Ghanian university president Patrick Awuah believes that local academics and students should accept the expertise brought by remote-based scholars.

A Ghanian university leader has stated that African academics should not be afraid of recruiting Western academics who are based remotely since these specialists may assist establish institutional competence in strategically critical areas.

President Patrick Awuah of Ghana’s private, not-for-profit Ashesi University told the Reinventing Higher Education conference in Rome that Ashesi is aiming to acquire worldwide experts in fields like artificial intelligence who would not contemplate moving to West Africa.

Mr Awuah, speaking at an event at Luiss Guido Carli in partnership with Madrid’s IE University, revealed that comparable virtual learning sessions performed during the pandemic had enabled his school to become “much more connected to the world” even though national borders were sealed.

Mr Awuah, a former Microsoft software engineer who started Ashesi University in 2002 after spending more than a decade in the United States, said, “We can now hire someone to teach virtually who might not think about moving to Ghana.” 

It’s all about “building up our capacity,” said Mr. Awuah. “In-person classes are much preferred by students” he continued, noting that without these Western staff “there would be no classes at all”.

“Being able to partner with these experts really helps to strengthen our faculty over time – we are now offering a Master’s in AI, which will depend on local and remote staff, including virtual and face-to-face teaching,” he added.

According to Imperial College London’s president Alice Gast, colleges in the West need to be better at integrating virtual and in-person learning.

“Students want to interact face to face with lecturers and want to be engaged,” said Professor Gast, who urged more staff to adopt the flipped classroom approach of placing lectures online and devoting contact hours to responding to student questions.

“Lectures are not the best way [to teach] – they are the easiest way to control the room and talk about what you know. With flipped learning, you spend time diving into questions, and that is the opportunity that we have now,” added Professor Gast.

“We had more students taking international classes [in the pandemic] and hired more international faculty to teach our students – we will continue to reach out to the global marketplace to hire people who might not have thought about coming to us.”

Virtual teaching in these difficult-to-teach areas should also be supplemented by personal assistance from African academics who, in Ashesi’s case, were being mentored by the Western academics hired by the university, he shared.

African scholars who are being mentored by Western academics working for the university in these difficult-to-teach fields should also receive personal assistance, says Ashesi, in addition to virtual training in these areas of study.

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