Free SHS to swell demand for tertiary education …but how prepared are the varsities?

By the year 2020, demand for tertiary school admissions is expected to be massive as the country awaits the maiden graduation of over 400,000 Free Senior High School (SHS) students who will be applying for entry into the various tertiary institutions.

The reality is that this single batch of free SHS beneficiaries are more in number than the entire student population of the 138 tertiary institutions in the country at the moment.  

The 138 tertiary institutions, including colleges of education and nursing training, have an entire student population of 320,746 covering all batches, and they have the capacity to admit about 100,000 students yearly as a result of limited infrastructure.

This means that in 2020 these institutions will not even be able admit half of the over-400,000 students who are expected to apply for admission into the various tertiary institutions.

Of course, government has said its aim is to ensure that secondary school education becomes the least education any Ghanaian would have – so a counter-argument would be that it is not all the 400,000 SHS graduates that would be expected to have tertiary education. 

But the Trades Union Congress (TUC) argues that secondary school education is not enough to produce requisite human resources for the accelerated industrialisation government itself seeks.

Government, the TUC argues, must therefore embark on rigorous infrastructural expansion in the various tertiary institutions to enable them admit the historic number that will be searching for higher education in the near future. 

While commending government for its efforts in implementing the policy, the union was quick to add that the only way Free SHS will pay for itself is to put beneficiary Ghanaians into productive work.

Aside from the TUC, the Chairman of privately-owned Radford University College in Accra, Nana Dwomoh Sarpong, is quoted as saying that all attention has been on the current admission without thinking about what will happen from 2020 onward.

According to him, many universities are even unable to admit qualified applicants currently, because of lack of facilities – adding that the situation will be worse when free SHS students complete and start applying for university admissions.

Data available to the B&FT suggests that students in degree-awarding public tertiary institutions (TEIs) constitute approximately 59 percent of all students in the country, while private tertiary institutions account for 17 percent of the student population.

The 10 Polytechnics in the country, eight of which have been converted to Technical Universities so far, have a student population of 51,169, representing 13.1% of country-wide recorded student population.

Technical Universities run Higher National Diploma programmes (HND) and Bachelor of Technology (B-Tech) programmes in various disciplines. Also, the Takoradi Technical University has started a Master of Technology (M-Tech) programme, and the others are expected to follow suit.

Students in the 41 recorded Colleges of Education constitute almost a 10th of the tertiary student population. These colleges run only Diplomas in Basic Education programmes.

Colleges that run Nursing and Midwifery programmes and their student population is less than 2%.

Further, males constitute 61% (236, 649) of the entire tertiary student population. The female population is 153,248 – yielding a male to female ratio of approximately 3:2.