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Expanding the knowledge economy

ASU, MasterCard Foundation join forces with Ghanaian university to train leaders of rapidly growing West African nation

A painting of the continent of Africa
March 29, 2016

Arizona State University is partnering with a premier university in Ghana to equip the next generation of business and engineering leaders to solve problems and help guide the West African nation’s future, funded by a $22 million grant from the MasterCard Foundation.

The new program, Strengthening Institutional Linkages, will team ASU with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, to award 150 master’s degrees.

The trans-Atlantic collaboration aims to produce advanced-degree graduates in fields that are vital to the growing economy in Ghana, the world’s leading source of cocoa and a major producer of oil, gas, gold and diamonds.

Starting in January 2017, the partnership will also bring 42 faculty members from Kwame Nkrumah to ASU to help support MasterCard Foundation Scholars. The relationship will also create opportunities for broader student and faculty exchange and joint research.

“We are committed to educating master learners who will not just fill jobs in the workforce of the future but lead it, in Arizona and around the world,” said Dr. Michael M. Crow, ASU president. “The partnership with KNUST strengthens our global reach, grows our capacity to deliver quality higher education and creates enormous possibilities for both universities as we learn from each other.”

Degrees will initially be focused on mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, global logistics and supply chain management, helping address skills gaps in Ghana as its economy grows.

“We are hoping for joint proposals, research development and exchange of students and faculty, as well as joint publications,” said William Otoo Ellis, vice chancellor of KNUST, in a Skype interview this week. “It will enrich both institutions.”

Over the six years of the grant, starting in fall 2017, Ghanaian students at KNUST will apply to the program during their junior year. ASU will select 150 to complete their fourth year of undergraduate work at ASU and then spend a year in an accelerated master’s program.

The undergraduate degrees will be conferred by KNUST, and the master’s degrees will be from ASU.

Some graduates will become faculty members, Ellis said, while others will go into industry, particularly the energy sector.

“Science and technology are the drivers of economies,” he said, “in every country.”

Local industries need more skilled workers, particularly in mechanical engineering and business procurement, he added.

When the Olam cocoa-processing factory in Kumasi, Ghana, began operations seven years ago, 90 percent of the workers had to be recruited from elsewhere, said Joseph Darko, logistics manager.

“Sustainability is very important to us,” Darko said, “and we don’t want to be bringing in people from abroad.”

ASU’s prior connections to KNUST include the work of Gabriel Takyi, a senior lecturer and director of the energy center at KNUST, who spent time at ASU’s Polytechnic campus working on development of a photovoltaic reliability lab in Ghana.

In the new ASU-KNUST partnership, the MasterCard Foundation is contributing nearly $22 million toward costs that include tuition, travel and technology.

The graduate program marks an expansion of ASU’s global connections with support from the MasterCard Foundation. ASU already supports 120 undergraduate students from Africa through the existing MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. An important element of the scholarship is its emphasis on giving back. Recipients engage in leadership development programming and community service throughout their academic journey as they prepare to contribute to their home country and communities upon graduation.

Students in the ASU-KNUST accelerated degree program will also have the opportunity to do a year of service back at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, according to Aryn Baxter, program director for the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at ASU.

“It’s designed around cultivating leadership skills,” Baxter said, “and encouraging each individual to develop a vision for how they want to give back.”

While current MasterCard Foundation Scholars come from 20 African countries, the new initiative will focus on Ghana, where there is an existing pipeline of qualified students and an economy that’s ready for highly skilled graduates.

“There are economic opportunities in these fields,” Baxter said, “and we see a potential for the graduates to really make an impact.”

Ghana, with a population of 27 million and a democratic political system, has one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies because it is politically stable and has an abundance of natural resources. The country expects to see a shift from agricultural employment to services and industry, and spends about a quarter of its gross domestic product on primary and secondary education. However, there is a gap in higher education, and the country needs more people with advanced degrees.

"Higher-education institutions in Africa are positioned to make significant contributions to the communities they serve and will benefit from new kinds of partnerships with international universities,” said Peter Materu, director of Education and Learning at the MasterCard Foundation. “As demand for access to tertiary education continues to grow across the African continent, ASU’s experience delivering access and excellence at scale creates an exciting opportunity for collaboration and learning.”

The Strengthening Institutional Linkages program will be housed in the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. The three principal investigators of the project are Baxter; Ajay Vinze, professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business; and Jacqueline Smith, assistant vice president and executive director of university initiatives.

Above photo by Madit Yel, MasterCard Foundation Scholars

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