Employers are determined to collaborate with government in an effort to stem the prevalence of poor human capital, as well as the endemic shortfall of applied science professionals, as a result of the increasing misdirection of polytechnic education.

In a recent paper titled “The Future of Polytechnic Education”, the Ghana Employers Association (GEA) has recommended that polytechnics should increase their intake of science and applied science enrolment by 70 percent each academic year to help bridge the gap between applied science and business professionals.

The paper indicated that the GEA will provide support to run the science and applied science programme through facilitation of internships for the science students, and government is expected to provide more resources to enable the polytechnics to do this.

Industrialists in recent years have bemoaned the dwindling number of middle-level technical personnel in the field of engineering and applied sciences – not to mention the poor quality of graduates churned out by the tertiary institutions – to drive the country’s industrial development.

The Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), in another study, noted that the bane of manufacturing has been the poor quality of middle-level employees who require extra training to effectively fit in — thereby translating into more operational costs.

“In the thriving economies with strong manufacturing sectors, a common factor among them is the emphasis on technical and science education which produces the requisite manpower to propel industry,” Nana Owusu-Afari, President of AGI, noted to B&FT.

“Our poor showing is attributable to the failure of our polytechnics to produce middle-level technically-minded professionals in the field of manufacturing, commerce, science, and technology to support growth and development of the economy,” Nana said.
By their establishment, polytechnics in the country were to provide the needed critical middle-level technical manpower.

It is against this background that government issued a White-paper on the Reforms to Tertiary Education and Promulgation of Polytechnic Law 2007 (Act 745).

Partly, the law is “to ensure that tertiary education is coordinated with all other sub-sectors of the education system and overall national development, and to achieve a better balance between the supply of higher level and technical level personnel.

“The emphasis on national development should go beyond the rhetoric, and focus more on polytechnic education if indeed we are to realise the desire to industrialise and add value to our agricultural produce, which sector has been the base of our economy over the years,” Nana Owusu-Afari said.

However, the recent GEA study, which represents over 1,500 employers in both the formal and informal sectors of the country, shows that between 2001 and 2010 average enrolment of students in the Arts was 18,744 compared with 10,448 in the sciences and applied sciences.

In 2009/2010 academic year, about 29,000 students were admitted to pursue art programmes as against 14,000 students enrolled in sciences in the country’s polytechnics.

It is estimated that 60 percent of polytechnic students graduate in business-oriented programmes compared to just 40 percent in the sciences.

Comparatively, South East Asian giant India produced 401,791 engineers in 2003-04 — 35 percent being computer engineers. In 2004-2005, the number of engineering graduates increased to 464,743 of which 31 percent were computer engineers.

There is a conscious effort by the Indian and Chinese governments to invest in science and technology education.

The share of government expenditure on technical education in India is reportedly about 40 percent. In China, the amount spent on research and development, especially in engineering fields, is a good 10 percent of government expenditure.

The GEA study noted that in Ghana there has indeed been a systematic decline in students’ enrolment in sciences over the last 10 years.

A Senior Partner KPMG-Ghana, Mr. Joseph B.W. Winful, concurs: “For the country to build a strong economy, we need technical persons – engineers, artisans, and other science professionals – to build a strong economy like others have done.

“Unfortunately, the polytechnics are shifting their focus to art-education. This has a negative impact on the economy. After 54 years of independence, we are not able to add value to our raw materials.”

Mr. Winful is advocating a comprehensive overhaul and investment in the country’s educational system to produce competent science and technical graduates who can lead the country’s development drive.

Professor Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, the Director, Centre for Marketing and Innovation and Executive Director of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) Africa, speaking to B&FT on polytechnic education in the country said: “Currently, there is an over-concentration on the arts…the country needs a robust educational system that gives the practical skills to turn things around.

“Tertiary institutions churn out thousands of graduates in the arts who compete for non-existent jobs,” Prof. Atuahene-Gima

He emphasised the need for good leadership to create a conducive environment and policies which support science and technology education.

“We need to build a strong vocational sector that will produce the needed technical expertise so we can add value to our natural resources.”

A Senior Country Manager of Herbalife, Mr. Caleb Ayiku, noted that: “There are two main groups that a country needs to develop – the cognitive and psycho-motive groups. The psycho-motive group, he said, constitute the skilled technical persons needed to drive industrial development. The country has failed to invest in psycho-motive education because it is capital intensive.

“We are not prepared to invest in psycho-motive education, hence the shift to cognitive education that embraces mainly art-education, “he said.

According to the GEA study, though the polytechnics seem to be fulfilling their mandate in terms of providing graduates in the field of manufacturing, commerce, science and technology, the results indicate that there is a wide disparity in the distribution of graduates across these fields.

Polytechnics are producing more graduates in the fields of business than science and applied science programmes.

There is a small number of graduates produced in the field of technical and vocational programmes, an indication that polytechnic education is consistently being skewed towards the business field.

“Proper science education is not something we can compromise on if we are to achieve our aspirations of producing the required human resource to drive our economic and social ambitions to break out of the lower rungs of development,” Ayiku said.