Everybody was happy. And I was supposed to be happy, too. They smiled. And I also smiled. Deep down in my heart, however, I was not happy. But I had to join my friends in the celebration. After four years of humiliation.
It was a Friday afternoon of July 24, 2015. The venue was the Great Hall of the University of Ghana, Legon. Students of the College of Education were graduating with various degrees. They were 1,402 in all. And I was one of them. I was from the Department of Communication Studies. I was being awarded a Master of Arts Degree in Communication Studies.
The peak of the ceremony was when names of graduands were mentioned. With majestic strides and meticulous catwalks, the proud owners of those namesstepped forward, grinning from ear to ear as they filed onto the dais for the congratulatory handshake. When they called my name I went, too. To shake hands.
“Are you Manasseh?” all but two of the dignitaries asked me in whispers as I shook their hands.
“Yes,” I also said in whispers.“
“Congratulations,” they lightened up.
“Thank you, Sir” or “Thank you, Madam,” I replied.
“Manasseh, how are you?” the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ernest Aryeetey asked when I shook his hand.
It is one of the very few occasions I witnessed in our mismanaged republic that did not begin with an apology for starting late. It was a very orderly and civilized programme. There was enough to cheer about; and to laugh at as well.
Some of the ladies tripped as they went for the handshakes. Some wore seven-inch heels and shook like inexperienced bamboo dancers as they descended the dais after thehandshake. Those who didn’t rehearse in their heelsand were too proud to clutch on to the metal rails tripped.Two of them fell. And we laughed; both students and lecturers.
Some of the names of the graduandsalso evoked laughter. Take, for instance, Francis Kwame ElemawusiAlavanyo. The last two names are full sentences in the Ewe language. “Elemawusi” means “It is in the hands of God.” And “Alavanyo” means “It shall be well.”
Sometimes it takes the intervention of God to get a degree from our universities. So that name was pregnant with meanings for some of us graduating that afternoon.
That was not the only heavy name that shook the Great Hall with laughter. The college secretary calling out the names of graduands appeared exhausted at a point. That was when she called out a name and repeated it, to the laughter of all. The name was Harry Kofi Mabre. [M’abrε in Akan language means “I’m tired] Indeed, She was tired. Or, perhaps, the graduand was.
After the programme.I had a lot of photo opportunities with friends. Known and unknown. It was supposed to be a great day. But for me it wasn’t. I was not happy. It was one of those moments that made me feel ashamed of my nationality. I feel disappointed at its mismanaged institutions and the incompetent hands running them. I oftenfeel ashamed that things do not work when they are supposed to work. The rot has gone beyond the usual culprits – the politicians. But my disappointmenton this occasion did not end that day.
The week after the graduation, I returned my academic gown and askedfor my certificate.I was told it wasn’t ready. At the Graduate School I was given a chit after I submitted the gown and signed to that effect. I was supposed to present the chit later that week for my certificate. When I returned on Friday, I was told that the certificates were not ready.
“Please, when will it be ready?” I asked.
It was my second visit to the Graduate School after graduation and I didn’t want to go there the third time in vain. I feared I would lose my temper and tell someone what he or she needed to hear. I had faced the same problem when I needed the academic gown for graduation.
As if the graduate school had no knowledge of the number of students it was graduating, there were shortages almosteveryday. And students had to wait for hours. I had to give the receipt of payment to the popular Toyobenzto pick my gown on my behalf because I had to return to work. So on this occasion, I wanted an assurance from the Graduate School when I could get my certificate. But the woman I met had no idea when the certificates would be ready.
“Let’s pray and hope that it will be ready soon,” she told me.
I did not pray. I posted the frustration I had gone through in getting my certificate on Facebook. Later that day I received an email from someone from the office of the pro-vice chancellor. The sender assured me that the certificate would be ready soon. There was a problem with the printing, the email explained, and went a step further to assure me that I would be notified when the certificate was ready. At least someone was doing something right. I got my certificate the third week after graduation.
When I finally got it, I looked for what I wanted to know. I wanted to know when they awarded me that certificate. And I had guessed correctly. On the certificate was written:
“This is to certify that Manasseh Azure Awuni, having passed the prescribed examination, has on the 31st Day of July 2013 been admitted to the Master of Arts in Communication Studies.”
If I was qualified for this certificate in July 2013, why was the University of Ghana giving it to me in August 2015? This is the untold story of many students of the University of Ghana Graduate School. But I will tell mine. For those who ought to and care to listen. And act.
On March, 12, 2013, I submitted my final dissertation to the School of Communication Studies as it was then called.It was to be forwarded to the Graduate school by the March 15 deadline.We were told it would normally take two or three months to get a feedback from the marking of the dissertation. After one year, I did not get any feedback. A countless number of visits to my department got the same response: “It [the dissertation] is not yet in. When it comes, we will inform you.” I was not alone. A number of my colleagues did not get theirs. There was no explanation when we asked why it was taking so long to have our dissertations back. Sources at the Graduate School said external examiners of dissertations often delayed.
