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Can Open University help widen access to education for the needy?

BY: Ebenezer T. Hanson
ICT is an indispensable teaching/learning tool in Open University education
ICT is an indispensable teaching/learning tool in Open University education

We have either been told in mournful tones of or come across, on countless occasions, students who could not access university education because they were unable to obtain the requisite qualification or afford the required fees.

In the circumstance, the only option left for them is to find jobs to support themselves and their families. With majority of such unfortunate individuals, that shattered their academic dreams.

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 Against this backdrop, Ghana as a nation is losing individuals imbued with lots of potential who could contribute immensely to the development and advancement of the country.

But, thanks to the Open University concept, accessibility to university education by the needy in Ghana is being awakened.

Until recently, the concept of Open University was unknown in the history and development of education in many parts of Africa, including Ghana. In fact, apart from Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, many countries in Africa remain in the dark relative to knowledge of the concept of Open University.

However, with the inception of the Laweh Open University College in Ghana in 2014, this unenviable ‘veil of innocence’ was lifted off in Ghana.

What is an Open University?

The term ‘Open University’ usually refers to a university with an open-door academic policy: in terms of entry requirements, the emphasis is on supporting an applicant to succeed rather than the qualification one uses to enter. It is a university that is open to people without formal academic qualifications and that is why the term ‘open university’ is apt.

 It is worth noting that this defining characteristic of admission contrasts sharply with what obtains at the traditional universities, which generally insist on stringent academic qualification and where these qualifications are used to keep applicants out. 

Open universities are also considered open because they offer Online and Distance Learning (ODL) programmes, using specific teaching and learning methods aided by digital technology. It is a type of teaching and learning arrangement in which students are generally not present in person at the site of the source of teaching.

The overarching goal of open universities is to offer everyone equal opportunities to develop their competencies to raise their level of education and to receive training and retraining.

At many of the Open universities worldwide, Laweh Open University College not excluded, applicants without what is traditionally considered to be the requisite qualification for university entry gain admission after screening to ensure that they have the mental capacity and maturity to deal with the challenges and the environment of academic studies.

Within an Open University, therefore, one would find a fine mix of students who entered with formal academic qualifications together with students who gained admission using their prior experiential learning which they are guided to document appropriately.

In a typical Laweh Open University College class, you will find senior high school (SHS) graduates, holders of both General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level and Advanced Level certificates, diploma and Higher National Diploma, and professionals in relevant courses, together with students who entered with various past non-formal learning experiences.

Another distinguishing feature of an Open University is the flexibility it provides — students pursue their courses at their own pace and convenience. They are provided with the study materials for various courses and online methods are employed in the teaching and learning.

This flexibility in arrangement provides a golden and unique opportunity for workers who may want to be at post and still pursue their academic dreams of acquiring university education. Again, students can avail themselves of online services of a lecturer/facilitator who gives feedback on assignments and projects completed online. It is a very cost-effective way of pursuing higher education and is very beneficial to workers as well as those living outside major cities where opportunities for higher education are more readily available.

Laweh, Ghana’s first accredited Open University  

Established in 2014, Laweh Open University College is the first accredited Open University College in Ghana and the second in West Africa. It was established as an open supported learning institution to offer certificates, diplomas, degrees and postgraduate programmes.

 In the 2016/2017 academic year, Laweh began rolling out a number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses under its Colleges of Business and Arts and Social Sciences, guided by contemporary challenges of industry practice and the demands of the job market.  

Headquartered at Teshie-Nungua Estates, Addogon, off the Spintex-Baatsona Road, near the LEKMA Polyclinic, Accra, Laweh Open University has created an environment suitable for contemporary e-learning, and delivers programmes that meet the best international standards of quality higher education. In addition, Laweh uses flexible approaches to make higher education and personal development opportunities convenient and accessible to all learners.

In an interview, Dr Josiah A. M. Cobbah, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university, revealed that come the 2017/2018 academic year, Laweh was planning to roll out as many as 18 new programmes under its Colleges of Education, Arts and Social Sciences,Science, Technology & Environmental Studies, Law and Business. The programmes cater for all the rungs of the educational ladder in university education, to wit, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

Dr Cobbah disclosed that in addition to online teaching and learning, Laweh conducted two other teaching and learning engagements which served as a complement to the online method.