Amidst a sea of traditional Ghanaian universities, polytechnics and colleges, Ashesi University College stands alone as a shining beacon of liberal-arts education in West Africa.
Ghanaian public universities as a whole are very different from the typical American university. A typical Ghanaian class is large with lectures from prepared notes. In most classes the final exam serves as 100 percent of one’s grade in any given course and consists of questions that mostly rely on rote memorization.
However, Ashesi’s founder, Dr. Patrick Awuah, sought to create an alternative form of education for Ghanaian students. After attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, he decided he wanted to return to his home country and form a university that closely resembled his alma mater. He worked
diligently, and in March 2002 his hard work paid off when the school opened its doors with only 30 students.
With a small campus composed of only three buildings and approximately 400 students, Ashesi most certainly is a small school where everyone knows one another. This sense of community and enthusiasm is helpful in that it keeps everyone, from the student body to the administrators, connected to one another and kept accountable for their work and thinking in innovative ways.
“Ashesi tries to teach its students to appreciate all of life’s ambiguity and have the courage to do things differently,” said Sarah Mills, alumna and Development and Alumni Relations officer. “We try to teach our students that even if you live in Accra, what you do affects people in China and beyond.”
Mills said it is that kind of moral responsibility and personal ownership that helps students achieve in Ashesi and beyond. Mills said that she first heard about Ashesi from a friend and filled out the application on a whim. She never thought she would attend the school because at $2,661 a semester, it is the most expensive institution in Ghana. However, she applied, got in and with the help of Ashesi’s financial aid program, was able to attend the school of her dreams.
“I loved my time at Ashesi,” she said. “I remember going to bed excited about going to class in the morning.”
Ashesi is currently working on expanding its campus to a larger location in the Akuapem hills that will allow more students to join the Ashesi family. It is also working on developing more major programs in addition to the current three options of computer science, information systems management and business administration. The school strives to allow its students more choices in their education. It also hopes to try and broaden the diversity of its student body by getting more students from underrepresented Ghanaian regions.
For current students such as sophomore Isaac Bruce, Ashesi provides the opportunity for a unique college experience. With small class sizes and after-school opportunities, Ashesi has been the gateway for his involvement in school and his community.
“I chose to come to Ashesi because of how it has transformed the mindsets and attitudes of its students, whilst my time here showed how you cannot just get away with mediocrity,” Bruce said.
Ashesi has changed the face of education in Africa, and one can only imagine that its growing success might serve as the gateway for liberal-arts education for all African students. Education has always been a tool of empowerment, and one can only hope that the expansion of liberal-arts education throughout Africa might help it tackle the many issues at hand on the continent.