Economic Update

Published 22 Jun 2011

After a decade of rapid growth tempered by rising unemployment, Ghana’s education sector is working to develop a plan for the future. In June 200 representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Ghana Education Service and civil society met in Accra to formulate a 10-year strategy for the annual budget request in September.

Over the past decade access to education has radically improved. Enrolment in primary education grew by 50.9% and pre-primary enrolment shot from 21.8% to 97.3%. But as more students have graduated from basic levels, a corresponding rise in demand for more advanced education has not followed: 60% of students quit education before senior high school, swelling the ranks of an increasingly large and youthful informal sector.

It does not help that behind these figures lie stark regional, gender and socio-economic disparities, many of which play out again in higher education. A World Bank survey of 1500 students in the country’s five oldest public universities shows that half came from just 29 of the 493 public senior high schools. Tackling this inequality and providing further training for those who leave education early, therefore, must become a priority.

Other challeges facing the tertiarty sector are overcrowded lecture halls and ageing infrastructure. At the University of Ghana in Legon, pupil-teacher ratios are now at 300 to 1, a contrast to the OECD average of 15.3 to 1. But the greatest issue for Ghana’s youth is unemployment. Currently 51% of graduates are out of work, a body so large that it has founded its own union, the Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana. In April the group accused the government via local media of having “failed the youth of the country by a deprivation of better job opportunities”.

Poor links between universities and industry are part of the problem. Jobseekers complain about a small employment market where nepotism is rife. Joseph Budu, the registrar of the University of Ghana, sees the future in public-private partnerships. “Greater efforts should be made to encourage multinationals to set up research and incubator projects with our universities,” he told OBG.

Although it is a not the most labour-intensive field, there are hopes that Ghana’s nascent oil industry could provide part of the solution to unemployment. Production began at the offshore Jubilee oilfield in December 2010, with further proven offshore reserves set to follow suit, and alongside the country’s substantial gas deposits, there is expected to be a significant rise in demand for labour, ranging from technical positions, such as engineers, to unskilled jobs, like roustabouts.

The government is hoping that young locals will be the ones to take up this task: in February the Ministry of Energy began drawing up a bill that will require 90% of jobs in the sector be filled by Ghanaians by 2020. To meet this rising demand, Ghana, with the help of a loan from the World Bank, has invested $4.7m in a oil and gas training programme. This project, coordinated by the Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET), is training 2000 welders, mechanical engineers and electricians each year to work in the industry.

“Many of the less technical jobs are going to expatriates from oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Congo,” Sampson Tetey, the competency-based training coordinator for COTVET, told OBG. “We have to make sure Ghanaians have the basic skills to fulfil these roles.”

The oil find has already brought back many skilled Ghanaian expats that work in the sector, and at local institutions like the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) they are busy training the next generation to ensure Ghanaian representation at the industry’s highest levels. A specialist petroleum engineering faculty was founded at KNUST in 2004 and since 2008 has been producing degree-certified drilling, reservoir and production engineers. In 2011 the faculty will produce 51 graduates, its largest class to date. There are plans for further expansion and an introduction of postgraduate courses.

Not everyone is as upbeat about the prospects for job creation under the proposed local content bill, however. According to Stephen Kudom Donyinah, a lecturer at the petroleum engineering faculty, it will be a challenge to train enough personnel to meet the needs of the industry in the given timeframe. “While many of our graduates are getting jobs with the big oil service providers here, it is such a huge money industry with so many hazards that no company will take a gamble with personnel. Ghana simply doesn’t have the expertise, and 10 years is too fast to get it,” Donyinah told OBG.

The 10-year timeframe may be ambitious, but the drive to train and educate future oil and gas workers represents just one part of a larger mission to modernise Ghana’s education system and better align it with the needs of today’s employment market.