Some 4,600 years ago, the beacon of African science, the ancient Egyptian polymath, Imhotep, wrote, “Life is a race between Civilization and Barbarism.” In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, “History is becoming more and more a race between Education and Catastrophe.”
Both are right. Nothing is more important to the future of the African Union than the breadth and usefulness of an authentic African education, especially one of high pedigree. Not because kindergarten, basic, and secondary education are less important; success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of post-secondary education and research affects the value and eminence of education at every level.
This brings us to Ashesi University in Ghana – one of many such new colleges raising ground in Ghana, at every corner, in a bid to lure the progressively conscious, no matter how parochially-minded, and the highly ambitious students in the country into a supposed sophisticated learning space. Along with their parents. No doubt, the middle class in Ghana, and across the continent is beaming with collective hope and fervor. This generation believes it can achieve what their parents tried, but failed – a higher and higher standard of living.
Some of these dreams will be realized, others will be quenched. But it is within this viable but putrid space of fermentation of hopes and dreams, of men and women, of Africans, that colleges like Ashesi thrive. Wanting to strive for something a little better than the conditions they have been born into, Ghanaian students and those from other nearby African countries, who are otherwise very intelligent apprentices, are driven into the academic spaces of schools like Ashesi University and invariably into the open arms of a sustained western educational effort in Africa.
Supposedly founded by “a visionary African,” Ashesi claims it “fosters ethical leadership and innovative thinking for a new Africa.” Only, when the facts are examined, the “new Africa” envisioned here does not seem to square with the team – the old Africa – that has been stitched together to work for the realization of the aspirations of a whole continent of people.
The school also claims that it is “an African-initiated, world-class, non-profit, four-year University.” But the information from its own website, paints a different picture. The evidence points to a school that doubles in unbridled hypocrisy. This is a school that seems to twist the arm of ethics and lies horribly in the face of facts and any innovative thinking.
Worse yet, this is a school gallivanting the country and the West African region in the name of bringing higher and higher education to Africans. It claims its brand of education will uplift the continent from her stupor.
A close examination of the facts shows that Ashesi University is not an African-initiated college, nor is it an African or a Ghanaian school. It is neither here to foster ethical leadership nor is it committed to innovative African thinking.
A cursory look at Ashesi’s Executive Team reveals an unnerving image. This group is made up of the ‘founder and president in name, Mr. Patrick Awuah, who is, of course, Ghanaian. A man who holds degrees from two U.S. universities – an undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College and an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School.
Located in the U.S. State of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College is a private liberal arts college that sits 10 miles from the city of Philadelphia, a city populated with a significant 44 percent African American population of the total 6 million residents who live in the metropolis. Swarthmore however can only boast a mere 6 percent African American student body.
Add to this, it costs a whopping 50,000.00 dollars to attend this school every year. Haas Business School, on the other hand, costs about this much in tuition alone. Located in Berkeley, in the state of California, Haas is part of a public school system in the United States that can only boast a putrid 0.4 percent African American student population.
That much is common in all American Universities – public or private. Much of the free market and the federal government in the United States have found a way to keep more than 35 million African Americans largely out of the premises of higher education.
It is in this light that we must examine Ashesi University and the people helming its affairs in Ghana.
At Ashesi, the Provost and the Associate Provost are both white American women, evidently, with degrees from universities in the United States of America. The question arises – why would the Executive Committee of a university that stresses an Africa-centric education and ingenuity be comprised of two white American women – Marcia Grant and Suzanne Buchele?
Are Ghanaian universities now incapable of finding two African women to fill the role of Provost and Associate Provost, especially in a country that has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world? A mirror image harkens back to the United States itself – where Blacks continue to experience disproportionately high unemployment rates – where historically Black Colleges (HBCUs) are still headed and manned, in essence, by white men and women for absolutely no educational achievement reason.
