Failing the Test: The University of Ghana

Balme Library, University of Ghana, Legon. By Tala Ahmadi.

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.


  • George Ekow Mensah. January 23, 2017 At 7:45 pm

    Hmmmmmmmm,Amazing,exact on point.

    • Very well structured and eloquently presented. The problem is, this is not an entirely new phenomenon and the people in a position to do something about it, know exactly what to do. For them, doing nothing actually appears to be a choice, possibly because the chaotic situation is profitable somehow. Worst still, those folks eventually step aside, only for others of the same ilk to take over, putting the problem in a perpetual loop. How about starting with setting some serious targets/standards for both teaching and administrative staff, and holding them accountable? Next is the million dollar question- who will be the enforcer?
      Congratulations, you raise some tough but very familiar issues.

  • George Ekow Mensah. January 23, 2017 At 7:46 pm

    This calls for a quick change,on part of all stakeholders.

  • Painful but unfortunately true. Very symptomatic of the current state of this country.

  • Great point, all these I had experienced back then. It’s high time indeed professors see the students as clients.
    It must also be stressed that the student accommodation problem has been bettered than wat I met in 2009.
    Great article, I will rather a copy be placed on th VCs desk, copied to all Deans and faculty heads, including the students.

  • Nii Laryea Baiden January 24, 2017 At 1:03 am

    Hmmm. Your observation is quite true. I was at Legon some 15 years ago. Accommodation was a challenge, plagiarism was rife then, and yes there is a weak link between the university and industry. Its rather disappointing to note that these conditions still persist after all the investments various governments and officials have made so far. I guess it is my responsibility to start helping to solve this and I will do what I can in my own small way.

    Thanks Tala

  • On point with cultural issues that make change difficult and the non commitment to teaching exhibited by some staff.
    Yet I wish the student would have shared some of the positives of her experience. Truly not all could have been negative.
    It is also unfair to generalise that all or most students plagiarize.

  • Great observevations and how things need to improve and priorities changed. But I must admit that having left the school some 14 years ago and only returned this year for a post-grad study, there’s been tremendous improvement. The residential faculties have more than doubled to the extend that almost everybody who wants to, can have accommodation on campus. Of course the ratio per room can be improved. You talk about about weak and unreliable wifi, it’s true but when I was first there, they were non existent. Academic and residential registrations then weremanually laborious. Today everything is done online and within 15 minutes. Every classroom now has a projector and such facilities teaching and learning convenient.

    My major concern is with the maintenance of the modest faculties available and the sanitation situation. And of course the staff have to change how they see students. But it’s a public service problem in Ghana where they feel that ‘clients’ are a bother. And the teaching staff have to be more committed and be relevant to the modern student and the environment.

    Maybe I am more sympathetic because having gone and come back I have seen some marked improvements whiles they are still largely dependent on the state for funding. But surely to justify their rankings they need to do better especially on the academic and research issues the writer highlighted.

  • You hit the nail right on the head.

  • It’s a very sad situation when those affected defend themselves and their faculty and blame government. Teaching is an art and therefore creativity in delivery is expected. I am so ashamed about the situation!

  • These are points we’re not unaware of. Those of you believing in mediocrity should continue to tank the country.

    I have been visiting, teaching at some of the universities, where leadership would not even allow you to help with resources obtainable outside the university. In one case, a Dean allowed a Euro 10 million application to expire when an old student had done all of the work, and was just awaiting application completion and submission by the university.

    We’re our own downfall, and most of you are going to appreciate the observations by Tala because he’s “american”. Any of us writing the same would attract different reactions.

  • As a UG alumnus, all I can say is everything you’ve said is very stinging but apt and true.

  • I perfectly agree with you @Yaoo Ababio, it’s not like this is the first time we are hearing or experiencing the appalling situation at the University of Ghana with regards to the above concerns. I recall my days in Legon when students had to go on demonstration for several reasons and none of these concerns were alien to that. We understand Tala better from his perspective as a foreign students. It’s a painful fact we all have to deal with, and that can be done when we have a visionary leaders and administrators to take decisions in the best interests of students.

