Albert Kobina Mensah writes: There’s absolutely no disconnect between academia and industry

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Many in the past have argued about the falling standard of education in our country, Ghana, and I agree to an extent as well. They are thus worried about the mismatch and disconnection between the products from the country’s tertiaries and their ability to fit into the industries post-graduation. In an attempt to point out these discrepancies or disjoints between the two sides, some CEOs of companies, some section of the citizens and leadership alike have complained bitterly about the need to bridge the divide. These have led to other individuals going further to take on the academia, questioning and casting slur and vituperations on the quality of appointments (lecturers and professors) done by our institutions of higher education. People maybe right or perhaps get it wrong in their arguments.

I add my voice to the ongoing arguments. I reiterate, however, that any attempt to discredit our reputable institutions should not be made to suffice. Our institutions of higher learning are credible and not doing so bad. Yes, I’m aware there are so many challenges, but the professors and doctors therein are well scrutinized, well trained and are in position to churn out the right candidates for the job market. These institutions despite their deficiencies have and do ran multiple projects with multibillion international organisations such as that from the UNDP, the FAO, the UN, the WHO, the UNEP, the USAID, the WAFC, IWMI, GWP, etc. They equally have the capacity to train well-equipped graduates for the industries. Most obtained their training and PhDs from the USA, UK, and the Germanys. I, for instance, received my PhD training in Germany.

During our time at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana as undergraduates, our program was so much both theoretically and practically designed to produce a refined ago-environmental and natural resource management enthusiasts and young scientists. They prepared us well and gave us a very valuable foundation for taking off to higher heights and entering into the world of work. The Bachelor of Science (General Agricultural Science) 4-year degree Programme was highly-packed from field work every week, industrial attachments, and field trips to agricultural and other environmental factories. These were done under strict supervision by the lecturers at the time who visited farms to farms and to visit the students posted in various companies and factories across the country. The students at the time had a compulsory field trip touring almost the whole Ghana and visiting factories to familiarize with happenings and applications on the field- these happen during the long vacation of the third year. During the second year, you’re placed for almost three-month attachments with various companies and firms that are connected with natural resources governance and management in the country.

During my second year at the School of Agriculture at the same university, I chose among the many options to have my industrial internship with the Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Tarkwa. My times at the EPA taught me so much and set my career plans straight for me. I spent three months with the EPA, read so much during the first two weeks about environmental impacts assessments in the mining sector and the rest of the period there were dedicated to going to the field. I learnt so much about environmental auditing, sustainability reporting, environmental performance, disclosure and ratings, land reclamation, soil restoration, revegetation, and many others. These backgrounds reinforced my interests in mining sector sustainability and in the final year, I worked on extensive review of revegetation and its role in restoring soil quality of degraded mining sites. These interests were further deepened when I developed a PhD proposal on remediation of active and abandoned gold mining sites and later attracted funding to carry out the project in Germany. I am this way because the training at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana provided the catalytic start and formidable foundation! The training was holistic enough! If these were not practical and pragmatic enough to produce experience and make graduates to fit into the industry, what then is?

In the mining sector and virtually all sectors, the academia trains a mass block of people to man the sectors. Academia runs society by developing conscious citizens who are aware of their responsibilities at home, school, institutions, ministries, and in leadership. Industry players cannot be said to be more relevant than those in the academia who in the first place trained these folks who work there. The University of Mines and Technology trains mining experts, engineers, and managers in the mining sector and those who finally get churned out from this institution cannot later play pomposity, cast aspersions on those who trained them and turn around to call them as “book longs”, know and do little, and that they rather lack practical experience.

A society is run through formality and informality is reduced through putting in place options and actions in order to move many in the informal industry into the formal one. This is achieved through proper and strict regulations in order to get many things formalized and monitored so that their activities can be taxed for economic growth. If we got many informal sectors, then it’s a national crisis and a symptom of leaders failure. What am I saying? What I mean here is that in a formal and working country, we will work at training institutions for the masons, seamstresses, vulcanizers, electricians, gold smiths, carpenters, auto mechanics, traders, food vendors caterers, waitresses, hairdressers, tailors, cleaners, welders, bakers, artisanal miners, and many other subaltern economic activities! Thereafter, we establish industrial platforms and sectors to absorb the graduates from these institutions. By so doing, we can harness the benefits from these sectors for the benefit of the individuals and the nation.

