The Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori Atta, in his November 2018 budget presentation announced the impending merger of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), and Ghana Institute of Languages (GIL), into what he called the National Institute of Communication and Media Arts.
A few weeks ago, the media reported comments attributed to the Minister of Education in charge of Tertiary, Prof.
Kwesi Yankah, to the effect that the proposals for a law to actualise this merger was part of the legislative agenda of the ministry, and that the merger would help the three Institutions ‘attain university status’.
While this merger makes a lot of strategic sense because of similarities in programmes-and one wonders why it has taken so long for this to happen-it should not be, nor be seen as a ‘Top Down’ process being foisted from on high, on NAFTI, GIJ and GIL.
These three institutions have together made a staggering contribution to Ghana’s man power needs over the past 60 years, and yet have remained under-funded, under valued and unsung all this while.
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The minister’s reported comments claimed ‘GIJ applied to be a university separately and NAFTI also applied to be a university’.
GIJ, (perhaps even NAFTI and GIL) has laboured under sneers, even detected in the minister’s comments, about her status, the 2009 Presidential Charter notwithstanding, and without a care about the historical neglect in the provision of infrastructure, and support of all kinds, especially for faculty in terms of training and expanded numbers in the face of yearly increases in student enrolment.
The President himself, during the 2018 graduation ceremony at the Okponglo campus of GIJ saw and heard, about the years of neglect, and acknowledged the unsatisfactory situation, promising the government would do more.
To make this merger successful and meaningful, government would have to consider a number of factors, three of which are sketched below. Naturally it should be expected that ‘Traditionalists’ from within and without these institutions will be alarmed by what they will see as the loss of the‘identities’ and ‘histories’ of NAFTI, GIL, and GIJ.
All the more reason why the government and the Ministry of Education should involve all constituencies and stakeholders implicated in this merger in an extensive and exhaustive consultation process before the laws are finalised. In particular, the government should be careful with the following:
How will, or how should this ‘new’ higher educational entity be organised in terms of its various units, and governance? From the minister’s comments reported in the media, one gleans a loosely structured system, with a Vice Chancellor on top, but with the various components, namely GIL, GIJ, and NAFTI, still retaining their autonomy and heads, in other words a ‘federal’ type of arrangement with business going on as normal.
If indeed this turns out to be the case, then one might ask what was the point of the merger? Why bother with this merger if all it achieves is a superficial construction of an entity that does nothing to bring changes at the micro level?
It would be a missed opportunity to radically reorganise the three institutions to give them an organic ‘unitary’ structure.
Arguing from outside government, the logic of a ‘unitary’ structure stems from the programme offerings of the three institutions. Schools and faculties can be created out of the current academic programmes and courses on offer, making room for new and emerging faculties and departments within the academic and disciplinary focus of the new entity and thus negating the need for NAFTI, GIL and GIJ to continue to exist as unconnected autonomous entities under an umbrella of a ‘merged University’.
This will bring more cohesion, structure and organisation.
Merging three institutions with distinct histories and work cultures will not be easy, and this process will raise difficult questions about manpower shortages and surpluses, issues about who heads what, who qualifies for what etc.
However, if handled carefully and with transparency, these hurdles should be overcome with time.
The point about the similarities in programme offerings at GIJ, NAFTI and GIL has been made earlier and this is why.
NAFTI offers a BFA, Diploma and Certificate programmes and courses in Film Directing, Television Production, Animation, Production Design, Editing Cinematography, Sound Production, Broadcast Journalism and Multimedia Production with a hands-on approach.
GIJ, on the other hand, offers specialisations of MA, BA, Diploma and Certificate programmes and courses in Journalism, Public Relations, Advertising and Marketing (with a range of new programmes in the pipe line), founded on the Social Sciences and with a more analytical and theoretical approach.
All these fall under media and can be housed under a faculty or super School of Media Arts, with various departments responsible for particular specialisations.
The balance between hands-on practical and analytical/theoretical content can then be worked out and integrated into the courses and programmes depending on the level.
Again, GIL has a wide range of language programmes and courses on offer, such as Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
This is in addition to professional training in Translation and Bilingual Secretaryship.
GIJ has long had strong English and French Language teaching built into its academic programmes with a Language Centre in the offing.
It will, therefore, make no sense for these to exist as separate offerings in separate parts of the same university.
It should be possible to work out a harmonising system for these programmes and courses to be under a Languages and Humanities faculty within the ‘unitary’ structure advocated for in this piece.
It is a national shame that the country has not rewarded the immense contributions of GIL, NAFTI and GIJ with better infrastructure over the years.
Many qualified student applicants have had to be turned away because of capacity issues in Accra.
However, the combined physical assets of NAFTI, GIJ, and GIL should make it possible for the programme and course offerings of the new institution to be available country wide, and with massive injections of investments, even more increases in enrolment.
Perhaps the most important assets of all are the current staff from GIJ, NAFTI and GIL.
A long history of ‘no money’ to support their training needs has frustrated the career progression of staff who needed to upgrade their skills and knowledge to be better administrators, lecturers or other categories of staff.
This merger should come first with the requisite financial support for existing staff who need skills and knowledge upgrades, and also to attract qualified new staff members.
What is in a name?
The finance minister in his announcement stated that the merged institution would be called the National Institute of Communication and Media Arts.
We live in a country where the value system places a lot of premium on the word ‘University’ even if the actual output of that ‘University’ does not measure up.
Whatever the name turns out to be in the final analysis, it should be the quality of teaching, and the relevance and rigour of research output that should be the bench mark for assessing the performance of this merged academic institution.
The writer is a Senior Lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism