So what could the NAB do to become relevant as an external quality agent for higher education?
Using doctoral degree titles
It is an undeniable fact that Ghana is a country of university degree title lovers and worshippers, particularly doctoral degrees. No matter what the holders of doctoral degrees know and are able to do for themselves, their families, their communities or their nation states, they are accorded a high level of respectability, nobility and honour in Ghanaian society.
Consequently, some members of the Charismatic clergy and other public figures have adopted doctoral degree titles though most of them have barely completed senior secondary school or undergraduate education. This appears to be a clear case of devaluation of the doctoral title in a country such as Ghana where less than 0.05% of the educated population possess doctoral degrees.
Recently, the NAB, through its secretariat, has decided to push for tough regulation that will make it an offence for anybody in Ghana to use honorary doctoral degree titles obtained from dubious or unaccredited education institutions. According to the NAB, if anyone needs to use an honorary doctorate degree title, the Dr should be followed by 'Hon Causa' or 'hc' in brackets.
The NAB argues that honorary doctorate degrees as an academic title are an award and not part of one's educational achievements. This is absolutely true in that recipients of honorary degrees do not go through any of the normal rigorous processes associated with earning a doctoral degree the admissions process, coursework, a comprehensive examination, a thesis proposal hearing and thesis production and defence.
Nonetheless, we strongly believe the NAB was motivated by a research paper by two Ghanaian researchers in the United States who disclosed the names of a number of prominent Ghanaians who hold doctoral degrees from education institutions around the world that are allegedly unaccredited or dubious.
We contend that the NABs plan goes far beyond its mandate. However, we support any attempts by the NAB to investigate the doctoral degrees of academic staff employed in both public and private higher education institutions as part of the accreditation process. We also suggest that people employed in public offices such as government ministries, agencies and boards, and politicians, district executives, municipal chairs and others should have their doctoral credentials investigated.
It is a sheer waste of time, money and other valuable resources for the NAB to mount a national campaign against people who use the doctoral degree title in private spaces. Enforcement of such a regulation would lead to costly, unnecessary legal action.
The NAB recently stressed the importance of admission requirements for higher education institutions. According to the NAB, the minimum admission requirement for an undergraduate degree must consist of at least five subject passes in the senior secondary school exit examination, including English and mathematics.
This seems to suggest that a high academic admission requirement will contribute to quality higher education. While there is some empirical truth to that assertion, it fails to consider the fact that the type of institution and programme should determine the admission requirement.
We also argue that admission requirements for higher education institutions belong to the internal quality assurance of each education institution. It is very unrealistic for the NAB to impose a uniform academic admission requirement on all higher education institutions in Ghana because there are different types of higher education institutions in Ghana. Each should be allowed to formulate its own academic admission requirement policy in accordance with its purpose and with the local reality.
Some institutions, for instance, would emphasise more work-related experience relative to academic preparation. Other institutions may design a preparatory programme for those without high school exit qualifications. Whatever the content of their admissions policy, institutions should annually inform the NAB and let them know the rationale behind it. In this case the NAB could work with specific institutions to improve their admissions policies if it finds them unacceptable.
An obsession with titles
It is not uncommon in Ghana for a new institution to be placed under the mentorship of another older, more experienced institution. Though this relationship between the mentor institution and the mentee institution is not well structured, it has become an important part of the accreditation process in Ghana.
Recently, in one of its board meetings the NAB resolved that the heads of institutions under mentorship are forbidden from using the title of vice-chancellor. It advised the heads of those institutions to use titles like president, principal or rector. However, this policy decision suggests that if the head of the mentee institution uses the title vice-chancellor it presupposes equality with the head of the mentoring institution rather than subordination to it.
Nonetheless, our view is that the policy decision on the use of the vice-chancellor title is a relatively trivial issue in comparison to the current issues facing higher education in Ghana.
There are many substantive issues on the quality of higher education that need the immediate attention of the NAB, for example, how the NAB could assist and support institutions to develop rigorous internal quality assurance models; to ensure that higher education institution graduates have the requisite skill sets and dispositions compatible with Ghanaian labour market requirements; to hold stakeholder conferences and develop common quality standards; to structure the mentor and mentee relationship so that each has clearly defined roles and duties; and to address poor quality of teaching in universities.
Most importantly, there is an urgent need for the NAB to develop a national doctorate education framework for universities in Ghana. Some Ghanaian universities offer doctoral degree programmes and our investigation reveals that those programmes are oriented toward the preparation of graduates for academic employment. Ghana needs doctoral programmes that prepare students for employment in the public, private, rural and agriculture sectors.
The NAB's policy on vice-chancellor titles underlines the long-held view that Ghanaians are psychologically obsessed with titles. But title obsession has helped to advance the quality of higher education in Ghana.
The NAB's accreditation process should be transparent to existing and prospective institutions as well as to the general public. For instance, the minimum quality standards required for classroom and library facilities and acceptable governance models should be explicitly stated by the NAB. Those minimum quality standards can then be used to assess the eligibility of education institutions for accreditation via questionnaire and panel visits.
Without predetermined quality standards for accreditation, there is a risk of arbitrary decisions being taken and of corruption on the part of the three-member panel that visits institutions. There is also a lack of homogeneity in higher education quality standards throughout the country.
Predetermined standards for assessing accreditation open up the possibility for a third-party review of the accreditation process should institutions contest the results. Additionally, it would be possible to state with substantial precision why an education institution has been refused accreditation or why its accreditation has been revoked or suspended.
The above suggestions and analyses are presented for the purpose of introducing elements of rationalisation, national policy alignment, de-bureaucratisation and social justice into the accreditation process. The ultimate aim is to improve the accreditation process.
It is a feature of public institutions in Africa that they often continue operating with the same ineffective model for years. We hope our articles will start a critical national conversation about innovative approaches to accreditation of higher education institutions in Ghana.
Dr Eric Fredua-Kwarteng is a policy analyst in Canada. Samuel Kwaku Ofosu is academic officer at Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons.
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