Some of my mates and I wrote a petition and were about to submit it to the graduate school. But someone from the department stopped the lady who was to submit it on our behalf. The person advised against submitting the petition. The reason? The Graduate School could victimize us if we submitted the petition.
Our mate called to tell us she could not submit our petition because this was the advice from a very senior lecturer at the department. And she was, perhaps, right. The dragon in our republic called pettiness, with its cousin called vindictiveness, wears a five-piece suit with a cowboy hat in blistering afternoons. Education does not cure such pettiness and vindictiveness. A bleating ruminant in Bongo, our wise elders say, will not change its cry when taken to Washington DC.
“We know you like writing but, Manasseh, don’t write anything until we get our certificates,” some of my mates told me. We laughed. But I obeyed. Why not? It is good to be brave and fearless but sometimes it is better to be a coward. You don’t mess with the mafia-like cult called academia.
When Professor Audrey Gadzekpo was appointed head of the School of Communication Studies (now Department of Communication and Information Studies) I went to her and told her the problem some of us were facing. We had submitted our dissertation for over a year and a half but no one was telling us anything, I told her. She asked that I present the list of the students and our index numbers. I did. And she promised to work on it.And I think she did.
When I returned from the US in December 2014, I received a call from my department that my dissertation was in. I had passed and needed to do some minor corrections before graduation. I got the feedback 21 months after I had submitted the dissertation.
I started my MA programme at the University of Ghana in August 2011. I started before some of my colleagues went out to start their MA programmes in the UK and US.
My junior at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Raymond BaldidongBayor, got admission to Columbia University in New York to do his MA three months after I had finished my programme andsubmitted my final dissertation. But he graduated and received his certificate before I graduated. He started his programme in June 2014 and graduated in May 2015.
Francix Xavier Tuokuu got admission to the Robert Gordon University to do his MA at a time I had finished my course work and was about to submit my final dissertation. He completed, came back to Ghana for one year and started his PhD before I graduated.
Within the period I had myMA, my lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Dr. ModestusFosucompleted his PhD at the University of Leeds.
I started my programme in August 2011. With a mandatory internship and dissertation, the whole programme was to last for about 16 months. I asked for a four-month extension for my dissertation so roughly I was supposed to have graduatedless than two years. But I spent two years and five months waiting for my certificate.
A lot of students are suffering silently because of this ordeal at the graduate school. On the day of my graduation, I sat by Nicholas who was worried for his colleague, whose dissertation was locked up and he had no idea when he would graduate.
“I asked for extension, but he met the first deadline. He was even the one who encouraged me to try and finish. But I am graduating and does not know when his dissertation would come,” Nicholas told me.
Many graduate students who have graduated from the University of Ghanawill relate with my story. Some have worse stories to tell. Something is not going on well at the Graduate School.
To be fair to the University of Ghana, there is great improvement in the University since Professor Ernest Aryeetey took over as Vice-Chancellor and promised to make the University a World Class one. In my view, he is one of the best Vice Chancellors the University has got. His exploits are a subject of another Folder.
It seems there is some level of incompetence in the Graduate School. Whoever takes salary and enjoys the dignity for heading that school should know that they must work to justify the benefits that come with the position. In my view, the leadership of the school is supervising mess.
Many people prefer to go outside Ghana for further studies. The reason is that there is too much frustration for graduate students in our universities. The government pays huge amounts to sponsor students for master’s degrees and other postgraduate programmes outside Ghana. The amount of money government pays to sponsor one MA student in the US or UK can sponsor 10 students to get the same degree in Ghana. But the ordeal in Ghana is indescribable.
After my first degree I was told that getting a postgraduate degree in Ghana was not easy. I applied for a school outside. I got two admissions to the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff in 2011. But I could not secure government scholarship. So I had to test the hypothesis that getting a postgraduate degree in a Ghanaian university is more difficult than swimming across the Atlantic Ocean with a 50kg bag of cement around your neck. What was the result?
I submitted my final dissertation and had to wait for two years and five months to get my degree. If I wanted to go to school or apply for a job with that certificate, my destiny would have been delayed for two and a half years without any logical explanation.
I have only decided to write about my ordeal. But it is also the ordeal of many postgraduate students in Ghana. I am not suing the university. I am not demanding any compensation. I don’t need any excuses or explanation. I have heard a lot about delays with external examiners of dissertations. But sources also suggest the problem could be as a result of poor coordination between the Graduate School and the departments. Enough of the excuses!
My request is simple. Whoever is in charge of graduate studies should sit up. Leadership is not about having the expertise to diagnose problems and recite them like Sunday school memory verses. Leadership is about solving problems; even when difficult. No one forces you to be a leader so if you choose to be one, solve the problems! It is simple. Solve them.
Yes, solve them.