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Mapping the factors driving outbound student mobility in Ghana

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • There are a number of underlying characteristics fuelling increased demand for study abroad in Ghana
  • They include economic growth, high youth unemployment, and growing secondary school enrolments
  • The competition to attract Ghanaian students is heating up with more active recruiting in the country by institutions and schools from both established and emerging study destinations

Ghana is likely to have one of the world’s fastest-growing economies in 2018, with projected growth of between 8.3 and 8.9%, according to a recent report in the New York Times. The Times article draws on research from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Brookings Institute to observe that this rate of growth “might outpace even India, with its booming tech sector, and Ethiopia, which over the last decade has been one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.”

High growth, limited jobs

Ghana’s striking growth story belies an economy that has yet to offer sufficient prospects for the country’s youth, who make up roughly a third of the overall population. The Brookings Institute reports that,

“The concern has been the ability of the country to sustain this growth momentum given the level and quality of education and skills, and, more importantly, the failure of this strong growth performance to be translated into the creation of productive and decent jobs, improved incomes and livelihoods. The structure of the economy remains highly informal, with a shift in the country’s national output composition from agriculture to low-value service activities in the informal sector.”

The institute’s summary is that in Ghana, there is a “high level of employment in low-quality jobs.” The scarcity of high-quality jobs contributes to Ghanaian bachelor’s degree holders suffering from higher levels of unemployment than those with no formal or basic education.

Migration and outbound student numbers

Faced with an economy that has yet to diversify and offer a wide enough range of opportunity, many young Ghanaians have their hearts set on education and employment abroad. Delali Margaret Badasu, director at the Center for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana, told Quartz that,

“Every young person looks up to migration, either internal or international, as an ultimate goal. It’s deep-rooted in their minds.”

A 2017 Afrobarometer survey found that “at least 4 in 10 Ghanaians have considered emigrating,” with most of this group wanting to live in Europe or North America. The Pew Research Centre, for its part, conducted a survey in 2017 that asked respondents in six sub-Saharan African nations “whether they would go to live in another country, if they had the means and opportunity.” Fully three-quarters (75%) of Ghanaians said they would, with virtually as many Nigerians (74%) saying that they would as well.

Study abroad is one way that young Ghanaians are making their way overseas: close to 13,000 Ghanaians are now enrolled in foreign higher education institutions, and the pool of prospects is growing, with record numbers of Ghanaians now enrolled in secondary schools (4,220,000) and post-secondary studies (2,630,000). Ghana’s gross enrolment ratio for higher education roughly doubled from 8.6% in 2008 to 16.1% in 2016 according to UNESCO data.

Ghanaian higher education students can be found in the country’s over 200 accredited tertiary institutions. These institutions include public and private universities, polytechnics, technical universities, and specialised colleges (e.g., nursing, education, agricultural); between them these institutions offer four-year degrees, two to three-year diplomas, certificates, and graduate programmes.

Government sets priorities for higher education

Because it has long been highly competitive to get into Ghana’s public universities, many private universities have opened over the past several years to accommodate more students; a quarter of Ghana’s tertiary students are now enrolled in one of these private institutions. Recently, however, the government announced a restriction on the further expansion of the private sector. Going forward, only private universities that prioritise science and technology will be permitted to begin operations in the interests of diversifying and strengthening the economy. The rationale for this approach is highlighted in the book, Africa’s Lions: Growth Traps and Opportunities for Six African Economies (2016), where editors Haroon Bhorat and Finn Tarp note that,

“There are estimated supply deficits in graduates in medicine and health, engineering and technical skills and business administration, and an oversupply of graduates in arts/social sciences and agriculture. This is generally linked to the fact that Ghana’s education system tends to produce humanities graduates in excess of what the economy requires. Scientists, engineers, and technologists needed for the manufacturing sector are produced in limited numbers.”

Goal of graduating more teachers

Teaching is also to be given more priority and funding going forward. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who was elected based in part on his promises to improve Ghana’s education sector, announced this month that Ghana’s Colleges of Education will all be upgraded to University Colleges and offer a four-year Bachelor of Education degree, and that all teachers will receive an 11% basic salary increase this year. He singled out Singapore, Finland, South Korea, and Canada as nations that “have experienced extraordinary results in the formation of human capital and economic development” and said,

“For us also to make a success of our nation, we must pay attention to teachers. It is only a crop of well-trained and motivated teachers that can help deliver the educated and skilled workforce we require to transform our economy.”

More competition

Ghana’s strong GDP growth, large youth population, stable and progressive government, labour force imbalances, and strengthening domestic higher education sector are making the country an increasingly interesting country from which to recruit students – especially since so many Ghanaians are already dreaming of living abroad.

While UNESCO data shows US higher education institutions enrolling over 3,140 Ghanaian students, ahead of the UK (1,490), Canada (924), and the Ukraine (887), the competition is intensifying and those numbers may be changing quickly. The Ghanaian newspaper Joy Online recently noted that:

“It has become common for agents of schools in the United States, United Kingdom and other parts of the world to travel to Ghana to meet prospective students face-to-face. It is in sharp contrast to the past when people had to struggle, either to travel abroad for admission or have relatives abroad facilitate the process for them.”

Moreover, UNESCO data does not include student migration flows into China, and there is evidence that those numbers are picking up substantially. In 2017, the Chinese ambassador to Ghana – in announcing a new set of university scholarships for Ghanaian students  – told the assembled audience that,

“Up to now, a total of 1,006 Ghanaian students have received Chinese government scholarships. Currently, 5,516 Ghanaian students are studying in China and this number has ranked top among African students in China for three consecutive years.”

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