  • I perfectly agree with you @Yaoo Ababio, it’s not like this is the first time we are hearing or experiencing the appalling situation at the University of Ghana with regards to the above concerns. I recall my days in Legon when students had to go on demonstration for several reasons and none of these concerns were alien to that. We understand Tala better from his perspective as a foreign students. It’s a painful fact we all have to deal with, and that can be done when we have a visionary leaders and administrators to take decisions in the best interests of students.

  • After my first year at UG, learning physics, chemistry, Maths etc.. I regretted ever going to the institution. Can you believe my secondary chemistry laboratory was far equipped than a so called premier university? The nice outlook of the school might seem to give it some importance but teaching is really really poor.

  • You hammered the nail right on the head. I think it’s time we stop murmuring about the issue and voice out the problems for constructive solutions to be generated and applied. Thank you writer.

  • “… enhance student engagement by emphasizing analysis rather than regurgitation and view their students as clients rather than their social inferiors.” I couldn’t agree more with that. For me I think that’s a big issue that needs to be checked.

    • Yes! That’s very true. The respect we have for superiors or elders should not make them see us as inferiors. We are clients for God’s sake. Lecturers and other stake holders must have a change of heart and mind

    • Yes! That’s very true. The respect we have for superiors or elders should not make them see us as inferiors. We are clients for God’s sake. Lecturers and other stake holders must have a change of heart and mind.

  • Well on point. If only our leaders will read this and change how the premier university should meet and become I real hub of academic importation and originality. Not a place of “dubbing”, “chew and pour” but a place where grades earned are true reflection of one’s brilliance. I know we will get there

  • Richmond Sam-Quarm January 25, 2017 At 2:27 am

    Well said. A major area you failed to hit on is the rising fall of student leaders who continue to lose their authority in matters that affect the “clients” you talk about.

    If we had a stronger student front, many of these challenges cited would have been channelled forward properly and attended to.

    I guess it’s all politicking now!

  • I couldn’t agree more, Tala! Sadly enough, the policy direction of the University doesn’t look like one interested in the lives of undergrads. All the concerns you’ve raised are genuine, however painful. As a student of the university and student leader, it is my concern too. The 2006 Visitation Panel did an incredible job on all the areas you touched. They lamented, among other things, the deplorable nature of student life, infrastructure and academics. This is captured in the 2007 Visitation Panel Report. The University has since 2009 started implementing in bits and pieces the Panel’s recommendations. I must admit that the aspects bordering on students’ life and quality of undergrad academic programs have not received the desired attention. The various institutions within the university such as the Academic Board and Academic Quality Assurance Unit (AQAU) responsible for streamlining, restructuring and supervision of the standard of academic work have successfully become babies of bureaucracy. The University has to up its commitment and become even more desirous in implementing the Panel’s report with the needed alacrity. They must be willing to cooperate with student leaders and engage students the more in facing out these challenges. If not, undergrad life will continue to remain one of a hell!

  • So after your entire stay, you could not find other interesting things to say about the University of Ghana alongside your degrading perspectives? You, see no one in the world is formed by just a single story. I was expecting you to also write about how the University treat foreign students like you better than Ghanaian students. I pity those Ghanaian students who said things like congestion and selling of beds to you. Is it the University’s fault if you decide to sell your bed to someone? It’s high time we told our own stories our own way. You one year experience in Ghana should not make you define who Ghanaians are.

    • The truth hurts but we must deal with it than play ostriches

      • What is the truth? How do you justify everything this person has said? What research did this person do to reach these conclusions? It is strange when US students portray as if all is well in the United States. You take one instance of plagiarism and conclude everyone is doing it. This person is not very honest. Nobody is saying that UG (just like any other university in our world) is without problems but how scientific is this bogus presentation. How scholarly is this person?

    • He has chosen to write about his negative experiences. You can also write about your positive ones.

