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The University and Society

E. Ablorh-Odjidja

April 27, 2016

There have been talks about the role of the university in our society recently, and a former vice-chancellor from one of our universities had this to say:

"The university is not meant to produce skilled graduates but rather, train their minds to enable them adapt to situations and circumstances.”

I am not an educationist. I am just a citizen who happened to be offended by this gilded view of purpose of a university education for a Third World country like ours.

Even, the advanced nations today have no fair use for the above view of university education.

The notion of “training the mind” only is dangerous because it has never worked in a world that constantly demands skills in all fields.

With due respect for the Chancellor's expertise as an educationist, I would still be worried about the usefulness of his recommended view and ask the average citizen to be wary of the lofty ideal embedded in his prescription.

The lofty ideal of university education, of training the mind only, is exactly how the colonials got us in this position; namely miss-educating us in Africa.


The effect has been the worshiping of scholarship, even when your daily needs are not being met. And the pretense at expertise even when your basic skill for the claim is suspect.

But of course, you would always have the university degree that says you are the knowledgeable one.  And you would also have an academic adornment that has no hinge on the basic skills needed to help transform our society.

For the university administrators, the degree only is a nice way to say “we have done our job” and then to remove themselves from blame for the disaster that happens next.

Seriously, it is in our interest to question how successful we have been so far with this old purpose of university education.

The true measure of effective university education must be linked to the overall health of the society. The question on every lip should be how well we are doing as a nation.

Is our economy stuffed with essential items that we produce here locally?

Are ideas coming out of our educational institutions ready to be implemented by graduates with a “can do” attitude?

Our universities are not producing enough skilled, competent, clear eyed leaders in all areas, as can be gleaned from what is happening around us. Our development prospects have been abysmal for a long time. But unfortunately, our educational ideals remain the same as they were from the beginning.

There are reasons why a change must happen immediately.

First, our developmental efforts need a boost. We lag behind our own potential, as was proven in the early 60s under Nkrumah.

Second, an intriguing question: Why is it that foreign experts, mostly foreign university trained, could come with their learned skills and tackle our local problems while our professors here are busy drilling into our students educational ideals that they would not be mandated to use?

Some may argue that the ideals have worked. They have allowed us the ability to “adapt to situations and circumstances.” But the problem here is, mere adaptation is not what we should want.

We must want to transcend our underdevelopment; a transformation from the Third World to the First World.  So we must desire an approach that will assist in more rewarding ways our developmental efforts.


And the process that would allow this to happen fast is education, especially university education.

Think about it. It has been over half a century since independence. Instead, our problems are outgrowing our ability to solve them. Basic infra-structural problems. Poor roads, bridges are holding development back in our communities.

Yet, elsewhere, the same problems are being solved with the help of their local universities, with the sort of hands-on training, practical skill building that our universities avoid.

The universities in advanced countries are not just ivory towers. They have been made attractive as places for acquiring skills, knowledge and where youthful energies are released.

The attraction of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, for me, is that they are not just college-dropouts, but that they took off with their universe shaping ideas while in college. I dread to think of what would have happened to these folks were they to have been caught in our system!

Caution, the above is not an indictment. It is just to warn that it will be extreme folly not to ask our universities to release similar energies on their campuses through another approach.

A graduate degree must not just be an adornment of a mind that adapts to “circumstances and situations.” It must also be a badge for the mind that has been trained to tackle and help fix vital problems.

Or bring new inventions into the world.


Leaders like President Mahama and The Asantehene have spoken out for this need.

There is justification for a practical side of every subject studied. The danger of not adding the practical side is to produce inertia in the same trained brain.

Thus, further insistence from the professorial class that universities can only train the brain and “not to provide “ready-hands for industry" should be seen as a cop out.


And, furthermore, a serious risk to every attempt to advance our nation.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher, Washington, DC, April 27, 2016.

Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to . Or don't publish at all.


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