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Nigerian students study in one-block, portakabin Ghanaian varsities

Sequel to the irregular academic calendar and alleged inadequate facilities, Nigerian parents send their children overseas for tertiary ...

L-R: A portakabin used as lecture room at AIT and the seven-storey building housing SMU
Sequel to the irregular academic calendar and alleged inadequate facilities, Nigerian parents send their children overseas for tertiary education. The idea is that these schools have state-of-the-art amenities and their graduates are world-class. However, after a 10-day tour of some Ghanaian universities, Punch Newspaper reports the conditions under which Nigerian students study in this West African country

Welcome to Accra Institute of Technology, a one-block Ghanaian tertiary institution offering first degrees as well as post-graduate degrees up to the doctoral level.

AIT, which prides itself as being modelled after internationally-recognised institutes of technology such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, both in the United States of America, occupies an uncompleted, rented one-block building on the premises of the Civil Service Training Centre of the Ghanaian government.

The institute, with a university status as certified by the National Accreditation Board, which is an agency of Ghanaian Ministry of Education, is boxed in the far end of the compound which also houses Ghana’s Government Secretarial School, as well as a Learning and Development Centre. AIT pays its rent to the Ghanaian government.

Interestingly, over 60 per cent of the students in this institution are Nigerians. Out of an estimated 2,000 students pursuing various degree programmes, the institution’s registrar, Mr. Dominic Osei-Boakye, who spoke with our correspondent in his three-by-four-feet cubicle office, says over 1,200 of its student population are Nigerians. He adds that 15 per cent of the students are from Francophone African countries, while the remaining 25 per cent are Ghanaians.

Shameful facilities

To accommodate students for the purpose of lectures and other academic activities, the AIT authorities have had to construct fabricated metal containers instead of properly built lecture rooms. In fact, when our correspondent visited the school, some students were seen studying on the deck of the structure housing the institution.

Investigation shows that most of these foreign students have either been denied admission into the universities back at home or — in the case of Nigerians — the majority are those that have been frustrated by the incessant strikes usually embarked upon by members of the Academic Staff of Union of Universities. And, as usual with foreign students in overseas institutions, they pay in American dollars.

At the AIT, the school fees range between $1,300 and $1,510 per semester, excluding feeding, accommodation and procurement of academic materials.

Sources at the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana told our correspondent that the Nigerian High Commissioner to the country, Amb. Ademola Onafowokan, was utterly disappointed during his visit to AIT when he had to address Nigerian students in their hundreds under a tree.

One of the sources who confided in this correspondent said Onafowokan had chosen the school for the visitation owing to the sheer number of Nigerian students reported to be studying there.

“The situation whereby Nigerians flood universities that can best be described as mushroom institutions of learning is very pathetic and worrisome. His Excellency, the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Amb. Ademola Onafowokan, had his fair share of this experience during his tour of universities with significant number of Nigerian population.

“At AIT, which is a one-block institution, he (Onafowokan) addressed the students under a tree. You can go there and see things for yourself and witness, first-hand, the environment and the condition in which our compatriots learn,” a top diplomat in the High Commission who craved anonymity laments.

Study centres, shallow standards

Duly registered tertiary institutions of learning in the standing of AIT, with no clear-cut standard infrastructure and basic facilities, are scattered across the length and breadth of Ghana. Apart from AIT, other institutions operating from a one-block structure includes the Sikkim Manipal University, Accra campus; Radford University College, Accra; and Mahatma Gandhi University, Accra campus.

While Sikkim Manipal University is operated by KnowledgeWorkz Limited, the supposed “authorised learning centre” for the Accra and Kumsai campuses, Paramount Academy for Career Excellence boasts being the “authorised study centre” for the Mahatma Gandhi University in Ghana.

The rigorous procedure of gaining admission into Nigerian universities, especially the publicly-owned ivory towers, hardly applies here; and this has made these so-called affiliate institutions attractive to many Nigerian students and their parents.

Investigations reveal that the processes involved in securing admission into these quasi universities are rather too easy for comfort, because they only require the candidate to have a good Senior School Certificate Examination result. This is in sharp contrast to Nigeria where, in addition to scoring at least six credits in the SSCE, candidates are also required to write and pass the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination as well as the Post-UTME of their individual institutions of choice.

Ghana’s public varsities

As for public universities in Ghana, they are widely acclaimed as great citadels of learning, with stable academic calendars, unlike their Nigerian counterparts where lecturers sometimes go on strikes for months at a stretch, disrupting academic calendars and making higher education a bore to most students. Anyway, the lecturers in Nigeria usually do so on principles and with the intention to get the system standardised.

Investigations show that securing admission into any of the nine universities is highly competitive, as a prospective candidate must present his academic transcripts from his home university, the original WASSCE result, while he also has to sit for an internal examination relevant to the intended course, the overall result of which will determine whether or not he will be offered admission.

The institutions are the University of Ghana, Legon; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi; University of Cape Coast; University of Education, Winnieba; University for Development Studies, Tamale.

Others are the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ahafo; University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa; University of Professional Studies, Legon; and the more recently established University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho, in the Volta Region. All of these tertiary institutions have standard facilities and structures.

High varsity fees

As stated earlier, Nigerian candidates seeking a spot in Ghanaian government-owned universities are not only required to have very good grades in their Senior School Certificate Examinations, as international students, they also pay very high tuition fees, compared to domestic students.

The university fees are higher than those charged by the study centres, and they include fees for accommodation (excluding feeding) which range between $6,000 and $8,000 per session.

Foreign students studying medicine pay more, as their tuition is sometimes as much as $18,000 per academic session. Again, excluding feeding and other incidentals.

Lone private varsity

Nigeria currently has 34 private universities, many of which have graduated several thousands of students; and there are plans to found more; while the Federal Government also established six more universities, scattered across the country a few years ago. This is unlike what obtains in Ghana which has a lone private varsity with the power of full autonomy.

Indeed, out of the over 50 private universities certified by the Ghanaian government, only one of them is a full-fledged institution chartered to award degrees — the Valley View University, belonging to the Seventh Day Adventist. Situated on Accra-Dodowa Road, near Oyibi in the Greater Accra Region, VVU awards degrees on its own, without recourse to any government-owned or foreign university.

This is contrary to what obtains in the so-called affiliate Ghanaian universities that issue certificates in the name of their mentor universities. The same thing applies to the study centres and satellite campuses, which also depend on the foreign institutions they are affiliated to for all their academic needs.

While statistics from the Nigerian High Commission puts the number of Nigerians studying in Ghanaian universities at over 110,000, local media report that Nigerians in Ghana’s public universities are a little above 2,000. This probably means that the majority of Nigerian students are spread across various Ghanaian institutions that are affiliates, study/learning centres or satellite campuses, with the exception of VVU.

While various countries have had cause to confront the menace of unapproved or unlicensed universities, the state of affairs in many accredited tertiary institutions in Ghana leave much to be desired.

Scandalous structures

From uncompleted buildings, one-block apartments to two-storey structures, many of the accredited private universities in Ghana appear to be mere money-making ventures for their owners. More worrisome is the fact that in many of the universities visited by our correspondent, Nigerians form the bulk of their student population, while they also top the nationality of guests at their admissions offices.

Sikkim Manipal University, Ghana, a licensed university operating as a “learning centre” under the auspices of Sikkim Manipal University, India, is sited in the seven-storey Abena Ateaa Towers in the Ghanaian capital’s Ring Road Central.

The Abena Ateaa Towers also houses the Nigerian-owned Access Bank, as well as the NIIT.

This single-structure institution can be likened to a Nigerian university away from home, considering the huge number of Nigerians there.

And though the university authorities kept sealed lips on the exact number of Nigerian students in the school, independent investigations by our correspondent revealed that over 90 per cent of its students are Nigerians.

In one of the offices, assorted statements of result of the final examination of the National Board of Technical Education, as well as those of the National Examinations Council, littered the table of the admissions counsellors as well as that of the institution’s assistant registrar in charge of admissions.

As nationalistic as they can be, when the news of President Goodluck Jonathan’s illness during his recent London visit filtered in, all the 13 Nigerian students seated on one of the corridors of the school engaged in heated conversation that later digressed into a PDP/APC argument.

‘All the tribes are here’

When our correspondent sought to confirm their nationalities, one of them replies, “Guy, you dey funny oh. Seems you are new here. Na we full here. There is no tribe you are looking for that you won’t find here.”

The young man who hails from Imo State adds, “The population of Nigerians here is over 90 per cent of the entire student number.”

They revealed that their school operates what they describe as “a very flexible schedule,” such that admission is on a continuous basis, and the exercise goes on until one month to the examination period.

Three years for B.A, B.Sc

One of them said, “For first degree programmes, we spend only six academic semesters which add up to three years. Chop-chop, you are done with school, rather than putting your academic life in the hands of some lecturers and greedy politicians who care less about your future.”

Again, this is different from what obtains in Nigeria where an undergraduate who is admitted straight from the secondary school spends four years for a Bachelor’s degree; while those who secure direct entry spend three years. For this latter category of candidates, they have passed through a polytechnic, monotechnic or college of education; and they are usually holders of the National Diploma or the National Certificate of Education.

