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Innovative college in Accra helps aspiring middle class move on up.
Nearly half of Ashesi’s students receive financial aid or scholarships.
“The people that are being cut out are disproportionately the poor. That’s the reality,” he said. “Those who will get into college have opportunities after that.”
Getting in to public or private higher education institutions remains a challenge for many qualified applicants. Despite growth, private institutions comprise just 10 percent of Ghana's total higher education enrollment of 110,000.
Nearly 60 percent of applicants to Ghana’s public institutions were turned away in 2008 for lack of space and staff, said Minister of Education Alex Tettey-Enyo. Just 6 percent of college-age students get into university in Ghana, compared to the global average of 26 percent.
Across the sub-Saharan region, with a total population of 850 million, just 5 percent of eligible Africans are enrolled in college.
“Despite rising enrollment in tertiary-level institutions, the numbers of students graduating are pitifully small,” Yaw Ansu, the World Bank’s director of human development for Africa said in a 2008 report. “And despite reform efforts, the quality remains well below par.”
The report notes that private institutions undertake little research, leaving the nation’s development issues in the hands of public universities. Many rely heavily on “moonlighting” public sector professors, are religiously affiliated and ignore labor market demand in favor of student interests, the report said.
Private financing “is imperative” for the future of higher education in Africa, said Zeinab El Bakri, vice president of the African Development Bank, to a UNESCO conference in Paris last year. Ashesi, for example, raised $3.7 million in private donations to build its new campus and has a fundraising unit based in the U.S. The school also borrowed $2.5 million from the World Bank's pirvate lending arm.
Efficiency should trump parochialism, said El Bakri. He encouraged educators to work cooperatively by establishing regional “centers of excellence" and stressed that higher education "must become the breeding ground of good governance."
Afua Aidoo, a 21-year-old studying at Ashesi, said students of her generation are discovering that they can chart their own course, instead of doing only what their parents do.
"Especially for a female child, you have to force your way through school. Most of the time you don't get to finish," she said. "Once the opportunities are there and people are aware of them, they do take advantage. You see more people wanting to study, to educate themselves. People are getting the opportunity to move ahead."
Africa's middle class is a GlobalPost series to highlight the continent's key but under-reported population including South Africa's growing class of "black diamonds," the challenge to Kenya's middle class, the struggles to rebuild a middle class after years of civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the diaspora of thousands of Africa's ambitious in the U.S. and Europe.