By Riche-Mike Wellington, Officer in charge of Legal and Administration, Ghana Commission for UNESCO
In sub-Saharan Africa, over one in five students studying in higher education is in a private institution, rising to one in two in Ghana. With different actors providing higher education, the government needs to make sure it maintains oversight of the overall system to ensure quality and equitable access. Ghana, for instance, as our country profile on the PEER website shows, has a Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) under the Ministry of Education, which is committed to ensuring its higher education system is equitable and inclusive for all learners in order to achieve its objective of becoming a learning nation. This blog details its oversight with the hope that our experience might be of use to other countries also managing the complicated governance of higher education along with non-state actors.
First and foremost, the GTEC makes sure that all students who meet the minimum requirements can access higher education. This involves having a six-credit pass from secondary education, or a good pass for mature students. The government also has equitable policies in place, providing programs and initiatives along with non-state actors that encourage women and girls to enter higher education institutions, as there is currently a marginal disparity in women’s access.
The quality of higher education provision across all actors, meanwhile, is monitored beginning with strict protocols for assessing new higher education institutions. This includes assessing the relevance of the program to the national development agenda, long-term resourcing and the sustainability of the venture. Once established, the quality assurance directorate under GTEC also ensures that all institutions meet basic requirements before awarding accreditation to operate and run academic programs. There are also frequent visits by a quality assurance team to ensure they are operating as they should. Accreditation is granted for up to three years and is subject to renewal based on the ability to keep up to standards. All tertiary institutions are mandated to establish a quality assurance directorate to monitor and evaluate the quality of education on regular basis. This is to ensure that the quality of teaching and learning is not compromised by students and faculty.
Additional checks are in place to ensure equity and inclusion in teacher training. The National Teaching Council (NTC) is mandated by law to promote teacher professionalism by licensing and registering teachers in the country. They periodically review professional standards and code of ethics, conduct teacher licensure examinations, and provide the framework for continuous professional development of teachers. Recently, for instance, the NTC provided guidelines and a framework for non-state actors in teacher professional development, such as Instill Education, to train teachers on its platform. Between March and September 2022, over 40,000 Ghanaian educators were trained in instructional leadership, inclusive education, pedagogical skills, and digital competencies.
The government has also put into place various arrangements to ensure that financing tertiary education is shared equitably, a key theme examined in the GEM Report’s 2022 policy paper on non-state engagement in higher education. Equitable financing mechanisms are important for ensuring that the poorest are not prevented from attending due to cost. Analysis of data from the World Inequality Database on Education shows the median gap in tertiary attendance between the richest and poorest quintiles to be 21 percentage points.
In Ghana, any student that gains admission to a public tertiary institution has equal access to a loan and/or an allowance from government. The Student Loan Trust Fund is an agency under the Ministry of Education that award loans to tertiary students. The agency has introduced a ‘no-guarantor scheme’ where students do not need a Social Security contributor to guarantee their loan application before accessing the funds. This policy has innovatively addressed the fact that previously loans were inaccessible for many students. In addition, trainee teachers at Colleges of Education receive monthly allowance from the government to support their studies.
Financing modalities extend to students in private higher education institutions where students have equal opportunity to access government scholarships through the Ghana Education Trust Fund, the District Assembly Common Fund, the Scholarship Secretariat or other state institutions, such as the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, to pursue studies in private universities. Other non-state actors, such as the MasterCard Foundation, have scholarship arrangements with both public and private institutions to help students from marginalized groups pursue their studies.
Over the past couple of years, other flexible tertiary education financing options have also emerged. For example, some public and private universities have introduced payment in installments to alleviate household burdens. These arrangements have proven effective and could be expanded with mechanisms that would guarantee on-time fee payments and recovery.
Continuous advances in education technology and distance learning have seen further strides in access to tertiary education in Ghana. For many providers, education technology solutions have eliminated the cost of brick-and-mortar classrooms. While some critics have cited equity considerations on the cost of internet connectivity, the government in partnership with telecommunication companies could explore the possibility of zero rating the cost of internet data for educational purposes.
There is no doubt that non-state actors play important roles in the provision, financing, and management of tertiary education in Ghana. Governments and education stakeholders need to continuously work towards making systems and processes more equitable and inclusive. We need to sustain the dialogue with a view to rethinking higher education systems by deploying innovative solutions to make them more accessible, equitable, and inclusive. This will enable higher education to respond effectively to the world of work. We need to innovatively engage non-state actors – private enterprises, non-governmental organizations and foundations – to devise solutions for higher education financing. Only by working hand in hand with non-state actors will governments demonstrate true commitment to education.
On 22 March 2023, Riche-Mike Wellington joined a global webinar hosted by UNESCO-ICHEI on non-state actors in higher education in collaboration with the GEM Report.