Dr. George Afeti, a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) expert, says it is imperative that policy-makers and stakeholders work to ensure that technical universities function effectively to meet their policy mandate.
“They need to be supported to maintain their iconic identity as high level, vocationally-inclined, employment-oriented skills training institutions, supported by adequate public funding,” he advocated.
That was critical to prevent mission drift and a shift towards isomorphism, the TVET expert said.
Dr. Afeti, a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Association of Technical Universities and Polytechnics in Africa, was delivering a paper on the topic: “The Conversion of Polytechnics to Technical Universities”, at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS), in Accra.
The programme is in line with the GAAS’ policy dialogue project dubbed: ‘Motivating Higher Education Reforms in Ghana – Towards Equity and Sustainability’, which is being funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY).
The paper provided a critical assessment of the conversion of the polytechnics in Ghana to university status, and the main assessment parameters, including an evaluation of the performance of the technical universities since their establishment with particular reference to the programmes and courses offered.
It also looked at the enrolment trends, academic staff quality, graduation rates and employability, funding and governance.
Dr. Afeti said the popularity of the technical universities was growing, saying the student enrolment figures over the past five years showed that the Higher National Diploma (HND) programmes were still popular with applicants, with an average annual enrolment of about 46, 400.
The enrolments on the Bachelor of Technology (BTech) programmes are also increasing, jumping from about 6,000 in 2018 to 20,000 in 2022, representing an increase of 70 per cent in enrolment.
The number of students enrolled in the Master of Technology (MTech) programmes is also increasing albeit at a much lower rate given the fact that the number of programmes currently offered is only a handful while the spread of options is equally limited.
Dr. Afeti, on funding, bemoaned the low budgetary allocation for the technical universities, saying it was well below the amounts required to support effective skills training at the tertiary level.
“An annual budgetary allocation of a meagre GHS20,000 to each technical university for goods and services, which would include the cost of training materials and consumables, is woefully inadequate,” he noted.
He said in spite of the technical universities contributing to making TVET education more attractive, there was no evidence, in the absence of tracer studies or graduate tracking tools, that the growing enrolments and graduate outputs were translating into greater graduate employment outcomes.
The technical universities should, therefore, develop tools and mechanisms to track and facilitate the transition of their graduates into the world of work, he stated.
The Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) and Commission for Technical and Vocational Educational and Training (CTVET) should support them to develop niches or specialisms in alignment with the country’s skills needs and emerging economic growth sectors to promote efficiency in resource allocation.
It is also important to initiate performance-based funding for the technical universities, based on agreed performance contracts, which may include graduate placement in employment, the use of adjunct lecturers from industry, and female participation in science and technology programmes, says the TVET expert.
Dr. Afeti, a Skills Development Expert, Skills Initiative For Africa – SIFA under the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), advocated that BTech programmes that were not technology-intensive should be redesignated, for example, BSc Statistics instead of BTech Statistics or Bachelor of Marketing instead of BTech Marketing.
He said industry and professional or workplace experience should be accorded a higher premium in the appointments and promotions criteria “to ensure that teaching and learning activities are practice-oriented”.
In his view, technical universities akin to universities of applied sciences could coexist within the same higher education ecosystem but with differentiated mandates, as was the case in some countries in Europe.
“For now, the technical universities should be limited to the award of HND, BTech, MTech and lower level technician certificate qualifications.
“In future, the enrolment of Doctor of Technology (DTech) students should be done in collaboration with relevant well-established research or comprehensive universities. ”
He said the role played by the key partners in the governance of the technical universities, including Government, industry, the alumni, and the regulatory bodies (GTEC and CTVET) was weak and below the level of engagement expected.
“In particular, interaction and partnerships with industry as well as small and medium-scale enterprises are still in their infancy.”
Ghana, he said, was not alone in promoting technical universities, and within that context, policy contextualisation within the country’s history of higher education, TVET education, the needs of industry and the labour market, as well as the country’s human capital development priorities should not be glossed over.
“High employment rate can be a unique selling point for the technical universities.
“GTEC may factor the employment data into their supervision and funding mechanism and for monitoring the performance of the technical universities,” he advised.
The role of industry and employers encompassing the design, development and delivery of employment-oriented curricula, internships and job fairs, as well as quality assurance of industry-oriented programmes needed to be taken seriously.
Meanwhile, Professor James H. Ephraim, a Fellow, GAAS, suggested three types of universities that should be established in the country, after his review of Dr. Afeti’s paper.
According to him, the three types should be research-focused universities, foundation universities and career-oriented universities – where the technical universities would fall in.
Professor Edward H.K Akaho, a Fellow, GAAS, also in his review of the paper, recommended that technical universities must share knowledge, capabilities, availability of facilities, resources and challenges by establishing a network.
In an interview with the Ghana News Agency (GNA), Mohammed Musa Koasi, Coordinating Secretary of the Ghana National Union of Technical Students (GNUTS), said more practical-oriented training sessions should be adopted in technical universities.
Priority should be given to industrial attachment, and also teaching and learning in technical universities ought to be updated annually to meet the current market and industry demands.