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Research report

Higher education and developmental leadership - the case of Ghana

Amir Jones, Charlotte Jones and Susy Ndaruhutse

This research paper highlights the important role that quality secondary and higher education has played in the formation of developmental leadership in Ghana. It was commissioned by the Developmental Leadership Program.

The study, conducted by CfBT (now Education Development Trust) researchers in collaboration with the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), involved interviews with 27 key leaders in Ghana. The interviewees, selected from a shortlist of more than 100 outstanding leaders, helped orchestrate major democratic, economic and media reforms in Ghana over the last three decades.

Key findings

  • During their education, the leaders gained developmental leadership qualities (including core values, key characteristics and technical skills)
  • Education has helped create shared values among the leaders, facilitate social integration and increase social mobility
  • Higher education was critical to both the emergence of reform coalitions in Ghana and to their success in bringing about reforms.

Policy considerations

  • A wider view of education: This research suggests that education policy needs to incorporate not only important issues such as equity, human rights and poverty reduction, but also more strategic issues such as the development of good governance and developmental leadership.
  • Residential experience: Some form of residential education with meritocratic access could work well in countries where trust, integration and shared values are lacking.Humanities and social sciences versus STEM subjects: Law, economics, politics and journalism were the subjects studied at university by the majority of developmental leaders interviewed in Ghana. Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are vital to train the technicians required for development, but they tend not to create transformative leaders.
  • A broad curriculum: Interviewees also stressed the importance of a broad education, both at secondary and higher levels, in developing their intellect holistically and shaping their values and worldview.
  • School autonomy: Policy makers could consider where the current focus on metrics and accountability might lead. The developmental leadership qualities this research identifies are not easily measureable. Quality education establishments need some flexibility and autonomy to decide what is best for the development of their students.
  • Scholarships to create networks: At least nine of the developmental leaders we interviewed had studied overseas with the help of scholarships and international fellowships. Their experience enhanced developmental leadership in Ghana, but most were isolated from their Ghanaian peers and so missed out on the networking possible for those who studied only at home. Scholarship providers might consider whether scholars could be concentrated at particular overseas universities to maintain some of the advantages of domestic education.
  • Massive online open courses (MOOCs): The findings emphasise the importance of a high-contact, campus education in the formation of developmental leaders. However, we also see in Ghana that funding constraints mean that massification is diluting the quality of campus education. One point to consider then is not whether MOOCs will replace campus education, but whether they can be exploited to relieve pressure on publicly funded higher education establishments, thus allowing them to provide the quality, high-contact education they were in the 1960s and 1970s.

The report can be downloaded from Developmental Leadership Program website (opens in a new window).

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