However, many years of practicing in any field or gaining industrial experience do not automatically qualify one for appointments at the universities or other institutions of higher learning. Higher education entails a lot and has its purpose. They train a sizeable portion of the population to become scholarly and also engage in critical thinking. Critical thinking that will direct how a complex situation can be dealt with. They are equally capable! Here then comes with the long debates in Ghana over allowing those with industrial experience to be absorbed into the universities. The same debate describes PhDs as purely academics who lack the actual industrial experience and ended that those with industrial experience should be preferable option! The argument was instigated by one Mr. John Awuah (CEO, Ghana Association of Banks). He made the post on both LinkedIn and Facebook, and it has received many reactions. The post on Facebook as of the time I was writing this piece had received two hundred and eighty-five reactions (like, love, sad, care) and two hundred and one comments. In the said post, John disagreed that a Ph.D. qualification should be the yardstick for appointment at the institution of higher learning. Rather, he was of the argument that people with profound experience in the field of discipline must be given the opportunity to teach in the universities. To wit, a seasoned chief executive officer or an owner of an organization who has at least a master’s degree, but no Ph.D. could serve as a better faculty member than a Ph.D. holder who has no active practical experience in the subject they teach. The post reads as follows:

Our educational system needs complete overhaul. Why do you need a PhD to qualify to lecture at the University of Ghana, Legon? Will a PhD holder who is purely academic lecturer be better than someone with master’s degree with extensive industrial exposure?

Who’s better qualified to lecture Business Strategy, Business Policy, management, Auditing, Financial reporting, Business Finance, Taxation, Corporate planning, etc.? Is it the Professor who has never stepped foot in the corporate world and purely academic and theoretical or the master’s holder with professional qualification who has had tremendous corporate exposure at various managerial levels in an organisation in the relevant field? I will put my money on the master’s holder and leave the Professor behind.

We have to practicalise education, and you do that only by ensuring that the people delivering education have seen what they’re teaching being done in an industry or practical setting before. The lecturer who taught me Entrepreneurship at Oxford Brookes  University was an Entrepreneur and not a PhD holder. I still remember what he taught us in that class till today because he was practical and used real life experiences he had gone through and not some hypothetical examples our so-called Professors are used to.

While PhD or Professorship may be relevant in some disciplines, it’s wholesale requirement by Universities is misplaced. In Ghana, we are producing graduates who can reproduce theories and get grades but cannot operate in practical settings. This must change!

Here, John referred to professors as “so-called” and “some hypothetical” people. By so doing, he attempted to elevate the entrepreneur as rather relevant and of much more important! I argue here that, there is absolutely no disconnect or disjoint between the academia and the industry! But something is going on and it’s funny how I find it. Why would anyone think he or she should be the preferable choice over a PhD holder in university appointments because he or she has gotten industrial experience? And that PhDs are purely academic, and lack experience. Says, who? This thought is problematic in itself! The standardization questions we must therefore ask are: what constitutes an industrial experience? How long must one work or obtain his industrial experience to qualify for appointments at the university? Why would an industry person then take interest in university appointments, an institution they critique as being theoretical? A master’s degree isn’t enough qualifiable to teach and handle high sophisticated research at the higher learning institutions like the university! Perhaps, this maybe the reason one PhD fellow and a scholar at the Hungarian University of Life Sciences in Kaposvár, Haruna Gado, argued:

Maybe we should also be advocating for folks in Kumasi Magazine, Abossey Okai to teach mechanical engineering. My mothers in Mallam Atta, Kejetia, Tamale Central Market, must be allowed to teach marketing. And my folks at wood shops in Berekum to teach wood works.

Haruna Gado may be right in his sarcasm. I must swiftly and equally notify here that it may be highly erroneous for anyone to think that professors are theoretical and not have industrial experience. Such thoughts must shift and downed! Professors are very expert hands-on, and they equally have a lot of industrial experience and skills. Becoming a professor isn’t a child’s play and it’s not just attained by producing academic journal articles- it goes beyond that, and they are highly trained in their fields! They won projects, supervised big time fundings, coached bachelors masters and other PhDs- these in culmination produce enormous experience!

A PhD in science in land reclamation for instance carries out a remediation project. He or she plants and cultivates a specie in the field for say one year, monitors the plants on daily bases, takes data, later harvests them and it doesn’t end there. He or she subsequently goes to the laboratory and spends additional six months to analyze his or her samples, such results may be convincing or go wrong. It doesn’t end here, he generates data, and he begins to statistically analyze them, thinks, and must make sense out of the data before the writing begins and that’s a whole new chapter! Interestingly, this is just one chapter of the PhD thesis. He does these things vigorously and rigorously and then move on to the next experiments. The number of chapters in a science PhD thesis determines the number of experiments carried out during the project under investigation and each comes with a whole new experience on its own.

Likewise in social science research and in humanities some spend years in communities living there and studying the people!

Despite all these years, one thinks they just compiled thesis, they are purely academic, they are “book longs” and they lack industrial experience? When they don’t understand what a PhD training is, they reduce it to compilation of thesis, but a PhD training goes beyond these. When they don’t know what university appointments for lectureship is, they reduce it to teaching, but university appointments go beyond just teaching!

When they don’t know what research is, they say it is googling for information or asking Google, but research goes beyond this! In conclusion, there may be no disjoint or mismatch between the academia and the industry- one (academia) produces the feedstock for the other (industry). The industry also provides a space for absorbing and further training the products from academia.

 

The post Albert Kobina Mensah writes: There’s absolutely no disconnect between academia and industry appeared first on Citinewsroom – Comprehensive News in Ghana.

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