Let communities drive universities of technology

It is not fashionable in our country to look for lessons from the rest of mother continent Africa. But for the purposes of expanding the debate on the role of universities of technology (Higher Learning, June 13) one can look at the role of the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana for ideas.

The university is a multi-campus, established in Ghana’s northern savannas in 1992 by the government to “blend the academic world with the community in order to provide constructive interaction between the two for the total development of northern Ghana, in particular, and the country as a whole”.

The strategic vision of the university is to be a “home for world- class pro-poor scholarship” and it sees itself as [developing] “new thinking in higher education which emphasises the need for universities to play a more active role in addressing problems of the society, particularly in the rural areas”.

The first flagship achievement of the university is the fact that it has successfully blended its academic programmes with grassroots community-based training. Students of a given academic tier group identify a specific region and in smaller groups live in the communities and interact with the people during each trimester for three years of their four-year degree.

In the first year, students are introduced to community studies. In the second year students, together with the communities, identify the development problems and challenges in their respective communities and on that basis work together with the community members to formulate specific intervention in the third year.

In a nutshell the curricula of the faculties of the university emphasise community entry, community dialogue, extension and practical tools of inquiry.

This method of university-community interaction differs from other forms of community interaction because it directly blends pedagogical paradigm with the community and in the process betters the community.

Thus instead of the university becoming a change agent it acts as a bettering agent. This idea provides an antidote to or avoids the problem of being a change agent — where change is difficult, painful or impossible.

The guiding principle of the university is that it starts from what people know and understand and then “rubs in” scientific knowledge.

Universities of technology are uniquely set up to harness these opportunities fully by utilising the concept of co-creation.

Chris Kanyane, MBA graduate

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