USF Reaches Out to Ghana Universities in New Academic Partnerships

TAMPA, Fla. (May 11, 2009) –.The Sub-Saharan nation of Ghana is one of the continent’s most promising emerging democracies.  It has a growing economy, a progressive public education system and a social stability that symbolizes the potential of modern Africa.

But when it comes to the West African nation’s university system, Ghana faces serious challenges.

While their universities are crowded with eager students, their faculty members struggle with finishing their doctoral degrees while being overwhelmed with teaching duties.  Many Ghanaian scholars leave their home country to finish their PhDs overseas and never return.

But now, working with the University of South Florida two of Ghana’s leading universities intend to change that dynamic. The universities are planning a new faculty exchange program that will give Ghanaian faculty an opportunity to finish their degrees while USF graduate students and faculty take their place teaching in Ghana.

The effort is USF’s first outreach to an African university and planners say it will present unparalleled scholarly opportunities for USF and the Ghana universities alike.

“The biggest challenge in all of the African institutions is faculty who have gone through all their courses but have not finished their dissertation,” said Betty Castor, executive director of the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF.  “It’s hard to do scholarly work when you don’t have the resources and you are bombarded with students and classes. The idea is to give them a scholarly reprieve.”

For more than a year, USF has been building the foundation for new agreements with the University of Ghana and University of Cape Coast. On Monday, USF officials signed the final of two memoranda of understandings that formalizes the academic relationship between the universities.

Representing USF in a delegation traveling to Ghana this week are Castor, Linda Whiteford, associate vice president for global strategies and international affairs; and Kofi Glover, an associated provost who is from Ghana. The group will spend this week in Ghana meeting with university officials and exploring potential new collaborations.

First on the agenda, though, will be the creation of the new faculty exchange program. USF is seeking a grant to fund the $260,000, three-year cost of the program, which would start small with a handful of faculty exchanges. The Ghanaian faculty will spend four to nine months at USF finishing their dissertations while advanced graduate students and USF faculty will go to Ghana to teach their classes.

The program would not only be a boon for USF’s stature as a globally-engaged university, but could produce significant new research and learning opportunities for USF faculty, Whiteford noted.

“I see multiple benefits,” she said. “I see significant benefits to USF having our campus more exposed to other cultures; our faculty and students will have more opportunity to interact with people from other nations here on campus and there’s the benefit for our students to teach in other countries.”

The idea for the exchange was born out of USF’s Africa Initiatives Group, a group of about two dozen USF faculty and staff members who either come from Sub-Saharan Africa, were educated in an African institution or who have done research in Africa. Ghana is the home country to six of those faculty members, a fact which prompted further reflection on the challenges that caused talented scholars to leave their home country for the United States.

Earlier this year, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a generation of African scholars is ill-equipped to meet burgeoning enrollments in universities in nations like Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia.

 With governments not having invested enough resources in training new professors, newer academics are pushed into teaching before they have an opportunity to complete their doctoral degrees and once in the classroom are faced with enormous workloads.  Young scholars with the opportunity to go overseas often leave their home country to complete their degrees and never return.

The concern is that with Sub-Saharan Africa’s growing population, the dearth of academics in higher education will leave nations without the best minds researching solutions to the continent’s most vexing problems.

A year ago, Emmanuel Addow-Obeng, vice chancellor of Cape Coast University, traveled to USF to sign a memorandum of understanding which committed the institutions to develop new areas of collaboration and partnership.  The institution is now headed by Naana Opoku-Agyemang, the first woman in Ghana to hold a top academic position. A second memo of understanding will be signed with University of Ghana Vice Chancellor Clifford N.B. Tagoe.

First Venture in Africa

Ghana makes an ideal partner because of its political stability, its modern views on education and the obvious ties so many USF professors have with the nation, Castor said. Last year, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Anan was appointed the Chancellor of the University of Ghana and former USF associate vice president Peter French now works as a consultant for that institution.

For Castor, the Ghana initiative is a continuation of her career-long interest in education in Africa.  Castor began her career in education as a member of Teachers for East Africa, a USAID project that sent her to teach secondary school in Uganda.  Now a founding member of a foundation formed by those former teachers some four decades later, Castor continues to support efforts to bring accessible, quality education to Uganda.

Once the relationships with the Ghana institutions are established, there’s no limit to the advantages for all three universities, Castor and Whiteford said.

With USF’s interest in expanding its international reach and study abroad programs, partnerships with African universities are needed to complete the global picture. And when it comes to some of the university’s internationally recognized programs - such as public health and engineering - opening research avenues for USF students and faculty in Africa are essential.

The Ghana initiative, Whiteford added, could serve as a model program that could be replicated in USF’s relationship with universities in other nations which share the same problems of a rapidly expanding educational system. Universities in Latin America, India and China all face that same dynamic, she said.

“This has the potential to move USF across the globe,” she said.

Other avenues being explored for potential outreach to the Ghanaian universities include creating online access to some of the USF libraries’ special holdings or addressing the University of Cape Coast’s desperate need for academic journals by sending USF’s archived paper copies which are no longer used by students and faculty more accustomed to using electronic versions.

 “We’re taking baby-steps to see what we can do as an institution to bolster the African institutions,” Castor said.

“It Changes Their Lives”

For Glover, who left Ghana shortly after graduating from high school and completed his education in American universities, the effort also creates an opportunity to educate USF students and faculty about progressive African nations which exist outside the common storyline of post-colonial countries overwhelmed with disease, war, poverty and ruthless dictators.

For several years, Glover has lead groups of students on study-abroad programs in Ghana hoping to recast the American image of African as a singular nation rather than a continent of different countries, including some making substantial political and social progress.

 “When we come back, the greatest lesson – and this is from the students themselves – is that it changes their lives,” Glover said.

 “On one of the trips, there was this student who was surprised at what she was seeing. And I said, ‘Why are you surprised? You have taken a class from me and in the class I showed pictures of the buildings.’ Her response was, ‘I guess you don’t really believe it until you see it in person.’ “

 The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.