African Tech Voices: Ghana’s new-look tech university reflects West Africa’s growing digital ambitions
As part of a national drive to put Ghana at the forefront of the digital revolution in Africa, the former Ghana Technology University College has been granted university status and reformed to become the Ghana Communication Technology University (GCTU).
This is according to AfricaLive.net, an online portal that showcases various projects in place across the continent involving several stakeholders.
GCTU is expected to emerge as the premier technology institution in West Africa for equipping students and educators in the technology space.
The institution places a premium on internationalisation and this means that in addition to learning, students also stand to benefit from partnerships with global partners.
AfricaLive.net spoke to GCTU vice-chancellor Prof. Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa on what this newly reformed institution means for Ghana and their plans going forward.
AfricaLive: 2021 was a landmark year for your institution. Please can you provide a summary of your recent developments and the importance of them for your institution and higher education in Ghana?
Prof. Afoakwa: 2021 saw us achieve a milestone indeed. We used to be known as the Ghana Technology University College and were being run as a quasi-private university. Back in August 2020, we saw the Parliament of Ghana passing the Ghana Communication Technology Bill 2020. It was soon after ratified by President Nana Akufo-Addo into an Act of Parliament. The act mandates us to be a fully-fledged public university.
When the Bill was constructed, we were identified and mandated with becoming a viable centre of higher education in ICT.
We were required to perform research with the following objectives in mind; promote education training and capacity building in academic disciplines related to ICT, provide global consultancy services to both the private sector and the public sector, promote basic and applied research in the area of ICT, create an entrepreneurial environment to support innovation, product development, as well as, foster industry linkages. It’s upon us now to structure ourselves in a way that makes it possible for us to carry out the mandate we have been given.
In 2021, we saw the constitution and inauguration of the new governing council for the new Ghana technology institution. The government council was opened in September to help govern the university to ensure we execute our mandate exhaustively. They needed a substantive vice-chancellor for the newly formed Ghana Communication Technology University.
I was interviewed for the role and have now been installed as the VC in the institution’s new format. We are now fully focused on aggregating our strengths and experiences in training and research for students in the area of ICT. We must ensure we train the human resource base for the digitised transformation agenda in Ghana. We aim to become the go-to first-class ICT university in the West-African sub-region.
We are moving swiftly to upgrade the infrastructure in the institution to help us achieve our mandate. We wanted to create a viable ICT centre but were not in a financial position to match our ambition. We consulted with the Ghana National Petroleum Cooperation (GNPC) and they asked us to submit a proposal for the construction of the ICT centre.
We have an agreement now that will see them construct a four-story block that will house our ICT centre of excellence. The building will house departments that will specialise in several disciplines such as cyber security, Artificial intelligence, robotics, and other labs. This will strengthen our ability to deliver competencies that will position our students to compete while also matching our ambition of being the best ICT institution in West Africa.
It’s not just about bringing in new materials and technologies but also upgrading the quality of our staff. We are working on bringing in qualified people in the emerging technologies of interest so that they can prepare students adequately. We want staff who specialise in areas like information technology, computer science, computer engineering, and AI.
AfricaLive: What do you believe Ghana can offer to the world and how confident are you in the future of Ghana Communication Technology University?
Prof. Afoakwa: I am very confident that as an institution, we are going to achieve all that we have set for ourselves, especially the objective of becoming a premier technology university in West Africa. The most important one is becoming a fully-fledged public university within the next few weeks.
We have signed an agreement with Advanced AT in London to come and train our faculty on the world’s best practises of teaching and research. In March, the first training called Master Class will be enrolled, for our lecturers. We see ourselves becoming one of the world’s best institutions when it comes to technological training.
AfricaLive: What current trends within the sector are going to influence the future of African education and how can African education institutions remain globally relevant in this time of fast changes?
Prof. Afoakwa: We are not restricting ourselves to the four corners of the lecture room; we are embedding technology in everything that we do. The fact that you can take classes from work or home is evidence of that. Government intervention is also essential in making life much easier for education providers. An enabling environment will enable educators to provide quality education for the human resource base that they want to train.
Short courses for employees in tech industries are provided much to the delight of employers. It is up to those employees to make themselves available for classes or risk being redundant. We must ensure that we can educate our workforce by introducing them to continuous training and allowing them to attend short courses.
AfricaLive: What steps should be taken to engage with industry on the future of work and action plans are you working on?
Prof. Afoakwa: We’ve signed several agreements with industries that will bring us closer together. The pacts signed will see to it that we no longer work in silos and that they share their technology, human resource needs, and research gaps with us. Our students could then research to solve the issues of the industries. This knowledge will help our students hone their research skills and build a more extensive knowledge base for our country and continent.
We also have a prestigious lecture series regularly where we bring some of our industry partners to our institution to speak on issues that are topical in the industry.
AfricaLive: How can the agricultural sector benefit from your research, and what flagship projects have you launched that will help?
Prof. Afoakwa: Under the Computer Science Programme, we have some projects that are helping farmers to identify some of the diseases that harm crops in different parts of Ghana. We are putting together a new proposal for funding to come up with new technology that will help the government identify the kind of diseases that set farmers back and hurt our food security. Research results will advise on the type of pesticides to buy for different crop diseases to avoid a one fits all approach.
AfricaLive: What does it take for research like this to become a reality?
Prof. Afoakwa: Before conducting productive research, you need funds. If the University cannot provide you with the kind of funds that you need, then the team must put together an excellent proposal to seek funding.
AfricaLive: What institutions beyond your borders are you looking to work within Africa?
Prof. Afoakwa: We want to work with some institutions in Nigeria, and are also establishing contact with some universities in South Africa and Kenya. We would also like to have a partnership with many more countries to ensure that we promote our area of specialisation.
AfricaLive: In response to environmental and sustainability challenges the identity of many African universities is evolving. How do you see your identity changing in this regard?
Prof. Afoakwa: We have taken into consideration sustainability issues in our delivery especially with the pandemic still around. We are not limited to lecture halls anymore because we have adopted the blended learning approach. We will execute 60 percent digital learning and 40 percent in-person. A lot of the documentation and processes will also be paperless and that will serve to reduce our carbon footprint. This will be big for us because it will help us shape our identity. Our focus is to be a student-centered university with academic freedom, innovation, and integrity. We want to evolve as an ICT institution, taking into consideration our new mandate.
We are trying to restructure our university by following these steps. Recreate the institution as a collegiate university which will replace the faculty system. We will have the College of Computing Systems and Technology, College of Communication Engineering, and the College of Business. Each of these colleges will have faculties that will help them execute in various areas. 80 percent of the programs will be in ICT.
Under the College of Computing Systems and Technology, we will have the Faculty of Cyber Defence and Security, Faculty of Computing, Faculty of Information Systems and Technology, Faculty of Multimedia and Communication Systems. We want to redefine our identity as an ICT university in Ghana, while also serving the entire West African sub-region. With this identity, we will be known as a world-class ICT university because our programs will be unique to us in West Africa.