In the US, there are only 106 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) compared to more than 2600 historically white colleges and universities, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities. There is very little debate over the overwhelming marginalization of Black teachers and administrators in these white schools, but even the HBCUs employ more whites as administrators and teachers than Blacks. Why?
Much ado about what the particular training of these women – Marcia Grant and Suzanne Buchele – bring to Ghana. Is it their unique experiences as white women who were born privileged, bred sumptuously, and educated at the behest of poor and working class African Americans? What unique insight do these women, raised in arguably the most racist nation the world has ever known, bring to Ghana?
In other words, what role could white women from the U.S come to play in Ghana, in an educational system full of Black students, that could be so helpful, when they do not seem to have a track record of helping poor African American children back in the U.S.?
When examined carefully, this is not even a case of ‘take the log out of your eye before you speak of the speck in my eye’ scenario. No, there is more.
The Real Ashesi
It turns out that the truth behind Ashesi’s unique origins is the United States itself. Ashesi University was actually founded by Ashesi University Foundation, which is a non-profit organization, based in Seattle, WA, in the United States. Not Ghana.
This explains why over 80 percent of Ashesi University’s Board of Trustees are white and American, some with various degrees from US universities: Aprile Age, Yaw Asare-Aboagye, Patrick Awuah, Neil Collins, Emer Dooley, Conrad Gehrmann, Sylvie Gomis-Tanoh, Kristi Helgeson, Peter O. Koelle, Scott Kucirek, Nina Marini, Lisa Norton, Patrick Nutor, Gurdeep Pall, Ruth Warren, Todd Warren (Chairman of the Board), and Peter Woicke.
In addition, the non-profit foundation in the United States may still have Patrick Awuah as the President, but once this Ghanaian is retired, who knows what? With three white American women – Joanna Bargeron, Mary Fryett and Amy Marie Barbour – occupying the roles of Vice President, Development Officer, and Donor Relations Coordinator respectively, the key to the success of Ashesi University in Ghana lies almost exclusively in the hands of white Americans.
Furthermore, the group of Key Staff members of the university – manning the everyday affairs of Ashesi University – is 75 percent white.
Having established that, after all, Ashesi is not an African venture, let alone one comprised of an African administration, or one that we could clearly admit was committed to educating Africans, we must scrutinize why this group of white Americans is interested in the education business in Ghana.
Currently, an Ashesi education costs a whamming 4,000.00 dollars, per student, per semester, in tuition and books. This means that after housing, food, medical and other miscellaneous expenses are included, a Ghanaian student can expect to pay close to a total sum of 15,000.00 dollars for only one year’s education.
Any student from outside Ghana – that is, from Benin, Nigeria or any other African country for that matter – registering at this institution can expect to cough up even more money.
As far as West Africa is concerned, this not just an expensive education, it is exorbitant. For a country like Ghana, which ranks 126th among countries in the world in GDP per Capita standing (in both Purchasing Power Parity or Nominal terms), the price for enrolling at a university like Ashesi is beyond extortionate.
Exactly who is Ashesi serving in Ghana? Who can pay for such a luxurious “education” in the backdrop of a country that is struggling to pay her basic school teachers a fair wage and continues to acquire foreign loans to build small roads in Accra?
As it often turns out, this may not necessarily be the most important question to ask. Perhaps what needs to be ascertained is whether Ashesi University is in the business of bringing the much tooted top-of-the-edge education it claims to offer, to the wider Ghanaian population. Or not.
One thing can be sure. Ghana’s poor economy may not necessarily be a basis for withholding the charging of obscene amounts of money for an English, Math and Science education. What is perhaps true is that the crème de la crème of the population are fully capable of dolling out 60,000 dollars for a four-year education for a child who can barely qualify for a high school education, let alone deserving of a college tutelage.
The top percenters of Ghana, rich as they might come, adore their fellow American capitalists as much, and hence would rather build a 10 million dollar mansion in the middle of a marsh without even realizing, than pay for the paving of a feeder road to their grandmother’s village.