  • Well on point… From start to finish. I completed about five years ago and since then I’ve been trying to applications for MA outside Ghana. Getting some of these lecturers just to submit a recommendation online is rife. You’ll have to go begging for days. Those who’ll accept to offer a recommendation will usually wait till the deadline. This add to academic teachers seeing students more as socially inferior than client. Is about time we change our attitudes. Most of our corrupt leaders in the country were/are our lecturers and cohorts from school. It is rather unfortunate that our school breeds graduate who are mostly corrupt and perpetuate

  • First of all, as a graduate of the University of Ghana, I will attest that all the issues raised here are genuine and problems we need to fix. But I will also add that this is a bit too generalizing to say the least. Here’s why:

  • Good job Tala. I also agree with Yao on the fact that this issue may be better appreciated from your (Tala) perspective. This is a microcosm of what happens in public institutions in Ghana….from the Ministries, Government departments & agencies to District/municipal/metropolitan Assemblies to passport office to DVLA, universities, just name it. In these institutions, what I notice is that the staff do not have any KPIs or delivery targets. I am of the firm belief that until staff of such institutions are held accountable for their actions/inaction, such lackadaisical and unfortunate attitudes which are the cause of the neglect and lack of forward-thinking on the part of administrators and the general management staff of such public institutions would continue to persist and poor ghanaians would be at the receiving end. Great expose, Tala.

  • I have never schooled at UG. I completed KNUST and the story is not any different there. so I think it’s a Ghanaian problem. I came out of the school without even remembering most of the things I wrote in my final year dissertation.

    I read my masters degree at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and that was when I understood the need for internet, that is where it was proved to me that plagiarism is really an academic crime. A Ghanaian lecturer from UG who taught on the programme was disgraced because of some outdated stats and maps he had in his slides. After the experince i felt no Ghanaiian university deserves to be ranked there because we are not doing enough.

    You are perfectly right. We need to up our game to meet the standards of the international community.

  • I absolutely agree. However, where the bureaucracy runs through all the campuses and levels, the standards for grad school are quite better than undergraduate. Don’t get me wrong. Infrastructure is no better. And teaching and learning isn’t anything extraordinary. However, the legitimacy of academic work has a better benchmark. At least from the korle bu campus where i am currently. Also, i think its a gradual thing. When i first came as a first year, ID cards were taken in long endless queues. Things have been digitized and modernized a lot from then to now. So i guess its a work in progress. Lets hope this post is seen by people who matter and then, maybe standards can be raised.

  • Very good observation on the part of the writer, but unfortunately would not agree with him on many of the issues raised particular with regards to the plagiarism, Internet and teaching. I just finished a Masters program and waiting to graduate early 2017. This would be my second degree after my first some seven years back in the same university. I took time off my very busy schedule and sometimes as part of class assignments to familiarise myself on campus and I was quite impressed with the progress of the school since my first degree days. This transformation was particularly in the area of Internet connectivity and the rapid infrastructure growth, both teaching and residential. The writer might have come across a number cranes and ongoing infrastructure. I was quite impressed with the facilities and speed of Internet in Research Common in the main university library, not to mention the comfort it offered for study. For the first time I was able to access Internet on my handsets anywhere on campus with ease. My department, Communications Studies, was a no nonsense for plagiarism. Our very friendly Professors seemed very stern on the issues of copying sometimes to the discomfort of some students. Not sure about how things played out in other departments but I think it’s unfair for the writer to generalise. My only letdown was the Ecard service that restricted students movements in and out of campus, and even worse was to see a lecturer in a party t-shirt gallivanting freely in one of the departments because his party won. Suffice it to say products of this same university compete favourably and sometimes even better than those in the supposed top 100 unis. My point is the writer might have made some observations while on campus but to question the university’s status as seventh in Africa based on what he observed in his faculty for me is a little over generalised, one of the very no nos of higher academic study which he seeks to examine.

