“We want to Transform Technology Education in Africa as a University”
Dominic Osei—Registrar of Accra Institute of Technology, Ghana
Located in the iconic African city of Accra, the Accra Institute of Technology—AIT is one of Africa’s most celebrated universities of all time. Set up in 2009, AIT has set the pace for private sector university education in science and technology in Africa, producing some of the best brains currently available in science and technology across the continent. In the last three years, the university has had Nigerians emerging as the best graduating students consecutively.
In this exclusive interview, we spoke to Mr. Dominic Osei-Boakye, the Registrar of the university, often regarded as Ghana’s leading private university of technology about the elements that make AIT thick and what has often made Nigerian students excel as students in the university.
The Accra Institute of Technology—AIT is modelled after two of the world’s most renowned institutes of technologies, the California Institute of Technology—CALTECH ranked number one in recent world university rankings and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—MIT ranked number five. We are a technology focused university, campus-based and open university system. If you remember, a few years ago, Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft made the bold prediction that campus-based universities will become less crucial for learning. And indeed as we speak now, more and more people are opting for the Open University approach to learn. I’m sure I will have time to explain in details what this means in the later part of this interview.
Our kind of education here is one that broadens your perspective on the world, making you a more knowledgeable person. But most importantly, we don’t just provide an education to students at Accra Institute of Technology, we provide a life entirely for students studying here. You will understand that unemployment has become a very big problem in Africa. This issue is compounded everyday with fresh graduates adding up to the list. In Accra Institute of Technology, what we have done as a university has been to train students who have the upper hand with options of graduating as job creators and becoming an inevitable plus to their employers in cases where they want to seek for jobs.
QUESTION: But why technology as a private university? Because a lot of the private universities available on the continent currently find it quite easier to run management courses compared to technology courses.
You see, that is where AIT is different. We believe that the most popular language of the 21st century is technology. We see technology as the only way that Africa can go out of its myriads of challenges. It is not like we don’t run management courses here. But even our management courses are wired around technological innovations. We are a technology focused university. Our aim is to make sure that over the next decade, when you mention names that are changing the cause of the African continent and check their educational qualifications, it would be that they had something to do with the Accra Institute of Technology. Now technology is not an area many private universities want to get into. It requires a very systematic educational curricular coupled with cutting edge facilities to run a tech oriented university like the Accra Institute of technology. This often comes with very huge investments which many universities with the intention to come into the area cannot afford.
QUESTION: you mentioned that the Accra Institute of Technology runs both the campus-based and Open University system. Can you differentiate what that means for us in detail?
The reason is simple. Some years ago, if you remember, it was quite easy for a worker to apply for study leave. And he/she would take the leave and go and stay in the university campus for 3 to 4 years. Some of them even get scholarship whereby the company will pay for them and they will stay away from work for the duration of the course even when they are schooling and their school fees is being paid for by the school, you realise that they are still collecting salaries for four years. Now as the pressures increased on employers, the story now changed to, well, we will give you time to go and stud but we cannot pay your school fees. The best we can do will be to pay your salary whiles you are studying. Even now as we speak, the language has changed also. Employers are now saying that if we give you time to go and learn, we will not pay you for that period that you are away. It is against this backdrop that a lot of the universities started coming out with innovative ideas that will make university education so flexible to workers so as to continue to school and still be able to keep their jobs. So flexible learning like pure online learning where the student doesn’t go to any class and in some cases doesn’t even know where the campuses were located were devised. Then again, weekend programs were introduced, which is what most of the schools are doing now. But then, you are a worker. You go to work Mondays to Fridays and then the weekend which is supposed to be time for the family you are in the class. And the most serious aspect of it is that within this weekend of Saturday and Sunday you have to do five to six courses at the same time, from morning till evening. This is not good for learning because by the time you get to lunch time you are totally exhausted. So much pressure coupled with tests and assignments.
And then came again distance learning, which also had its own inconvenience and high cost. It was on this basis that the Accra Institute of Technology decided to collaborate with the Open University of Malaysia to introduce the Open University system, where the campus-based university system was combined with the online system where students will come to school, know the lecturer, and still have all their lecture notes and study materials on their computers. Currently we have over seven hundred students at the Undergraduate level, the post-graduate and PhD levels, studying different courses. With this open university system, all you do is come for lectures once a month, doing a maximum of three courses with access to unlimited resources, targeting your workload to match with your academic responsibilities. Now with this, all you need is your mobile phone or laptop with internet connection. So even while you are in a bus traveling or say you are at work, you can use your lunch time to do your assignments and write your tests, just with your phone or laptop and submit.
