The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Its Never Boring at Ashesi (by Suzanne)


It’s been an exciting, sometimes overwhelming, never boring year at Ashesi. My initial task was to take over the development of Ashesi’s new engineering program, due to launch in September 2015 with undergraduate majors in computer, electrical and electronic, and mechanical engineering. Thankfully, that is well on its way – we’ve made our first hire, with more interviews and hires to go; the curriculum is finished and approved by various contingencies (final approval from Ghana’s National Accreditation Board is pending); books and an initial round of lab equipment has been ordered; and the new building is almost complete.

Along the way I have done several other things, some big and some small: helping Provost Marcia with all the Provost-y things; taking the lead on several small projects, some of which required funding, which we received from outside sources; and taking the lead on a huge project, the World Bank (InfoDev) funded Ghana Climate Innovation Center, which will be Ashesi’s first institute. Ashesi is the lead on this Center, with a consortium consisting of SNV (Dutch NGO in the climate space), Ernst & Young, and United Nations University for Natural Resources. There is a lot of exciting synergy between this and a lot of things Ashesi is already doing or was planning to do, which makes it all the more worthwhile.

We are looking to hire heads for both of the major projects I have been leading: a Chair for the engineering department and an Executive Director for the Ghana Climate Innovation Center. When both of these projects are in more capable hands, then I will be free to… what, exactly I don’t know. But I do know that life at Ashesi is fast-paced and I won’t be bored.

The Impact of Ashesi

Our President and Founder Patrick Awuah was recently named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 greatest leaders – not in Africa, not in higher ed, but in the world. Like, on the same list as Pope Francis, Jeff Bezos, and Bill & Melinda Gates. How can that be? Actually, I don’t know, but what I can assume is that someone realized: what Patrick has done with Ashesi; how counter-cultural Ashesi is to the status quo of higher education in Africa; and the vision that Patrick is realizing through Ashesi graduates.

Patrick recently attended the 1st African Higher Education Summit it Dakar, Senegal in March 2015. Great leaders throughout Africa, and especially from the higher education space came together to discuss, debate, and present their thoughts on higher education in Africa and needed solutions. As I read about the discussions and outcomes, I couldn’t help but see how, over and over again, what Ashesi is already doing is the solution being called for. Some examples:

MIT professor and former chancellor Phillip Cray talked about the need for varied types of Universities in Africa, something that Ashesi runs up against all the time; there is an assumption that if we’re not doing exactly what the government universities are doing, then we’re doing it wrong. Clay said, “We do have to move in the continent from 6% to 8% of young people with college degrees to close to the world average of about 30%. There is a need to move in that direction as quickly as possible… The issue is how you create a system that provides educational opportunity for the full range of educational missions… There is a role for the high end, philosophical, thoughtful basic science education. That is important. There is also a need for the engineer who will take the African lead in unearthing and managing and developing resources. That’s a different need but equally important… There is also a need for the education of people who will express the vision of Africa, the values of Africa, the meaning of African life and what needs to be done.”

Ashesi’s mission is to educate future leaders who are grounded in what Ghana and Africa need, but are free- and critical-thinkers who can develop innovate solutions to the tough problems they face. An educational system in which students memorize but don’t understand does not further the continent. Clay went on to say, “One of the first things we discovered is that there is a large number of young men and women who thought they were being educated but who, it turns out, were not being educated at all. They are walking around in their young adult years worried, and perhaps angry, that what they thought would be the future will not be, based on current activities… The reason their future right now appears limited is not because they did not try, but because we – meaning the large ‘we’ – failed them.”

Clay was speaking on behalf of the MasterCard Foundation, who supports poor but bright Ashesi students will full scholarships, laptops, and enrichment programming. “First, we identified places that really were providing very good education. The foundation is educating more than 10,000 young men and women in secondary and tertiary education institutions in 24 African countries – often institutions that are close to their homes. We believe that the model of education that we’re supporting at these institutions will be the basis for institutions and educational activity going forward.” (Read full article: Africa’s Talent – More Valuable than Gold, Diamonds, Oil )

In another article about the summit, Dr. John Kirkland summarizes more of the “massification” conundrum in Africa. Higher education needs to expand, but we need graduates with the skills needed to solve problems, lead companies, and create jobs. Kirkland writes, “If we want graduates with much prized analytical and critical skills, we need to talk to them during their degrees, ensure that they talk to each other, and critically engage on the work that they produce. Lots of ways were suggested to promote this: mentoring, project work, working in teams, facilitating work placements. Most of these, however, have the common characteristic of being relatively labour intensive to implement.”

Ashesi is growing at a steady pace, but there are those who would like to see it expand both programs and students much more rapidly than we feel that we can and maintain quality. Kirkland has this to say: “Newly created or expanded universities, both public and private, often suffer staggering student-to-staff ratios, a scarcity of adequately qualified staff, and a high reliance on visiting lecturers to teach their students. Clearly, such conditions will not be conducive to achieving the outcomes being sought.” He goes on to say, “Limiting growth to sustainable levels may be unpopular now, but the emergence of huge cohorts of unfulfilled graduates whose aspirations have been shattered represents an even more potent threat to social unrest in future. If the expansion is not carefully planned and comes without the necessary resources and attention to quality, then however unfairly, it will be universities that get blamed when their part of the pyramid collapses.” (Read full article: A Pyramid Without a Higher Education Roof)

Ashesi is one very small cog in the wheel of higher education in Africa, but it is one of the leading ones with respect to quality and outcomes, and an amazing place to be, live, and work.


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