Writer’s note: Every statement in this article and any reference to the University of Ghana or its staff and administration is strictly from the perspective of an undergraduate, international third-year social sciences and humanities student. This means that any reference to professors, administrators or students are those that I directly encountered during my studies at Legon, I understand that many factions of the university can be vastly different than the experience I had. (This was edited for clarity).
I spent the past year studying and living in Ghana. As a foreign exchange student at the University of Ghana, Legon (UG or Legon) in Accra, I experienced an academic world entirely foreign to my previous lifestyle at UCLA. UG, founded in 1948 and home to over 40,000 students, is Ghana’s premier university. It is located in Accra, Ghana’s modern, international capital. Many parts of the city boast skyscrapers housing multinational corporations, Mercedes-Benzs and Range Rovers dot the highways and western style malls cater to the large expat population and upper class.The city is visibly ripe with resources and houses a rapidly expanding elite. Despite its close proximity to this wealth of resources and an impressive alumni network, including the former Ghanaian president John Mahama, Legon lacks the fundamental levels of modernity and academic integrity needed to qualify as an advanced institution of higher education. The university is Africa’s seventh best, yet it currently does not rank in the top 600 universities in the world.
It is easy, and many of my fellow international students at UG held this mentality, to dismiss Legon’s issues as what is to be expected in a “developing” country and continent. This mindset is problematic because it reinforces the generalizing Western narrative of Africa as a continent of violence, corruption and poverty. Excluding widespread violence, Ghana does experience these issues and in many regards is crippled by them. However, fundamental resources critical to an advanced academic institution—like generators that work and reliable WiFi—have been available in Accra for too long to justify their absence from many parts of campus. UG’s subpar institutional quality is rooted in heavy administrative bureaucracy which hampers the university’s systemic effectiveness as well as faculty and administrators who are apathetic about the quality of education students receive.
Ghana is no stranger to systemic inefficiency. When you pay for a service in Ghana, there is never a guarantee that you will accurately receive that service. The country also struggles with a 24% poverty rate, high inequality, youth unemployment and corruption. However, the issues the country faces do not explain Legon’s current state. Monetary shortages and their effects are understandable, but UG demonstrated last year that it has access to funds. The university chose to neglect its pressing needs and instead allocated that money to trivial beautification projects.
During my last few days as a Legon student, I noticed new, impressively large black signs on the campus roundabouts. A new fountain was placed in the middle of the most congested roundabout on campus. After construction all year, a pond spouting water into the sky with extensive landscaping and flamingo statues by the main gate entrance was completed. To someone driving through UG, the updates make the campus look professional and legitimate. The fountain is definitely more aesthetically appealing than the previous dead grass and dirt, but—as a Ghanaian friend pointed out to me—how can the University justify displaying water flowing freely when students do not have reliable running water in their dorms?
Student housing conditions are cramped; many dorms house four to a room meant for two and some students even rent half of their bed to squatters for extra cash. Friends told me that they were often assigned rooms with doors that did not lock properly or were not given keys. The university should have directed the funds used towards landscaping to improve student housing or towards new chalkboards and white boards, replacing the irrevocably cloudy, old ones. Also worthy of budget allocation is improving the slow, inaccessible and unreliable WiFi on campus—even in the library. Why not consider replacing broken generators so when the power goes out, classes that use PowerPoints are not cancelled? Allocating these funds, regardless of their source, to trivial beautification projects is negligent. The apathy of administrators to raising the academic quality and resources students receive is unfortunately not unique to budgetary allocations.
Ghana’s culture of respect for elders has particular consequences for UG students who are culturally barred from holding their professors and administrators accountable. Like many places around the world, anyone significantly older than you demands non-objectionable respect regardless of the situation. This reinforces faculty indifference. Many of my professors seemed to genuinely not care about teaching. One professor showed up for only six or seven classes out of 13 weeks. In too many of my courses, professors cited data and assigned readings three to four decades old. My geography professor attempted to argue that the cause of homosexuality in Ghana was globalization. His PowerPoint slide read, “Globalization Indeed!” with an image of a newspaper clipping showing mug shots of four Ghanaian men with the headline, “Four homosexuals jailed 2 years each.” This type of thinking is not surprising in the West African country, where LGBT stigma is high and discussing the topic is taboo. But this is shocking information to be teaching a class at the supposedly premier higher education institute in Ghana considering homosexuality has existed in numerous cultures since antiquity.
Faculty and administrative indifference trickles down to affect student integrity. During a meeting for a group essay, I spent half an hour watching a group member look up an article on her phone and type it verbatim on the computer. I had a similar experience with another group project due the same day. As I compiled the paper I noticed a student’s’ contribution seemed out of place and random in the context of our topic. I google searched one of her paragraphs and a thesis came up at the top of the search. Plagiarism is widespread across campus because faculty and administration simply do not care enough to make the University of Ghana a campus of academic integrity. While there does exist a code that explicitly prohibits plagiarism, it clearly has no weight behind it. How can Africa’s seventh best university ever be taken seriously if its staff neglects to enforce one of the fundamental tenants of academia?
The University of Cape Town (UCT) ranks as Africa’s best university mainly because its research is taken seriously and cited globally. UCT is a leading global research institution because it emphasizes a strong international perspective (about 18% of UCT students are international) and secures donations from multinational corporations like Ford and MasterCard. Integrating a global framework at UG may attract the interest of foreign investors who could direct funds specifically for modern academic necessities instead of fountains and landscaping. While on campus last year, I heard murmurs of Chinese corporations potentially developing a high speed WiFi infrastructure on UG’s campus—this is a good start. To compete internationally like UCT, Legon professors, many of whom are knowledgeable and intelligent, must reevaluate their courses and practices to ensure data cited and required readings are up to date, enhance student engagement by emphasizing analysis rather than regurgitation and view their students as clients rather than their social inferiors. This applies to administrators as well, whose cultural respect accords them power over students. While the suggestion that students should be considered clients may be an American concept incompatible with West Africa’s culture generally, in the educational setting I believe it is necessary to ensure students receive the best quality services.
The apathy of many faculty and administrators should not exist in Ghana’s premier educational institute. The economic and urban advancement of African countries is often overlooked by the world in favor of their issues. While the problems the continent faces are defining features of many African nations, their successes are as well. The University of Ghana is located in one of the world’s most globalized cities with access to the resources necessary for a modern academic institution. Africa’s seventh best university is in a position to deliver a high quality university education and student experience. As Ghana continues to advance, it must deliver on that promise to the generation that will lead it into the future.