Aligning Expansion and Quality in Higher Education: An Imperative to Liberia’s Economic Growth and Development
Charles Gbollie,N. Macpherson David
One Sub-Saharan African country that is inclusive in such expansion progress pathway with regards to its higher education is the West African nation of Liberia. From 3 tertiary education institutions in the entire country in the 1980s (Sirleaf, 2012), there 2 Master’s degree-granting institutions, 9 Bachelor’s degree and 19 Associate degree granting colleges and universities in Liberia with an estimated enrollment of 43,843 (National Commission on Higher Education Report, 2012).
As the higher education subsector continues to expand with the surfacing of private institutions on the scene, the issue of quality evolves. For example, Materu (2007) notes that concern about the quality of higher education is on the rise in Africa.
Consistent with its purpose, this paper will probe and deliberate on higher educational issues and challenges in Liberia appertaining expansion and quality, relying on relevant literatures and experiences to make extrapolations. Finally, it intends to make relevant recommendations regarding benefits the country tends to accrue for balancing expansion and quality of higher education.
Origin, reform and expansion of HE in Liberia
As a result of the 14-year civil conflict, their infrastructure, equipment, facilities, libraries, laboratories and buildings were considerably or totally damaged, looted, or destroyed. In addition, they experienced massive brain drain of their qualified professors and administrative personnel, resulting in their early reliance on bachelor-degree faculty for instructional purposes
One of such measures includes the closure of colleges and universities labeled as ‘bogus’. Accordingly, in 2007, the Liberian government through NCHE reported the shutting down of 28 out of 51 colleges and universities, most of which operated in Monrovia until they meet set minimum requirements to operate as tertiary institutions in Liberia.
In furtherance, there was a synchronization of Liberia’s higher education curriculum for freshman and sophomore with the incorporation of some contemporary courses and disciplines inclusive of science and technology. This was deemed prudent because the curricula of various colleges and universities formerly lacked uniformity as each institution decided on its instructional modus operandi. Adversely, credits from one college or university could not be accepted by another. However, the curriculum synchronization remedied the situation to some extent, prompting inter-college and inter-university acceptance of credits.
Hence, higher educational expansion, in this context, means initiatives geared towards increasing the establishment of colleges and universities to increase accessibility of higher education to facilitate the accommodation of the growing number of student population.
Based on the expansion drives, higher education in Liberia now comprises thirty (30) institutions (National Commission on Higher Education Report, 2012), far beyond the three (3) that existed in the 1980s. This is a manifestation of how much HE has expanded over the years in Liberia.
Capitalizing on this perspective, the paper acquiesces that expansion of HE is important, especially in a developing country like Liberia, where poverty and inequality are structurally ingrained with an estimated 85% of the population without formal employment (figures have ranged from 80% to 85% for years), and 84% of the population living on less than $1.25 per day (BTI 2012, Liberia Country Report), the expansion of higher education could be very meaningful.
This is because many less privileged people will possibly have access to higher education. Nonetheless, compromising quality in the name of access is detrimental. Increased access to higher education as being graduate without the requisite standard knowledge or skills in commensuration with government’s national development programme
Quality in higher education
What quality entails ?
Juxtaposing the current scenario with the one in one of the earlier paragraphs, this paper firmly infers thateducation, principally higher education, is not a cosmetic or a window-dressing endeavor. It is an enterprise destined to infuse every necessary ingredient all-encompassing value, excellence and quality aimed at fulfilling its true dogma of existence in all of its services and programs. So, every HE institution must have some ability to contribute to the production of sufficient manpower to meet human and societal needs. In other words, established HEIs must not be like toothless bulldogs, masquerading in academic corridors with little or nothing to offer the society rather to gain monetary or other benefits. They should, therefore, always strive to provide quality education to their students.
Quality concerns and issues appertaining quality of higher education in Liberia
While competition between private and public tertiary institutions may be helpful in the administration of tertiary education, it is vital for the issue of quality to continue to remain at its peak. This will ensure the realization of higher educational objectives.
In Liberia, it remains a challenge to balance expansion and quality in the higher education subsector. Though strides have been reported through staff development and training programs at local levels, it is still a challenge because training is not quick fixed. In different words, it is not like putting down a structure or building, which can be done over a short period of time. Enhancing quality of teachers requires longer time, remarkable efforts, expertise and sizable amount of resources. These are needed because the civil war caused a devastating blow to all the achievements, not only in universal basic and secondary education, but equally to the higher education subsector.
Almost all public and private educational structures, materials and supplies, libraries, research centers, and laboratories were looted or destroyed (Collins, 1998) as result of the civil war. Though, many of these institutions were emerged after the civil crisis, most of them are not exempted from challenges created like shortage of funds, unqualified teachers, low professional competencies and inadequate research facilities. These problems are ought to be seriously tackled with every forte within our dominion as the country has been peaceful and stable for the past one decade plus.
Need for balancing expansion and quality in Liberia’ s higher education
In Liberia, the quality of highereducationbeingoffered by colleges and universitiesremains a contentious issue despite the implementation of somereformmechanisms by government. It relates to employers’ somewhatpreferences of foreigngraduates in juxtaposition to thosetrained in the country. This isdirectlyproportional to quality. This could have negativerepercussions for Liberia, a country emergingfromwar and humansufferings.
It has the potential of creatingdistrust and dissatisfactionamong the country’scitizens if a certain group enjoys more job privileges and better opportunities than others because of the quality of education they attained abroad. This could probably result to a revolt from those who are less favored. Thus, there is a need to complement the quality of HE in Liberia with that of other countries to eradicate such disparity.
Economic and other benefits for aligning HE expansion and quality in Liberia
From the above empirical pieces of evidence, it is categorically obvious that higher education has enormous impact on economic growth, which is contributive of holistic growth and development. Liberia being a developing country, investing substantially in quality of higher education will ensure the training of more Liberians to enable them develop their full potentials in science and technology which will have greater stimulus on the country’s progress. Higher education may create greater tax revenue, increase savings and investment, and lead to a more entrepreneurial and civic society and it canal so improve a nation’s health, contribute to reduced population growth, improve technology, and strengthen governance.
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