Or at the least, if there are people in Ghana who can afford the kind of expensive education Ashesi offers, then of course, that money is going to help build wonderful institutions for white children in the country from whence the Ashesi administrators come – the United States. Ashesi’s revenues, whether for-profit or for non-profit, only go to benefit the community from which Ashesi has come – Seattle, Washington, USA.
Who gets the money? It’s right there on their website for anyone to see.
The Ashesi model, which the “visionary” in Patrick Awuah seems to have picked up from Haas Business School and which he seems to have adequately learned during his apprenticeship at Microsoft, is not new.
The model was concocted in American universities, and it has by and large been adopted across the board in order to make more and more profits for shareholders, even though these universities continue to retain their non-profit status with tax-payers. In the U.S., universities have become not just institutions of higher learning; they have become the educational Wall Street where the goal of administration is solely to maximize profits for stakeholders.
Discussions in the U.S. have centered on how this model, like that of Ashesi, has contributed to failing colleges over time. There is ample evidence that such colleges in the U.S. have poor educational outcomes, out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debts, which are in no doubt part and parcel of the Ashesi model.
Very soon, this orderliness we see in the expansion of the American Ashesi University Foundation into West Africa will be just a secondary symptom of a more pernicious trend: the creeping corporatism of the American university system into Ghana.
That is, not just the literal corporations that are commanding more and more physical space at universities — the Starbucks outposts, the Barnes & Noble as campus bookstore, the Visa card that is used to buy meals at the dining halls and so forth.
Soon enough, poor Ghanaian students dying to obtain an Ashesi degree, and the like, may not even know that they are enrolling at a university today that is setting them up in a vast array of for-profit systems that each take a little slice along the way: student loans distributed on fee-laden A.T.M. cards, college theater tickets sold to them by Ticketmaster, ludicrously expensive athletic apparel brought to them by Nike, Adidas, and Puma.
Ghana’s Nkrumah Educational Model Under Threat
To fully comprehend this trend one must first understand the kind of transformation to the Ghanaian educational model, which was laid down by Nkrumah’s Vision that the Ashesi model threatens to overthrow in order that we might yet understand the capital forces underpinning the new trend, not only in Ghana but across the United States and the world at large.
In the 1950s when Dr. Kwame Nkrumah became Ghana’s first Head of State – as opposed to a 50 year British Colonial Occupation – the affordability and the free access to basic education and free universities created an upsurge of literates and college students across the country. This surge continued well through the ’80s, when the University of Ghana and the University of Science and Technology, together with new Nursing Schools, Teacher Training Colleges and various Regional Polytechnics, were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times.
It was during this time, too, that Ghanaian students had a thriving African professoriate and that students were given access to a variety of subject areas and the possibility of broad learning. Vocational Training stood at the center of a post-secondary education and students were exposed to subjects at the heart of any sustainable development. Moreover, Cultural Training in tune with African philosophy, Ghanaian Language literature, African history, African religions, and African cultures offered to foster a more egalitarian and well-rounded education.
Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late ‘70s into the ‘80s — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens, like Jerry John Rawlings, with only an Achimota Secondary School education, took part in popular dissent — against corrupt high ranking military Heads of State, against tribalism, against destruction of our traditional markets and cultures in a growing corporatized culture brought home by a new imperialist western strategy.
Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal Ghanaians congregate? On campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s? The huge corporations in the West, which wanted to safeguard their investments in Ghana, the tribal war-mongers like Dr. K.A. Busia and Nana Akuffo-Addo — who would keep us divided based on our ethnic groups, our gender, and perhaps where we may have obtained a bachelor’s education.
In tandem, where did much of the popular dissent emanate from in the US in the ‘60s? On college campuses. The uprisings in the U.S — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized American culture, against homophobia etc.—were started by American students who had been freely educated largely through the 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability and sometimes free access to universities were key to the American vision.
