Majority of the 81 private universities operating in the country face imminent collapse, if measures are not put in place to address the sustained decline in enrolments, Mr. Dominick Osei Aboagye, the Registrar of Accra Institute of Technology (AIT), a technology-focused private university, has said.
In an exclusive interview with the Business24, he disagreed with analysts who believe that the first batch of graduates from the government’s Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, estimated to be about 400,000, will opt for private universities after limited spaces available at public universities are filled.
“Look, the truth is that this Free SHS students cannot save private universities from collapse. These students who are enjoying free SHS, how many of them can afford private university education. These Free SHS beneficiaries, most of them we know may not have been able to access secondary education but for the free SHS. So, do you think they can afford to pay private university fee?”
“Most SHS graduates prefer public universities as their first choice so the excess is what the private universities admit. So, by the time the universities finish their admissions then we take the surplus and the surplus how many can afford private universities,” he added.
Distance Education sinks Private varsities
According to him, the only solution to the ‘dying’ private universities is for public universities to stop their distance education programs so that students who could not be admitted because of the lack of space, will consider enrolling in private universities.
He argued that most of the distance learning students are within the working class who can afford to pay every amount to get a university degree in a flexible academic environment.
These, students, he said, are now all studying in the many satellite campuses of public universities spread across the country.
“So, when you check the records of University of Cape Coast, you will see that they have more distance learning students than that of regular students. An area which used to be the stronghold of private universities has now become a money-making ground for the public ones,” he said.
Drying up of foreign students
He said the private universities also used to depend on foreign students from Nigeria, Congo and Gabon but according to him, the Nigeria government have for the last few years made an effort to prevent their students from coming to Ghana for higher education.
He said one of the reasons that made Nigerian students to come to Ghana for university education was the serial strikes that used to happen in Nigeria’s universities, a problem he said the country’s government has resolved.
“When was the last time you heard that Nigerian university lecturers have gone on strike. So that is keeping Nigerian students in Nigeria to pursue higher education.”
Checks by the Business24 revealed that undergraduate student enrolment has been falling for the past two academic years in private universities as a result.
Demand, challenges and readiness
The total population of Ghana’s tertiary students has hit a record of 453,314, a figure which is equal to the first batch of the free Senior High School students (424,092).
Last year, the ten traditional universities were able to admit about 90,000 students; Technical Universities altogether admitted about 40,000 students; Colleges of education about 20,000; and Nursing training about 7,000. This brings the total available slots in tertiary institutions to about 157,000 as against 424,092 students expected to vie for these limited spaces.
By Benson Afful