  • Nana Yawson Meshack January 25, 2017 At 11:06 pm

    These issues are exactly on point. WIFi, Lecturers Et al.. I think the governing bodies should be served with this Article for them know the realities on the ground, this is very disappointing as a premier university. Our student front has been very weak and you’re right with regards to the socially inferiors*

    It’s about time…

  • Tala, you did well to point out some challenges at UG, but then, you failed the test yourself. Note the following that you are ignorant and intollerant about:
    1) UCLA as established in 1919, as compared to University of Ghana’s 1948 (even as a University College, not a full University then). I guess when UCLA was 69 years old as UG is now, conditions there were not the best as you want the world to believe. UCLA had huge challenges as well when it was 69.
    2) University of Cape Town was established in 1829; so if with 69 years University of Ghana is ranked 5th (not 7th) in Africa, the UG has done great to attain that position. UG is proud of this and gradually will address its challeges and make it to the top.
    3) During your group work that you mentioned, why were you just observing for about 30 minutes when you were supposed to be involved in the group work discussions.
    4) Some of us recently studied on University campuses in Germany, which were as developed campuses as the UCLA, and even there in Germany, WiFi is not all over campues, but only at specific points.

  • Kudos to Tala for taking the bull by the horn! Clearly, the issues you’ve pointed out bring to the fore poor leadership at almost every level at UG. I would also argue that some Ghanaians suffer from inaction and clothe themselves in the fear of challenging the status quo and holding “elders” accountable. I am unsure of UG is a true “learning organization” that is poised to grow by listening and taking into consideration the views of its stakeholders, especially the students. I would strongly encourage the current students and alumni of UG to stand up and escalate the matter to the top echelons in government. The student government needs to more vocal as their future is at stake if they intern to pursue higher academic laurels after their undergraduate degree in the western world such as the US.

  • The University of Ghana is guilty of all these obscenities basically because Ghanaian work ethic does not give value for money.
    Its as simple as that.

  • I agree with you. Is the writer saying she never had any positive experience while studying at University of Ghana? I’m shocked she used her negative experience to generalise what happens in the entire University and even extended it to what happens in Ghana. For the records, University of Ghana has Turnitin software for checking plagiarism.

  • This is dishonest and unwise account of what University of Ghana is all about. This writer is just unintelligent and uncivilized. How can you use such weak and poorly conceived accounts as the basis of denigrating a big institution that runs on the back of the toil and sweat of many noble people. For you to attempt this stupidity only provides evidence of a demented individual who should not have allowed a step on our august university grounds. Senseless people like this are the ones who commit murder for silly reasons. Very nauseating nonsense writing. Fools are falling for this nonsense.

    • She sounds like an airhead. Don’t be surprised to see her gleefully going back to that ‘horrible’ university once again. Stay put at UCLA!

  • Very unfortunate. This explains why the university does not accept former students returning to lecture in the university.

  • This runs through most of the universities. Especially with professors referencing decade old data.

    I once had a lecturer for web application development, sadly he couldn’t get to be present in class after his code didn’t work.

  • Sadly, these issues have persisted for decades. Looking at lecturer/ student ratio as compared to other international universities, how can these change, with regards to plagiarism, lecteurer/student interaction and commitment to delivering the best the student pays for?

    In terms of research and learning facilities like wifi, up to date resources, etc leadership (VCs) should be put on the block because they wield a lot of power even in the country and yet are not delivering

  • Well presented and authoritative. The argument is that Ghanaian students do not know their right and I think the hardship in the country has called for this “I don’t careless.” I have noticed that our students do not own their elections anymore to select student leaders for themselves but the University authorities now decide for them by electing “school prefects”acting as Leaders. I do not want to share my thoughts here of my disappointment when I entered similar University in Ghana. I will one day also share my disappointment. It shameful to all the Universities in Ghana. Now, legon is ranked 21 whiles Knust is ranked 30 in Africa but I can confidently and boldly say that they don’t deserve it.

  • This article reeks of ignorance and terrorism. The writer is just one of those non-Blacks that go to Africa and take pictures of the most horrible places, conveniently ignoring the most beautiful places. Products of the University of Ghana can compete with graduates of any university in the world; they occupy top positions in many parts of the world. Please do us a favor and stay out of Africa. We have had enough of racism and don’t need you. Go to Syria or Afghanistan. I’m sure you’ll enjoy their universities.

  • And if you are looking for a homosexual university you should look elsewhere; we don’t tolerate homosexuality in Ghana.

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