NAPO hits ground running with Laboratories for Technical Institutions

Minister of Education, Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, MP for Manhyia South, has hit the ground running with a project that could see as many as 10,000 young Ghanaians being equipped annually in various modern engineering disciplines.

This is in line with President Akufo-Addo’s program to prioritize technical education to offer the youth employable skills in line with his vision on industrialization.

The Minister of Education has therefore reactivated a project to build and equip laboratories in various technical institutions across the country. The project will involve the construction of buildings, and the supply and installation of equipment on various campuses.

The new government, determined to get the best deal for Ghana, has reopened negotiations on the contract signed to take off under the late President John Evans Atta Mills.

The project by Avic International Holding Company, will be funded by a $119.1 million credit facility by the Exim Bank of China, at an annual interest rate of 2%, with the Ghana Government providing counterpart funding of $7.8 million.

But, the New Patriotic Party government has raised concerns about the cost of the project.

President Akufo-Addo gave a manifesto promise to continue or revive projects that can be beneficial to the country, whether it was started by the NDC or stalled by them.

“…But in so doing, our aim is to make sure that any such project passes the value for money test,” the Education Minister stressed.

As part of negotiations between Avic International, the Chinese multinational company, and the Government of Ghana, led by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Education, already some estimated $16 million savings have been made on the $119 million project, plus the supply of spare parts being extended to cover 5 years, instead of 2.

But, Government is still pushing for more, as they await a value for money audit commissioned by the Ministry of Finance.

The project for the rehabilitation and upgrading of equipment, will set up five sets of laboratories across various institutions.

These are (i) electrical and electronic laboratory (ii) mechanical engineering laboratory (iii) civil engineering laboratory (iv) automotive repair engineering laboratory and (v) welding engineering laboratory.

In line with this, the new Minister of Education paid a working visit Monday to Nairobi, Kenya, where a similar project has been successfully implemented through a Kenya-China facility.

The Technical University of Kenya boasts arguably of the best equipped technical institutes in Sub-Saharan Africa, with state of the art electrical engineering equipment and advanced mechanical engineering machine tools.

Collaboration between African universities

The Vice-Chancellor, Dr-Ing Francis W O Aduol, after the tour of the facilities, expressed great admiration for the quick action and positive attitude of the new Ghanaian government towards a project it inherited.

He also spoke about the need for technical universities in Africa to work together.

“The truth be told, there is very little collaboration between African universities. We usually look east or west outside of our continent. I really feel honored that you chose to come here and so early in your tenure. We want to build a long-term relationship with your institutions in Ghana,” he told the visiting Ghanaian minister.

The two men expressed keen interest in the need to create linkages between technical universities from the two countries.

In his remarks, Dr Opoku Prempeh, who was even yet to start work fully behind his desk at the Education Ministry, said he chose to travel early to Kenya because the Avic project which began in 2010 in Ghana to upgrade technical institutions but yet to take off calls for the new government to take an early but informed decision on.

The delayed project is to build a Ghana Vocational and Technical Test Centre, upgrade 5 polytechnics (mainly technical universities now) and 10 technical institutes, offering teacher training and staff training for some 145 Ghanaians.

Since it is in line with the new government’s agenda to equip and improve such institutions in line with the manifesto pledge to create jobs and industrialise the Ghanaian economy, a decision must be made early. Already, the new government has managed to cut down the implementation period of the turn key project by six months.

However, the new government has raised questions about the cost of the project and the Chinese company, “Avic has shown admirable enthusiasm to have this renegotiated to meet the new standards set by President Akufo-Addo. What I think is great about this new approach of reviewing potentially good projects with the view to get the best deal is that it takes away the fear of the contractor that the projects may be abandoned and it gets a better deal for the Ghanaian taxpayer, as well,” Dr. Opoku Prempeh said.

Regarding this particular Avic International project, “The focus really is to expand the scope of the project so that it covers more institutions, so that we can train more students and, by so doing, save the country some good money,” the Education Minister added.

In various meetings the Minister held in Nairobi, costs were compared, equipment and facilities were inspected, and issues with implementation were freely shared.

For instance, the Kenyans procured several state-of-the-art equipment, which were being under-utilized. They are now looking at ways to commercialize the use of the machines by manufacturing tools for industry and training personnel for industry, as well.

The commercialization aspect is one area the visiting Ghanaian minister said his country would be keen to study.

The Minister also visited the National Youth Service, Kenyan’s version of the National Service Secretariat and the Youth Employment Scheme combined. There are also equipment supplied by Avic International have been commercialized generating income to cover retooling and maintenance costs.

Ghana’s Minister of Education secured a deal with the Kenyans to have trainers for laboratories to be built in Ghana travel to the East African country to be trained. As part of the contract, the Ghanian trainers are to receive three months training in China. Experience from the Kenyans suggested that it would be better to divide the program and let the Ghanaians first receive part of the training in Kenya, where the English language and environment will be more familiar.

The Technical University of Kenya, a polytechnic converted in 2007, offers hands-on training to 10,000 students during day, and an additional 5,000 in the evening.

The East African country has 10 technical universities, 11 national polytechnics, and 76 technical training institutions. In line with the Uhuru Kenyatta government’s manifesto pledge to establish one technical training school per one constituency, 130 new institutions are being built, which will provide five different workshops per school.

Kenya, which is the industrial hub of East Africa’s regional economy boasts of only 10,000 engineers with a plan to increase that number to 35,000 or more.

Like the Ghanaian story, Kenya is determined to tackle the disconnect between industry job requirements and skills set on offer from the schools.

“We have a shortage of engineers; graduates who can’t find jobs; and employers looking for graduates. It is this mismatch that we seek to correct because what this continent needs heavily today are people with degrees who can produce with their hands,” said the Vice-Chancellor of the Technical University of Kenya.