Institution Transformation: Scholarships Secretariat leads the way
Set up in 1960 under the Office of the President, the Ghana Scholarships Secretariat is mandated to handle and award government scholarships for the human resource development and growth of Ghana.
These Scholarships are meant for not only brilliant but needy students but for any qualified Ghanaian who merits it.
Set out to become a world class awarding institution using the best practices to deliver service to the satisfaction of its stakeholders, the Scholarships Secretariat has over the past three years transformed itself into one of the most effective State agencies.
other functions of the Secretariat include
- To offer bursaries for post graduate training locally in public tertiary institutions.
- To strengthen the human resource capacity and provide a conducive working environment for the Secretariat.
- To increase equitable access to and participation in quality education at all levels
Walking into the premises of the Ghana Scholarships Secretariat in January 2017, one will be met with a setting that did not meet the standards of a State agency.
Staff worked from a very inhumane environment with just a single vehicle (Nissan patrol) which was used to carry out the entire duties of the Secretariat.
As if that was not enough, the over 33 staff of the office had to make do with just three (3) computers and two (2) printers which adversely affected the work of the Secretariat.
Moreover, the female staff had to trek for minutes in order to get a place of convenience for themselves.
Regrettably, it was very shocking to learn that in this modern era of Information Communication Technology, a very strategic national asset like the Scholarships Secretariat had no active website.
As at now, the Secretariat has an upgraded and very interactive website which can be easily assessed by all persons for information with regards to the activities and openings of Scholarships.
Eager to turn things around, the new administration, led by Mr Kingsley Agyemang, immediately provided a salubrious working environment for the staff to improve efficiency of work.
Knowing how important this office is, the new administration quickly procured 5 cross country vehicles and a saloon car to aid work of the Secretariat, which has yielded positive results.
Aware that a motivated staff can go a long way to impact on the work of the Secretariat, a number of measures were put in place to train the staff including sponsorship packages for them to further their training both locally and abroad.
Again, not oblivious of the fact people derive value, staff motivation was shored up to the extent that those who had voluntarily put themselves up to be transferred or posted out of the Secretariat rescinded their decision and placed their foot on the wheels of progress to make the Secretariat live up to its mandate.
Clearing of arrears
However, one daunting task that faced the new administration was to clear the over GH¢230 million evolving liability debts inherited from the previous administration, which resulted in Ghana being blacklisted from a number of foreign universities.
With the believe that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the new management set out to work assiduously in order to bring back the confidence that people had in the Secretariat and ensure that it sets out to execute its mandate to the benefit of all Ghanaian students irrespective of their background, geographical location or political party affiliation.
End to students’ unrest
Times past, there was no day without news of students picketing at Ghana missions abroad for delay in their stipends and fees and locally, public second cycle institutions in the three northern regions; Northern, Brong Ahafo and Northern Volta could go a whole year without the payment of their boarding fees.
Not only was this embarrassing to the Government but exposed the students to all sorts of ridicule and the temptation to engage in social vices to make ends meet.
Through hard work, Ghanaian scholarship beneficiaries abroad have seen the difference and periodically now writing write to eulogize the President for the timely payment of their stipends and other commitments
There were virtually no non-bilateral scholarships at the Secretariat as at 2017. The new management signed a number of MoUs with foreign universities with a focus on Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related programmes. It can be recalled that in 2018 alone, 66% of all scholarships awarded were STEM related subject areas. The remaining 34% was scholarships awarded in non-STEM related programmes.
The number of Postgraduate beneficiaries in STEM related awards for the 2018 was 70% whilst 30% of awardees were undergraduate students.
As at December 31 2019, 70 % of all non-bilateral awards were STEM related scholarship awards, leaving 30% for non-STEM related programmes.
The total number of Postgraduate students for STEM related programmes was 72% with 28% being at the undergraduate level of study.
It was realised that the Secretariat did not pursue programmes that would inure to the benefit of the country. For instance, the new management saw that Ghanaians were being sponsored to countries like Algeria, (a French and Arabic speaking country) to pursue a degree course in English language. To this end, there was a review in all the bilateral agreements to reflect the human resource demand in the country with a focus on STEM related programmes.
Thesis and Bursary grants
Another thing was the existence of thesis and bursary grants for only Postgraduate students in the Public Tertiary Institutions. What existed was just a manual system of awards which led to duplication of claims. Even with this, beneficiaries had to do with their payment of grants on table tops which could delay for more than a year.
Set out to rectify this issue, a software was introduced to ensure the efficient and stress-free operations in the disbursement of grants whilst the problem of table top payment was rectified. As at now, Scholarship grants are paid directly into bank accounts of beneficiary students within the academic year with no arrears.
Protecting the kitty
One mandate of the new administration was to save money in its operations just as President Akufo-Addo has assured the nation of protecting the public purse.
A number of efforts have been carried out to ensure this. The Secretariat realizing that there was no implementation of capacity audit and headcount reports, efforts were made to put this in place. It can be reported that the frequent and robust implementation of capacity audit and headcount reports saved the Secretariat almost GHC20Million in the 2016/2017, 2017/2018, 2018/19 academic years. (From Second Cycle Awards).
Again, the new management renegotiated the Ghana Government deal with Cuba for the Medical Training of Ghanaians in Cuba. Whereas the previous management, in 2012, had to dole out a whopping amount of USD$96,090.00 as tuition and accommodation fee per student for 6 years , that cannot be said of today.
The renegotiation has saved the public purse a lot of money by almost half of the previous amount in 2012. In 2019 alone, tuition and accommodation per student for 6 years is now USD$55,000.