QUESTION: over the past three to four years, different Nigerian students have often emerged as the best graduating students of your university, what factor would you say is responsible for this?
That is a factor that we are yet to identify and to say, this is the specific reason. But one thing about excellence in studying is that it thrives in an excellent environment. It is like a monkey. No matter how skillful it is, it can never express such skill or talent in a forest without trees. Put in in a place without trees and you see a lazy monkey. But let the monkey be put in a forest with trees and there you see what the monkey is made of. We have provided the best learning environment here. Most of the Nigerian students that even come here we understand have been previously in other universities in Nigeria. But then, you can say that it is the kind of environment and atmosphere that we have provided them in the Accra Institute of Technology that is key to the kind of performance that they are coming out with here. Amazingly, these excellent performances by Nigerian students here doesn’t end after schooling. We have a system that also monitors our students after school, keeping in touch with them and aiding them with after school experience both in the job market and entrepreneurship. There is a Nigerian student, Sopriala Jack I think from Rivers State who has currently developed a social media platform that could compete comfortably with WhatsApp. He was a student here two years ago. There are many of them, apart from even the ones that come out as best students who have left this university to begin doing very world storming things.
QUESTION: What are some of the challenges that Nigerian students studying here in your university face? There are allegations that Nigerians students studying in Ghanaian universities are often abused and are not given proper treatment especially from the law enforcement agencies.
Well. We have been reading and hearing about that on different media platforms. But that is obviously not something we have worried about to verify. Our students here are taken very seriously, especially the foreign students from countries like Nigeria. We understand they are coming from a far place and from different backgrounds and all these are keyed into our study plan for them here. It is these factors that we have wired into our study system for them that makes them excel when they come here for a degree. From hostel facilities to Residence Permit, we have all these conditions as core considerations for our foreign students. But again, one problem that confronted us recently is the issue of National Youth Service Corp—the NYSC. We are required as foreign universities to often go to Abuja and do clearance specifically for our students. I think that this process should be looked at by the appropriate authorities in Nigeria. I think that personnel from the NYSC can from time to time collaborate with the country’s embassies to come over and do these verifications. Or alternatively, a desk can be opened at the various embassies in countries with high population of Nigerian students like Ghana. So that it becomes easier for these students to process their requirements for service.
QUESTION: I read somewhere that there are over seven professors on the AIT Board. How were you people able to reach this feat?
That is a very good question. You see, we consider the board as the most strategic part of the institution. Because they are like the engine room behind which AIT as an institution thrives. They carry the key policy formulation aimed at positioning the Accra Institute of Technology as a major player in technology education in Africa. So that for example if you put the cumulative experience of the entire AIT Board of Trustees together, it would span over three hundred years. You have Professor Clement Dzidornu, winner of the prestigious World Technology Award alongside Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Former US Vice President Al Gore, and the Rwandan President Paul Kagame as the President of the university. You have renowned professors of international acclaim such as Professor Francis Allotey, an international physicist-mathematician and computer scientist sitting as the Chairman of the Accra Institute of Technology Board of Trustees. Others are Professor Edward Ayensu, Former Chairman of the World Bank Inspection Panel, Professor Alvin Addae-Mensah, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Samuel Agyapong, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape-Coast Ghana, ProfessorJophusAnamoah Mensah, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Education Winneba, Prof Emmanuel Owusu-Benuah, Former DG Council for Scientific and Industrial Research CSIR,Professor GoolamMohamedbhai, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and former Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Professor Anuwar Ali, former Vice Chancellor of the National University of Malaysia,Dr. Grace Bediako, world’s renowned academician and a former government of Ghana statistician, KS Yamoah, MD of the Ghana Stock Exchange, Very Rev AmaAffo-Blay, Former DG of the Ghana Education Service, Dr. K.Y Amoako, former Under Secretary-General of the United Nations.
This is the most high-powered and academically distinguished University Board available anywhere on the African continent. What this shows you is that we mean business as an institution. From all aspects of it, we are rightly positioned as the ideal African university of the future.
QUESTION: Admissions are currently on at the Accra Institute of Technology. What should students be looking out for?
We are even far better than we were. Our laboratories cutting across computer science and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering have all been re-updated with latest equipment available in the sector. If we were previously rated among the top destinations for students who want to be positioned as major players in the technology industry with our previous equipment, how much more now? So you see, it’s a different ball game championed for excellence and nothing more.
QUESTION: What are your admission requirements?
(Interview was conducted by Green Ndume, Host of International Focus on Nigeria—IFN TV show in Accra-Ghana)