhaps the only ‘unusual’ private university we can exclude is Ashesi. Aside that one, most students would rather be at Legon or Tech or Cape. Of course for reasons of self-esteem you will hear some say ‘I came to this university by choice; I didn’t want to go to Legon’. And that is a lie!

Government’s subsidy of the public universities means that no matter what, the fees and accommodation rates are cheaper. Then again, Legon and the other public universities have a certain stature and recognition globally (in fact most private universities do not even award their own certifications; they award that of their affiliated universities, i.e. the Legons, Techs and Capes). In fact, quite a number of the teachers in the private universities are full time lecturers in the public universities. So why will you turn these down for the private universities?

The admission requirements for the public universities are often stricter and it sees a lot of qualified folks fall behind the cut-off points largely because of the unavailability of space. On the other hand the private universities push theirs so close to the cut-off point of 24 and what that means is that a lot of people who will normally not make it into our traditional universities get a chance here. The sad case which the NAB audit has revealed (and which most of us have always known) is that almost all the private universities pay more attention to ‘who can afford our fees’ rather than who qualifies to be here. This is what has encouraged them to admit students who have no business being in a university to do so.

I know there is talk about how our educational system’s structure does not do justice to some students and all. I am not in a position to discuss that now. What I do know is that no university has the right to admit students who have failed the qualifying criteria into universities. I even think MUCG and CUC and those to be ‘caught’ in the next few weeks should be punished for glaringly and intentionally admitting students they know they should not admit. Of course the students were also stupid in gleefully ‘allowing themselves to be admitted’ when they knew that had papers to re-write.

The apparent craze for university degrees makes nonsense of the widespread thinking that one does not need a degree to be successful in life. Yes I am aware of the successes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zukerberg and Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates and the many others who dropped out of school but are managing multi-million dollar outfits and brands. So does that mean our people should stay home and hope to be the next Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?

What we have though in Ghana is a case where tens of thousands of people complete polytechnics – where they were supposed to learn a mixture of hand-on practical job creation skills – and carry HNDs but will go through thick and thin to gain admission into four-year university programs which gives them no practical skills but only succeeds in adding them to the thousands of unemployed graduates in the country. During my undergraduate days at Legon I had as my course mates, at least four teachers who had taught me in junior secondary school. They had come to the university to obtain a degree. Some had no intention of going back to the classroom or staying in the education outfit.

I think we have created a system in our job market here where employers tend to give undue preference to degree holders at the detriment of all others. So what we have is a situation where everyone wants to obtain a degree. I have also observed that quite a number of people end up in polytechnics and other tertiary institutions after they have been unsuccessful in obtaining admissions into the university. You thus find them literally wasting time studying courses they don’t want to only to ‘find’ a university to enter.

This should explain the apparent eruption in private universities across the country. In simple economic terms, these universities have found a need in the system – i.e. the crave of young and old people for university degrees; not necessarily university education, and they are ostensibly satisfying that need. The sad part is they do so without a consideration of the laid down rules. You may want to debate the rules that qualify a person for university education but truth be told, it is totally impossible to have a wide-open door which says that “whoever attends a secondary school should be allowed to enter a university’. That is absurd, right? Of course it is.

I think that if anyone fails to meet the qualifying requirements set by our authorities, he or she should not be allowed to enter into any institution of higher level. If you want to progress in the educational system, go back and pass the requisite exams. In the same vain the state should deal with those institutions who only care about the monies they make from these desperate students and contributing in producing mediocre products into the system.

Of course the fact that one is in the university does not necessarily make the person a great product for the work environment. Let me explain that a bit.  I made a second-lower in the university. I have friends who made first-classes. I have others who made third-classes and some others who could not even pass. In the world of work these classes mean nothing if the holders can’t apply the ‘mind-expanding’ knowledge they supposedly obtained back in school. But that still does not mean that we do a wholesale admittance of people into an educational level where brains are supposed to be used to do critical reasoning and analysis and understanding of issues that will eventually drive organizations and nations. We can’t joke with education. We simply cannot.

All those students supposed to be dismissed from MUCG and CUC do not deserve any pity. They knew they had failed their secondary school exams and did not qualify to enter a university. They were hoping to cheat the system. They wanted to obtain qualifications which others toil for very dishonest ways. The NUGS and all those speaking for these people should cut us some slack. Their actions are similar to that of a thief complaining that a colleague thief had stolen from him. We are fond of encouraging negativities too much. It is just like some idiots building in water ways and ignoring the persistent warnings of city authorities only to ask government for compensation after their houses have been pulled down.

Until we realize the importance of the many other courses that are available in the different post-tertiary institutions, there will still be a rush for degrees and employers will continue to fret on the quality of products the many schools churn out.

 

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