Given the opportunity, American Corporations would have liked nothing more than to shut down the universities in the ‘60s or to force the hand of government in Ghana, in the late ‘70s, to defund a free basic education. Destroy them outright. But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities and direct other nations, by force, to erase any semblance of a free and fair higher learning opportunity for all. That would reveal something about that country which would not support the image it is determined to portray — that of a country of freedom, justice and opportunity for all.
U.S. Corporatism Storms African Shores
So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? And how exactly can you expand this dictatorship across the Oceans, into Africa and beyond, to ensure a continued amassing of wealth without the headache or threat of a concerted popular dissent by students or the youth?
First, you continue to defund public education – especially, higher education. The cost for attending the University of Ghana, the University of Science and Technology and the University of Cape Coast, has risen in the past few decades with no end in sight. Teachers and Nurses under training no longer receive benefits, as they did under Nkrumah, and a Polytechnic education no longer means much in Ghana, let alone the West African sub-region.
Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors of Ghana. The tenured professors of public universities do not have to do a single research or publish any new knowledge. In turn, you do not have to pay them well. Further, you continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed graduates with Masters and Doctorate degrees.
One way to achieve this surplus is to entice universities in the U.S to continue to admit Ghanaian students into PhD programs of little value to the Ghanaian educational system. PhDs in Biotechnology, Organizational Leadership, Business Administration, and Organizational Psychology are useless to a country that cannot seem to bolster her agricultural and mineral resources potential.
Third, you move through ambush utilizing corporate models like Ashesi University into Ghana. Even better, move it in with a Blackface – preferably a Ghanaian at the helm to escape any suspicion of a post-colonial imperialism.
Fourth, you move in a managerial and administrative class who take over governance of the university. In Ashesi’s case, these managers are white American women from the U.S. who already administer the daily operations of the Ashesi University Foundation.
In the U.S. for example, from the ‘70s until onwards, the number of full-time faculty jobs in colleges have shrunk, while the number of full-time administrative jobs have exploded. Ghana is facing a similar trend. Ashesi has a Board of Trustees with 17 white Americans and only 4 Ghanaians. As the school continues to expand, more white American administrators would have to be employed and housed in gated neighborhoods around the country. That kind of gentrification will also bring with it, some social problems never before faced in Ghana.
Lastly, you destroy an otherwise thriving Ghanaian student population. While Ashesi, and other colleges like it, might claim to offer hope of a better life, their corporatized model is ruining the lives of Ghanaian students. This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic. First, you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one can actually learn to think, question, or reason. Instead, students learn to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams,” to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse.
The second prong: You make college so insanely unaffordable – like Ashesi’s 60,000 dollar price tag for a 4-year degree in Ghana – which only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford without going into huge debt. Today, across the board in Ghana, tuition continues to soar even in public schools. This is the most directly dangerous situation for unsuspecting Ghanaian students and their parents: pulling them into crippling debt that will follow them throughout their lives and into the grave.
In this light, Ashesi’s so-called Scholarship Program comes readily to mind. The U.S. Foundation claims it makes an Ashesi education available to Africans who cannot afford it with some scholarships and largely loans, thanks to a “13 million dollar partnership with The MasterCard Foundation in Canada.” In which case, another foreign financial company in MasterCard stands to rake in huge profits.
These shady partnerships that have formed between the lending institutions and the Financial Aid Departments of universities will continue and become entrenched within the Ghanaian context. But it is an unholy alliance. In the U.S., there have been plenty of kick-back scandals between colleges and lenders — and Ghanaians can be sure there is plenty undiscovered shady business going on between Ashesi and MasterCard.
This control of how the university is run, with a flood of corporate money – so-called “partners in education” – results in changing the values, mission, and meaning of a college education from one where an educated Ghanaian citizenry is perceived as a social good, where intellect and reasoning are developed, to a place of technical training alone, focused on getting a job at a huge corporation in Ghana, which is also setup by a U.S. or otherwise foreign multinational.
