Ghana partnership stirs senate conflict

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Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, has recently approved the decision to proceed with a Lancaster University campus being set up in Ghana and the establishment of a Teaching-Led Partnership.

According to the official strategy outlined to the senate by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Bob McKinlay, the partnership would be accompanied by CMA Investment Holdings, although Lancaster would have complete academic control, providing the curriculum, assessment system and degree. The income would come from tuition fees, of which Lancaster would receive 10-15 percent per student and per annum.

Whilst the process of accreditation is underway, a physical meeting was not actually held for the university senate on the subject, but rather an electronic consultation where senators were invited to offer their feedback via email.

A collation of email feedback from senate members revealed that many of them viewed the electronic consultation negatively, and were concerned that there seemed to be a sense of hurry to get the partnership agreed. Members felt that using the process of email consultation did not allow for an adequate discussion, which may have been able to address matters and deal with any concerns more thoroughly.

In a memo to the senators requesting their feedback via email, the Vice-Chancellor pointed out that the electronic form of this consultation was chosen due to the fact that waiting for the next senate meeting would delay the accreditation process, so that Lancaster may not meet a 2013 entry, and assured that the decision to consult via email would not act as a precedent to future discussions with the senate.

Although the majority of feedback from senate members was positive, and there was a common appreciation for the expansion of Lancaster’s international presence, there were also many negative responses.

As revealed in the email feedback, concerns from the senate stem largely from ethical issues regarding the partnership. In particular, the idea that the proposed fees of between £6000-8000 could be difficult for a country that is still very poor, and many families may be left unable to afford such payment.

Many members therefore raised the issue of offering sufficient bursaries and fee support to students in Ghana, and suggested that greater emphasis should be placed on this early on in the planning stages. Suggestions have also been made by the senate that this money could be financed by a proportion of the fee income to be received by Lancaster. Failure to address Lancaster’s corporate social responsibility in this way could result in damage to the reputation of Lancaster University, which is another major concern for the senate.

A response to the senate’s feedback by Professor Steve Bradley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor International, pointed out that students at the campus in Ghana would be paying around two thirds of what they would have paid in the UK (although the annual fee would still be almost ten times the yearly average annual Ghanaian wage). He also highlighted that for all of Lancaster’s main international teaching partnerships, additional undergraduate scholarships and bursaries are available for students who are academically able but struggle financially.

In addition, he indicated that 20% of the undergraduate income will be used to further aid the partnership, rather than Lancaster itself. This 20%, jointly provided by TNE, the parent company of CMA Investment Holdings, will be used in the form of a scholarship scheme for students and a staff development fund for the staff at the campus in Ghana.

Another common feeling amongst the senate in the email feedback was that the initiative should be seen as an opportunity to ‘give something back’, rather than simply being a business venture where the university can enhance its academic reputation and receive a source of income. When addressed with this concern during preliminary discussions of the partnership at a meeting of the senate in May, it was noted that Deputy Vice-Chancellor Bob McKinlay, who is a Professor of International Studies, suggested that the initiative is a purely academic and financial matter. Senate members are therefore concerned that the process is failing to take into account any ethical or moral obligations.

In response, Bradley highlighted several ways that Lancaster will be giving back to Ghana. One of these ways is the development of staff at the Ghana campus. This development would be aided through training programmes at Lancaster and visits by OED (Organisation and Educational Development) staff to the partnership university itself. Staff at the partnership university would also be given the opportunity to undertake Masters/PhD training under the supervision of LU staff.

Bradley also noted that the Ghana campus would be ideal for the Summer Schools programme, which is managed by LUSU Involve. Current partners in the Summer Schools programme include China, India and Malaysia. Students from these partner universities are able to spend several weeks in Lancaster, and Lancaster students are able to go to these countries and undertake voluntary work within the local community.

Concerns also exist within the senate feedback regarding the partnership with CMA Investment Holdings, and the possibility that it is seeing the initiative solely as a business venture, with no long-standing commitment to Ghana. However, Bradley reassured senators that financial integrity due diligence has been undertaken on CMA by KPMG (an independent financial advisory firm), and there were no issues found in the way that the company conducts itself or its ethical approach to business.

He also assured senators that CMA does have a long-standing commitment to the partnership in Ghana, and that this is demonstrated in the term of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA), which dictates that the partnership between Lancaster and CMA must last for ten years, with a reappraisal required after eight years.

Other concerns included the impact that the partnership could have at a departmental level, such as an increased work load amongst academic departments if Lancaster is to be responsible for all academic QA (Quality Assurance). The stability of Ghana as a country was also amongst the concerns made within the senate, although Bradley assured that whilst instability cannot be ruled out; Ghana now has a positive track record of stability and the regulatory environment for Higher Education does not show any signs of going illiberal.

Therefore, it seems that despite the majority of senators being in favour of the partnership, there are still many worries and concerns within the senate over the issue, further exacerbated by the lack of a full senate meeting to discuss and approve the partnership.

Never the less, the process of accreditation is underway, and SCAN will be reporting on any further developments to the partnership with Ghana.

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