Apart from having to perform these tasks albeit under financial constraints, the NAB is faced with the rising cases of academic fraud, which is fast putting a dent on the academic integrity of the nation.
Issues about academic fraud are complex in nature, admits the Executive Secretary of NAB, Kwame Dattey, and needs time and resources to fight the menace plaguing the academia of late.
“We have come a long way. When you start an institution, you are not very strict in the initial stages. We encourage them to improve on standards and as the institutions increase you tend to tighten the regulations,” Mr Dattey says.
Through its executive secretary, the NAB has become alarmed that there is upsurge in the rate at which some Ghanaians are receiving degrees from questionable online institutions of higher learning, all within a short period.
Such cases, Mr Dattey tells DAILY GUIDE, are prevalent at the PhD level.
It is common knowledge that a PhD is a globally recognised postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions to a candidate who has submitted a thesis or dissertation, based on extensive and original research in their chosen field and it normally takes a minimum two years with no maximum limit to complete.
“It is not that we don’t have institutions that offer PhD programmes,” he says, “why are people suddenly doing online masters programmes? Why are they drifting to places like Nicaragua and others?”
This SMC thing that came into the papers sometime ago, people go there they say they do Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) then they say they have arrangement with Nicaragua so they do eight months and they award them a PhD so they have DBA, a PhD, so they are talking all over the place,” Mr Dattey mentions.
“If somebody is doing PhD in Cape Coast, he can even identify somebody in Legon (University of Ghana) who is also in the area and form a supervisory team. They can be supervised so why are they going to enroll online?”
He confirms, “I am doing my PhD in Groningen, the Netherlands. They know me and can identify my handwriting. I cannot get anybody to write for me but people sit here and say I am Dr this and I have got this and that,” adding, “There is too much academic fraud in the system.”
Mr Dattey adds that “I am sending a paper to the board. We should come out clearly and say that these institutions we don’t recognise them and let’s see what people will do. Why are they going there? Why online?”
The executive secretary points out that a lot of people have acquired qualifications from unaccredited institutions and are holding ‘sensitive positions’ in the country.
“Sometime, some of them try to claim that in the United States, for instance, accreditation is not compulsory but what they do not say is that if your institution is not accredited by the recognised accrediting body, your students will never get federal or state funding of the government, when we are here, they think we don’t know what is happening there so they come here trying to push those things to us,” he cites.
He says he is in favour of what he called “a qualifications board” that will vet candidates, especially in the public sector with fraudulent academic credentials.
Mr Dattey mentions that the NAB has been assisting state institutions like the Public Services Commission (PSC) to investigate the academic backgrounds of people appointed to serve the public.
“The strength of South Africa over us is that any public officer who wants to work anywhere must have their credentials checked by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which is equivalent to NAB’s evaluations in Ghana,” he points out.
There are many private tertiary institutions operating in the country at the moment and the NAB says it has indentified two major problems confronting them currently.
Mr Dattey hints that one of them problems is the over-reliance on school fees without any proper alternative sources of funding by these institutions.
“One of the problems that greatly affected the private tertiary institutions is that most of them relied heavily on funds from foreign students, especially the Nigerians. There are instabilities in the Nigerian tertiary education sector. The lecturers are constantly on strike. When you enroll you never know when you will complete. So most of them during the oil boom sent their children abroad and when Ghana liberalised, they said the Ghanaian system was better and cheaper and starting looking here,” he disclosed.
“I was at a congregation at Kumasi once and the hotel I booked was full of parents from Nigeria coming to support their children who were graduating. However, the Nigerians started facing economic problems when their current government started tightening the financial rules. There were foreign exchange problems so they stopped transfers for education and those things.
Instabilities are still there. Their people would wish to come here but how to transfer the money to come and pay in Ghana is the problem and that has greatly affected those who fell so much on the Nigerian students to support,” the NAB executive secretary states.
He says Ashesi University has built a model in the area of alternative funding that is worthy of emulation by other institutions.
Mr Dattey further says the private universities are struggling of late because their public counterparts are appearing to ‘relax’ in mentoring them and rather turning around to give them stiff competition.
“The state-funded tertiary institutions are opening distance learning centres so the same institutions they are supposed to mentor in the area of affiliation are now competing with the private sector.
The unbridled nature of opening distance learning centres by the public universities is affecting the private ones. They are doing it without reference to the owners of those institutions which is the state and it is affecting the growth and development of private institutions,” he says.
There have been concerns about NAB’s high charges for services rendered but the executive secretary disagrees.
“For about three or four years now, apart from our salaries, NAB has been footing all the bills by itself through what we call cost-recovery. The institutions submit their programmes and then we give them a bill because the people going to do the assessment have to be paid. We have to put fuel in the vehicles which will go around, pay their hotel bills. All those things are paid by NAB,” Mr Dattey reveals.
“Let’s do a small analysis,” he says, “for a programme we charge GH¢6,000. The law says we should constitute a panel of between three and eight and these are experts who are supposed to charge higher and end up being paid something small. To me, they are doing national service,” the NAB executive secretary adds.
“Sometimes I even feel pity for them. It is like they are doing a national duty. One of them complain to me that he is driving a SUV vehicle, he comes to park his car and we put four of them in a land cruiser and they are going to say Tamale to do assessment. When they come, we pay a GH¢1,000 minus tax. It means if they are three we pay them GH¢3,000.
When we are sending experts to go out we send out the quality ones yet pay them less. If we compromise on quality we will be doing the country a great harm. In fact, if the experts we select consider what we give them, then they will go to do their private consultancy works. However, for the sake of the country they are helping use almost for free,” he points out.
“If we say we want to raise the charge, the same stakeholders will be complaining but they don’t know how we suffer to make things happen. We are improvising to survive. We have a lot of constraints,” Mr Dattey discloses.
He says the law does not appear to be on the side of NAB when it comes to enforcement of the rules to the letter and wants the authorities “to have a second look at the law so that we can tighten the legal framework.”
“All that we can do for now is to revoke the accreditation of those we have already given accreditation to. If we tighten the legal framework, there won’t be mushrooming of unaccredited tertiary institutions. People don’t seem to appreciate what we are doing. Whenever it comes to blame, we are criticised but nobody comes to find out what do we do and how are we doing it?” Mr Dattey indicates.
As it is, there is huge responsibility on the shoulders of NAB to ensure the regulatory regime is tightened to preserve the country’s academic integrity but the regulator can do nothing if it continues to be frustrated through government funding and the absence of stringent laws recommending stiffer punishments.
The National Accreditation Board (NAB) was established in 1993 with the enactment of PNDCL 317, 1993. The legislation has since been replaced by the National Accreditation Board Act, 2007, Act 744. The board is mandated to accredit both public and private (tertiary) institutions with regard to the contents and standards of their programmes.
The NAB also determines, in consultation with the appropriate institution or body, the programme and requirements for the proper operation of that institution and the maintenance of acceptable levels of academic or professional standards; determine the equivalences of diplomas, certificates and other qualifications awarded by institutions in Ghana or elsewhere.
They also have the mandate to publish as it considers appropriate the list of accredited public and private institutions at the beginning of the calendar year and also advises the president on the grant of a charter to a private tertiary institution.
They perform any other functions determined by the minister.