Accountability in higher education refers to colleges and universities being held responsible for using their resources in an efficient and effective manner in order to produce the best education possible at the most reasonable cost (Knight, 2003).
According to Knight (2003), in many regards, accountability is a reaction to the traditional condition that the institutions of postsecondary education could not explain what they did with the money they received during the past year. All they knew was that they needed more money the following year.
Such perceived responses are very difficult to understand for the business and professional people who constitute the higher education boards of trustees and university councils (in the case of Ghana). Such university council members or board of trustees tend to be accustomed to “bottom line” or profit-making environments and have difficulty understanding the lack of accountability measures in colleges and universities.
The tendency, therefore, is to require that universities develop accountability measures. One wonders if university councils of Ghanaian public universities fall in this category.
Accountability in this context is normally not financial, though that is sometimes touched upon in certain reporting activities. The type of accountability referenced here is less legalistic and performance oriented.
The focus is more on performance auditing than on financial auditing. The former asks how well an institution spent the money, while the latter addresses whether or not one spent the money properly, i.e., within legal and other acceptable financial bounds. Only occasionally is a college or university accused of financial improprieties.
Public universities in Ghana, for instance, may be guided by financial regulations aimed at reducing financial improprieties. Unfortunately, according to Knight (2003), accusations of mismanagement and instructional malfeasance are much more common in many colleges and universities.
One approach is merging financial data with performance data to create efficient measures of various sorts. There is a long history of developing measures such as costs per student credit hour; square footage of building per student credit hour; faculty/lecturers and staff members per head-count; and full-time equivalent student.
The use of such measures has driven accountability in the sense that they have been employed to restrict institutional resource ambitions. For Ghanaian public universities, there may be a number of ways of evaluating accountability internally and externally.
One common method is comparison: How are we doing compared to our closest competition or to our peers? Another method is trend analysis: How has the number of applicants to a program changed over time? Yet another approach uses targets: Have we reduced our costs by five percent as planned? Is this program as successful as the benchmark one at another institution? These measures or methods may be necessary conditions for attracting private sector funding to support Ghanaian universities.
Private funding of higher education has been a significant feature of the history of higher education in most developed countries. American universities such as Johns Hopkins University, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton have become world-class universities mainly due to funding and endowments from private individuals who share the vision and mission of these universities.
Funding of higher education in Ghana has become an issue ever since it became obvious that Government alone could not continue to fund public universities in Ghana. The issue of cost-sharing was then introduced to make parents and students bear some of the cost of tertiary education.
Next was the introduction of fee-paying students in all the public universities. The establishment of private universities in Ghana has made payment of tuition at the tertiary level a common practice.
The call for private individuals and corporate Ghana to support the funding of tertiary education has not seen much significant response. One can count the number of endowment funds in Ghanaian universities. The Sam Jonah Endowment Fund of UCC easily comes to mind.
Though distance education, sandwich programs, attempts to commercialize research, and contributions from Alumni Associations have supported the fundraising activities of Ghanaian public universities, they have not been enough to support the universities. Of course, GET Fund has also been very helpful. There is therefore the need for Ghanaian public universities to make conscious efforts to attract private funding.
Ghanaian universities should begin to be seen as being more accountable to the public. The following areas of accountability may be recommended if private sector funding of higher education is to be achieved:
1. The difference between how much students pay and how much is spent on their training can be made public
2. The number of hours that lecturers spend in the classrooms, their offices, and at various libraries/museums for research purposes may be made known
3. The number of productive hours that administrators spend in their offices may be of interest to the public
4. University staff could be assessed and evaluated by students at the end of each semester, and the outcome of such evaluations may form a significant percentage for purposes of promotion and renewal of contracts
5. The public relations outfits of Ghanaian universities should be more professional in the discharge of their PR roles
6. Ghanaian universities should design websites that befit their status as higher educational institutions; and these websites should be resourceful.
Globalization and changing trends in higher education have made issues of accountability very crucial in the running of universities, and the time has come for universities in Ghana to fully appreciate emerging trends in university governance. Accountability in higher education (especially in public universities) is hardly discussed in Ghana. The United States Secretary of Education pioneered the Spellings Commission Report which, among other things, seeks to address accountability in American higher education.
Similarly, Ghana’s Minister of Education could begin to have issues of accountability in Ghanaian public universities as a priority. The National Council for Tertiary Education and most importantly, university councils, may be expected to be more concerned with accountability in Ghanaian public universities. This, in my opinion, will increase efficiency in the public universities. Again, Ghana’s National Accreditation Board can make issues of accountability one of its key criteria in reviewing the accreditation status of Ghanaian public universities. Since these institutions cherish their accreditation status, they will be compelled to use approved accountability measures in the governance of public universities in Ghana. Ghanaian public universities should begin to be seen as being more accountable to the public.
I would expect identifiable groups in the public universities such as Vice Chancellors Ghana, University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), Ghana Association of University Administrators (GAUA), Teachers and Education Workers Union (TEWU), and Federation of University Senior Staff Association (FUSSAG) to attempt making their members appreciate the need to get involved in the accountability debate. Student groups such as the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) and the Student Representative Councils (SRCs) may begin to discuss issues of accountability within their respective student bodies to enable them have the moral courage to get involved in the accountability debate of their universities.
Finally, as we advocate for accountability measures in Ghanaian public universities, I wish to emphasize that the ultimate goal is to bring all stakeholders on board to offer workable recommendations to make Ghanaian public universities more accountable to the public with the hope of making the universities more efficient in providing Ghana’s manpower needs. Let’s embrace this debate and provide a good future for our public universities.
Mike Boakye-Yiadom, Ph.D.
Ohio University, USA.
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