The University of Ghana was founded in 1948. What are the main changes you have seen at the institution since you graduated in 1978?
I returned to the university in 1986 to teach and I have been here ever since. A lot has changed in that period, and it is a much larger institution today than it was during my time as a student. When I was enrolled here there were 5,000 students. Today that number is close to 40,000 and the faculty has also grown to offer more disciplines. The university did not offer a program in Engineering Sciences before, and we also now offer programs in pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and many more areas. We have introduced more professional disciplines alongside the traditional academic disciplines.
How do you expect the composition of undergraduates and postgraduates to change moving forward as a research university?
Our student body is currently made up of about 15% postgraduates and 85% undergraduates. We are undertaking more and more research involving graduate students, and our target is to reach an equal distribution of students in the two groups within the next 10 years. In order to achieve that, we need to invest in equipment and attract more graduates by offering more PhD programs. Increasing the intake of graduate students requires more extensive preparation; we need more rooms for graduate students, we need to invest in new technologies, we need to attract research grants and projects, and we are in the process of doing all of these. We have recently negotiated an investment of $64.4 million in new buildings on the campus. We have also identified a number of key research areas that will help us attract new grants. We are undertaking a lot of research on malaria and climate change adaptation, and we are working on food security as well as poverty monitoring and evaluation. Even though these four are not the only areas that we are working on, this is where we put our resources, and we hope to attract additional grants. This is a university that is putting much more emphasis on research than any other university in Ghana.
What are your primary sources of funding?
About 10 years ago, as much as 90% of our revenues came from the government, but that has now decreased to around 60%. Students are contributing more and we are increasingly bringing in more third-party grants, particularly from Europe. We currently have a large grant from the World Bank and another large one from the Wellcome Trust in the UK. We also receive funding for smaller projects from several different organizations, including foundations all over the world. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada is a major source of funding for small projects. We belong to a number of international university consortia and networks and these facilitate access to international resources. The latest such network that we have joined is the Worldwide Universities Network, which brings together 18 universities from different countries, only two of which are in Africa. The idea is to collaborate on selected areas of research. Partnership with well-established universities in the global north is also often helpful. Some of the strongest collaborators we have are Washington University in St. Louis and Rochester University. In the UK, we have strong links to the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, the London School of Economics, Sussex, and several others.
What role would you like universities to play in helping governments find sustainable economic development models?
Universities can play a major role in changing the fortunes of developing nations. Universities traditionally do research and train the human resources required for national development. We are increasingly providing advisory services to government, which is important in a country like ours. Ghana requires significant human resources in policy making and implementation, and universities have some of the best resources for this. It makes sense to have a strategy that allows universities to participate regularly in discussions of strategy for sectors such as agriculture, health, education, industry, and finance. Universities in Ghana could ideally be more actively consulted in the future; this is what universities in developing countries should be used for.
Ghana suffers from high unemployment. What do you see as the solution for this?
Any economy has to develop in a carefully pre-determined direction in order to best make use of the available human resources. There has to be a clear strategy on how to use the available skills to transform the economy. The training of young people should be carefully thought through to ensure that they would be contributing to transformation in many different ways. We spend a lot of time training engineers, but we somehow neglect the development of industry. It does not matter how many engineers we train if we do not have an acceptable industrial policy. Without a developed industrial sector many of them will remain unemployed. We have to strategize the pursuit of growth. And to do that, we need to focus on manufacturing goods including textiles and pharmaceuticals. If that is deemed the right direction for the country's economy, then universities can focus on the type of skills needed for the endeavor. We produce 10,000 graduates each year, but we know that there would not be enough jobs for them immediately. We often get blamed for not producing the “right" kind of graduate. Simply blaming universities for not producing the right kind of graduates is not going to solve any problems; we need a comprehensive strategy.
What is your overall aim for your four areas of research?
We chose those four areas because these are the areas where we can most comprehensively contribute to national development. African institutions have a much bigger incentive to search for a malaria vaccine than anybody else. Without investigating and coming up with solutions for issues of climate change, all the things that we talk about in relationship to the structure of economies mean nothing. There are few African countries that produce enough food, and relying on imports is not easily affordable. We are therefore focusing on things like seed multiplication, developing high yielding varieties of crops, improving crops, and improving seed quality. Our fourth area of research is poverty monitoring and evaluation, as social protection methods are becoming more important in developing countries. Without meaningful methods of quantitatively understanding the most at risk members of the population, social protection initiatives become meaningless. We need to generate the data that will allow policy makers to properly target social protection. There should be a commitment to bringing together all of the people who know something about the issue. Our government must bring together all the people that can contribute to finding solutions from universities, the private sector, and from abroad.
What are your expectations for 2016?
I expect our scholarly publications to increase significantly. Some of the work from the grants we received two or three years ago is now nearing completion. We have a lot of work being done in the Biochemistry Department and also in the Chemistry Department on toxins and other compounds. Our teams working on climate change are making major contributions to global debates. A number of our faculty are undertaking research on non-communicable diseases, and we expect them to publish much in the coming year. One of the good things that has happened in the last few years is the hiring of a number of young academics that earned PhDs in Europe and the US. These young scholars are enthusiastic about publishing as they believe they have something to prove. We expect this new growth to be reflected in more relevant publications of a higher quality. Obviously, we have to make improvements to our infrastructure, and we have already begun redoing our roads and walkways. The University of Ghana will become a much different place over the next few years.