- Farmers Scholarship Scheme
As part of efforts to make sure that scholarship benefits every Ghanaian living everywhere, President Nana Akufo-Addo during the 2018 Farmers Day celebration announced a package for wards of farmers and fishermen, known as the Presidential Farmers Scholarship Scheme with phase one implemented last year. An amount of GHC2 million was released by the Finance Ministry for a smooth take off.
The Secretariat collaborated with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and honoured the pledge made by the President and sent the national winners of the 2018 National Best Farmers to Morocco for capacity training. One interesting thing about this scheme was that these farmers also had their workers and dependents as beneficiaries.
This bold initiative has been welcomed by farmers and fishermen across the country who believe this groundbreaking policy will help them improve on their farming activities.
- District Scholarship Scheme
Last year at Fijai in the Western Region, the Secretariat again going by the saying “put your money where your mouth is” launched the first-ever decentralised district level scholarship scheme as part of a blueprint to Free Meritorious Tertiary Education in the country.
The Secretariat liaised with the Regional Coordinating Councils, Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies for the establishment of the District Scholarships Review Committee (DSRC ).
The composition, made up of traditional leaders, district chief executives, a representative of tertiary institutions and the Ghana Education Service as well as a representative from the Scholarship secretariat, shortlisted and interviewed applicants who had applied for scholarships at the various assemblies and made recommendations to the Central Scholarship Committee in Accra for consideration and scholarship awards.
An amount of GH¢30 million was set aside by the government for this all-important exercise.
The Scholarship Secretariat again in collaboration with the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) and the support from government, has retrieved scholarship funds that were un-utilised from headteachers and that had ensured that the secretariat was able to settle supplementary allowances and other entitlements to students in various countries.
In order to address the issue of graduate unemployment, the Scholarship Secretariat in partnership with the Association of Ghana Industries and the Ghana Investment Promotion Corporation, has created a labour bank to allow industries and businesses to easily source the requisite manpower for growth.
Government, through the Scholarship Secretariat, is aiming to get to a point where it can export excess labour to its neighbouring countries.
As part of efforts to exchange ideas and students between Ghana and other countries, both on the continent and outside, a number of deals in the form of Memoranda of Understanding has been signed.
In June this year, the Scholarships Secretariat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the St George University School of Medicine in the Caribbean island of Grenada.
Under the agreement, selected students who have first degrees in medical sciences would be offered scholarship for post graduate training in the medical field.
With St George University contributing about 40 per cent to the Grenada Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to its international affiliations to over 400 schools across the globe, the deal will give the Ghanaian students lots of exposure to different cultures and experiences in building that capacity and skills.
Another MoU was also signed with Koc University in Turkey to provide scholarship to Ghanaian students to study in the university.
The agreement involved scholarship packages, ranging between 50 to 100 per cent. It will be fully funded by the awarding institution with the secretariat as the coordinating agency.
The programme will cover Master’s and PhD courses.
Koç University is a private non-profit comprehensive research institution that offers a world class educational experience in Istanbul, Turkey and the highest-ranking university in Turkey based on Times Higher Education rankings for 2018.
It is also ranked the 8th best university in Europe.
Other similar agreements gave been signed with other institutions in the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA), South Korea and Canada, Czech Republic among others.
Support for Technical education
With the resolve of the President to transform Ghana into an industrialised nation, the role of technical education cannot be overemphasized.
The scholarships Secretariat in order to be part of this agenda, has moved from just awarding scholarships to students undertaking courses in technical and vocational education to supporting agencies that focuses on technical and vocational training.
In 2018, an amount of GH500,000 was presented to the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) by the Secretariat to help train more youth to acquire hand on skills.
The amount would be used in the purchase of tools and for the payment of fees. This falls in line with government’s commitment to the technical vocational education and training sector.
The Scholarships Secretariat has given its firm assurance that it will continue to support the NVTI because of the important role it plays in the nation’s development.
The works of the Secretariat under the able leadership of Kingsley Agyemang has caught the attention of the legislature with Members of Parliament lauding it for bringing a new breadth of life to its operations especially the introduction of the District Scholarship Scheme.
Legislators including MP for Nsawam-Adoagyiri, Frank Annor Dompreh, have lauded the decentralisation of the operations of the Secretariat stressing that it will bring scholarships to the doorsteps of all deserving Ghanaians.
Introduction of conference and research allowances
The Secretariat is about to roll out research and conference allowances for students on scholarships who are studying for a postgraduate doctoral degree.
This decision was reached as a result of the huge expenses incurred by PhD students in relation to research and publication of their work which has the impact to affect their ability to gain exposure and form networks by publishing in academic journals.
It also falls in line with a decision made by the National Accreditation Board and the Ministry of Education, which require a doctoral degree as a prerequisite qualification for university teaching.
Online application for scholarships
From May this year, new applications for scholarship will be processed online to prevent applicants from applying in writing to the secretariat.
What this means is that applicants will instead have to register online, provide information on academic transcripts, biodata and any other relevant information and generate a unique number during the online process.
Applicants will then need to take an online aptitude test as part of the process to qualify for a scholarship to increase transparency and meritocracy.
As soon as one’s online application is successful, an SMS or email will be received indicating that the application is successful or otherwise.
Once the application is deemed successful, the applicant will be notified to proceed to the district he selected when processing the application to appear before the District Scholarship Review Committee.
Partnership with Ministry of Health (Medical and Dental Council of Ghana) for the seamless integration of returning medical students.
Collaboration with GNPC for the sponsorship of 200 Ghanaians for Medical training in Cuba.
The Education office at the Ghana High Commission in UK was revived to enhance the operations and activities of the Scholarships Secretariat. The office was revamped and resourced to handle scholarship student concerns such as passports, visas, permits, internships, monitoring of studies and other related services in Europe and the Americas.