Nigeria’s loss, Ghana’s gain

Although privately-funded universities such as the Wisconsin International University College, Accra; and All Nations University College, Koforidua in the Eastern Region have huge Nigerian student population, the Ghana campuses of Sikkim Manipal University based in India appears to have profited the most from the five-month ASUU strike.

The ease of securing admission into SMU, which is run by KnowledgeWorkz Limited, a learning centre, coupled with the three-year duration for all its first degree programmes, has attracted Nigerians to the institution.

Many Nigerian students in SMU who spoke with this correspondent said they were happy studying in the school. Twenty-six-year-old Haruna Umar was, until November 11, a first-year student of the Department of Statistics, Uthman Danfodio University, Sokoto.

When ASUU’s strike seemed to go on without any end in sight, Umar shifted base to Ghana and enrolled in SMU where, alongside several hundreds of other Nigerians, he is pursuing an undergraduate degree. Since his new institution does not offer Statistics, however, Umar said he had gladly settled for Information Technology.

“I finished senior secondary school in 2011 and I had to wait till 2013 before securing admission into Uthman Danfodio University. After wasting two years of my life, ASUU again embarked on strike. It is so pathetic. I had no other choice than to seek university education elsewhere and that was what brought me here,” Umar, whose elder sister pays his tuition, declares.

Umar, like his colleagues, have had to choose between the morning, afternoon and evening sessions to pursue his degree programme in the institution due to space constraints occasioned by the student population. Each of the session takes two hours and Umar, a fresh student, says he has settled for the morning session.

Enrolment before basic qualification

Apart from the undergraduate programmes that these universities offer, the majority of them also run certificate and diploma programmes for foreign students.

Findings by this correspondent reveal that a good number of these private institutions also admit Nigerian students with deficiencies in their SSCE for undergraduate programmes. However, such students are expected to make up for the deficiencies within a stipulated time, such that their credentials will then be attached to their files at the later date.

The implication of this is that in real terms, students jump academic procedures by commencing degree programmes when they have yet to fulfil basic requirements. Experts say this is never the case in the stiffly competitive Nigerian university system.

The schools’ authorities say the admissions of those who fail to make up for such Ordinary Levels deficiencies within the stipulated period are terminated.

Curious diploma award

As for those who fail to meet academic standards as undergraduates, they still go home with something — the institutions award them diplomas stating the number of courses they had passed.

It is doubtful, though, that they can use these diploma certificates to secure admission or jobs in real world.

Indeed, a woman who works with the Ghana Christian University College’s Institutional Advancement Office sheds more light on this curious diploma award. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she said, “All hope is not lost for candidates who have one or two deficiencies in their Senior School Certificate Examination, as they have the opportunity of being admitted.”

The GCUC has 62 foreign students, 52 out of which are Nigerians. The arrangements are in place for all categories of students, irrespective of nationality.

Obviously, the GCUC doubles as a pre-varsity centre — the type that litters many Nigerian cities, preparing students for university admission by helping them to beef up their ‘O’ Levels results prior to admission into universities. The Nigerian outlets don’t award diplomas, as all they do is to teach the students so that when next they write the SSCE, they can secure enough credits for varsity admission.

The official adds anonymously, “While they get admitted and take courses to pursue a degree of their choice, they are also given special coaching on the (‘O’ Levels) subjects they have deficiencies in to enable them to do well during the next examination. More often than not, the majority of such students pass those subjects due to the quality of learning they are exposed to.

“But in the event that such students do not pass the SSCE subjects at the stipulated time, they will cease to be students of the school, while a certificate will be issued to them based on their area of specialisation.”

Exporting cultism from Nigeria to Ghana

Some Ghanaians hold the opinion that the influx of Nigerians in the country had shot up the increasing cases of cultism in their tertiary institutions. This notion was given weight as the Nigerian High Commissioner, Amb. Onafowokan, explains that it is true that some Nigerian students “are trying to introduce cultism” to Ghanaian universities.

He, however, says although there are some bad eggs, Ghanaians should not generalise and brand Nigerian students as either cultists or criminals. He warns that the Nigerian mission to Ghana will not hesitate to expose anyone convicted of engaging in cultism.

“When I was at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology, the vice-chancellor spoke highly of Nigerian students there in terms of their academic performance and behaviour. They are doing very well. However, they are trying to bring some cultism into some universities and we at the High Commission have sounded a note of warning.

“I am watching out for them. If I see any traces of that, I will write to the Ghanaian government. This is because such an activity will tarnish the image of Nigeria. In fact, the universities here are also very careful. If they get you (cultist), you are sent away,” he says.

Culled from Punch

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