No one can discount the immense contribution university education makes to national development, particularly when efforts are directed at making education the driving force that transforms the economy through the development of a country’s human resources. It is with this sentiment that most people welcome the Technical Universities Act 2016, Act 922, which seeks to convert existing polytechnics into technical universities. Under the Act, the new technical universities are mandated to maintain their uniqueness as institutions for training the next generation of industrial human resources that are required to transform the economy. Geoffrey Boulton of the University of Edinburgh, in a speech in 2009 at the European University Association Convention in Prague on the topic, ‘’Globalisation: What are universities for?’’, made some propositions on the roles of universities, and stated, among others, that universities in today’s world are seen as ‘’crucial national assets’’ actually engaged with government agenda in dealing with policy priorities. They also act as sources of new knowledge and innovation through research and development. Besides, they are providers of skilled personnel to drive an economy and prepare society for a future that is unpredictable. He adds that higher institutions provide society with the moral force that would make it possible for society to influence the continually emerging global crises, without relying on outsiders for solutions. Given these roles, one could rightly conclude that society is driven largely by higher education and thus provides the impetus for economic, social, moral, and of course, intellectual development.
Seeing that universities play these very crucial roles, particularly that of providing skilled human resources, one would not hesitate to appreciate the conversion of polytechnics into technical universities. Technical universities, or universities of technology as they are also designated in other countries such as the Netherlands, South Africa, and Brazil, undoubtedly, are different from the traditional universities in terms the programmes of study they offer, and in the mode of teaching and learning that take place there. For instance, in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, a common feature of technical universities, there is the intensive collaboration between the universities and industries, with a strong bias towards the current needs of industry. This is spearheaded by practice-based training founded on sound theory and research. The result is a continually emerging technological development that encourages industry to invest in university research, with the hope that the research would in turn translate into economic benefits to these industries. A fascinating and commendable feature of the technical universities in Ukraine is that public sector industrial associations and employers’ organizations submit inputs into the design of programmes of study run by these institutions. Thereafter, the programmes are approved by the Ukranian National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, presumably similar to Ghana’s National Accreditation Board (NAB), or the National Council on Tertiary Education (NCTE).
On these premise, one should feel at ease to support the conversion of Ghanaian polytechnics into technical universities, in spite of the likely challenges at the initial stages. However, there are other issues that need to be considered in order to make the whole enterprise work better. In this light, it is relevant to note with great concern what G.E. Mikhnenko of Ukraine’s National Technical University points out, that, for technical universities to be able to achieve the reality, there must necessarily be an ‘’environment for self-development and self-renewal.’’ By implication, industries and businesses need to grow in scale, in scope of operations, and in their capacity to absorb the students for practical training. That is to say, the training of students in the technical universities should go alongside the development of the economy. Otherwise, an adverse situation could emerge where, because of very limited opportunities for practical work in destination industries and businesses, training would suffer and consequently reward the conversion efforts with unexciting results.
Another salient issue that also merits consideration is what is learned and how it is learned – the issue of curriculum and teaching methodology at the pre-university levels. In order to make the basic, senior high technical, technical and vocational schools prepare to take advantage of the opportunities to be offered by the technical universities, it would be prudent that their present curricular be reviewed so that they fall in line with those of the new universities. This apart, the methodology of teaching should take a new turn and dwell more on practice than theory, while encouraging more project works using small student groups. The new Technical universities would require much more resources, expertise, and unalloyed commitment, if we are to succeed in making them what we envisage them to be. There is hope that by following a prescribed blueprint with a focus on the uniqueness that we pray for our new universities, we would achieve our target.
BY YAKUBU AKAJABU, CO-ORDINATOR FOR SENIOR HIGH SCHOOLS, BEREKUM MUNICIPAL EDUCATION OFFICE.