Soon, that corporate culture is going to totally seize the narrative in Ghana, the way it has already ensnared the U.S. — university will no longer be attended for the development of the mind. It will soon be a place to go and buy a degree in order to get a good job or even, just stay employed.
Colleges like Ashesi University rely on private sector methods of revenue generation such as private corporations (like Ashesi University Foundation of Seattle), patents, marketing strategies, corporate partnerships, campus rentals, and for-profit e-learning enterprises. To cut costs further, such a university will employ non-Ghanaian – probably American – employee service contractors to streamline their financial operations.
Soon, tuition costs will be out of control because of administrative, executive, and mentoring salaries – all for white American workers at Ashesi – and the loan numbers will keep growing, risking a life of indebtedness for most of our Ghanaian students. Further, there is absolutely no incentive on the part of this corporatized university to care.
African students, like their American counterparts, will soon be presented with a dazzling array of advertisements and offers: glasses at the campus for-profit vision center, car insurance through some giant financial company, spring break through a package deal offered by one multinational after the other.
Such transition of big universities in America to the corporatized model that Ashesi is, have not boded well for the communities in which they are built. The University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, University of Chicago, Princeton University, Yale University, etc. are fast expanding oases in the midst of deserts of poverty and destitution. Whether it is the city of Philadelphia, or Harlem, or Chicago, or Princeton, or New Haven, African American neighborhoods are being gentrified every day in the name of the expansion of research institutions.
Almost none of the African American students who attend High Schools in these university neighborhoods make it to the Ivy clad towers of these corporate universities. They can’t pay. Ashesi is starting this trend outside Accra where soon, not even students in the vicinity of the university will be able to afford to pay to attend the college.
If this was the University of Ghana where students of Achimota High School, Presbyterian Boys, or the West African High School could not attend because they couldn’t qualify or pay, Ghanaians would have thrown their arms in alarm. But what’s coming is much worse.
Through a propaganda machine, Ghanaian students, armed with the belief of their parents, their K-12 teachers, their high school counselors, one after another, are convinced by constant repetition that they have to go to such colleges to attain promising middle class lives and careers. Ghanaian students are convinced that even the tuition debt is “worth it” merely to realize much too late that the pursuit of a mirage only indentures them.
After all is said and done, this Ashesi Foundation in the U.S. did not arrive in Ghana to build a center for excellence. What Ghanaians need to do is: be alert. And stay alert. The machinations of the Ashesi University Foundation are oddly similar to the Colonial Regime that built almost all of Ghana’s Missionary Schools and succeeded in teaching Ghanaians to hate themselves and be afraid to fight the colonialists.
What is an American non-profit doing in the Ghanaian education business? Is this a Blackface conglomerate? And is money the only goal? Or does it have something much bigger planned for Ghana and West Africa?
These are questions and concerns that are worth pondering over as we watch Ashesi and other foreign-funded colleges crop into in every corner of the country.
Otherwise this legion of capitalists and bureaucrats would come to Ghana and enable a world of pitiless surveillance; no segment of campus life, no matter how small, would be left without some administrator who worries about it. Piece by piece, every corner of the average Ghanaian campus will slowly be made congruent with a single, totalizing vision.
The rise of endless brushed-metal-and-glass buildings at Ashesi University represents the aesthetic dimension of this ideology. Bent into place by a small army of apparatchiks, the contemporary Ghanaian college might slowly become as meticulously art-directed and branded as a J. Crew catalog. Like Niketown or Disneyworld, Ashesi might just become the model for the average Ghanaian college campus to leave anyone who visits with the distinct impression of a one-party state and a pocketful of debt.
Nefetiti, also at Grandmother Africa, has penned a summary of public responses to this article here:Public Response: Ashesi University, College Corporatism, and African Futures.
Akosua Abeka’s followup essay detailing the issues raised here and in response to various critics, including Mr. Patrick Awuah’s comments can be found here: Ashesi University – The Vicissitudes of a Foreign Liberal Arts Education in Ghana.