Historic Gathering in Ghana Tackles University Governance

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I recently attended an important seminar at the University of Ghana in Accra, the NCTE Board Leadership Development Conference. Organized by Ghana’s National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) under the direction of Paul Effah, the event brought together 180 council members from public and private universities in Ghana to deliberate on university governing boards. The September 1 seminar included panels on current and best practices in Ghana, along with the contributions of an international facilitator from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), a Washington, D.C.-based organizationcentered on governance in higher education.

The higher education sector in Ghana has grown from six public universities in 2004 to ten public and 70 private universities today—an expansion requiring the appointment of many new university council members. The size, roles, and functions of university governing boards have also changed as public funding has diminished. Graduate employability and citizenship have become increasingly critical issues as well—both on the continent and worldwide.

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Dr. Joseph Burke, the AGB facilitator, observed that university councils can best learn from each other, emphasizing that there are “no prescribed solutions.” According to AGB member surveys, the role of a university council should be to:

  • Ensure the mission, currency, and educational quality of academic programs
  • Select, support, evaluate, and compensate president
  • Protect fiscal integrity and assets
  • Assure appropriate strategic planning
  • Lead philanthropy efforts and advocate for the institution

The surveys also found that university council meeting agendas should comprise:

  • Updates on university performance, including institutional data indicators
  • Discussion of no more than 3–4 key strategic issues
  • Education of members with a mix of institutional, national, and general education topics (the idea of creating an annual curriculum was put forth)
  • Assessment of meeting results to determine what could be done better the next time

Seminar participants explored the interdependent roles of board and administration. Complementary to the council’s role, administrations generally focus on planning and policy execution, data compilation, and organizational excellence. A good governing board plays a consultative role to the administration, which allows for innovation.

University councils are confronted with new academic programs every year, a greater number and complexity of issues, and much more data (requiring the expertise to absorb it). Many of Ghana’s governing boards have addressed this by appointing experts from finance and industry. Councils are constantly balancing the university’s multipronged mission of knowledge production, economic development, and workforce development.

Transparency and confidentiality require admitting mistakes as early as possible in the process, and communicating the conclusions of council meetings. On deliberations of academic freedom, AGB’s stance is that academic freedom is limited to commentary directly related to the academic’s discipline. Participants agreed that funding remains the greatest challenge that university councils face, since there is little likelihood of increased government support.

By orienting its council members through national and onsite seminars such as the September gathering in Accra, NCTE is taking the lead in equipping and preparing Ghana’s higher education sector for effective governance in the 21st century. One hundred percent of the 91 participant surveys rated the seminar as relevant, helpful, and meeting expectations, and a majority of respondents requested additional seminars.

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