Assessing business school students in Ghana: can quantity and quality be reconciled?

Kawor, Seyram; Crabbe, Margaret; Gyasi, Simon and Paton, Rob (2011). Assessing business school students in Ghana: can quantity and quality be reconciled? In: Paton, Rob ed. ABLE-GHANA: Reports, Resources, Reflections. Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 61–67.



For more than 20 years, in many African countries, student numbers have increased steadily while the resources made available to universities have either shrunk or stayed the same (Materu, 2007). Ssenkaaba (2007) notes that in 1960, Africa had only six universities, mainly producing civil servants. Now there are about 350 universities in Africa with more than half a million students. According to Materu (2006), between 1985 and 2002 the number of tertiary students increased more than threefold (from 800,000 to about 3 million), by about 15 per cent yearly.

One consequence has been that class sizes in public universities have increased enormously. So how can lecturers maintain standards when teaching very large numbers of students? How are lecturers coping? What practices do they employ – and how have these changed under the pressure of numbers? This challenge is particularly acute for business schools, which are also under pressure to make their programmes more relevant to employment. The criticism has been that business schools concentrate too much on passing on abstract knowledge, and do not spend enough time developing the occupational skills and judgement that employers seek.

But now these two trends – increasing class sizes and the need for students to learn more complex skills – combine to make student assessment the single most challenging issue facing business school staff today. On the one hand, lecturers are practically obliged to use methods of assessment that will keep their own workloads manageable, which means less time per student; on the other hand, complex skills are harder to assess, requiring more time to be spent on grading and providing individual feedback. This dilemma will be familiar to anyone teaching in a university, in any part of the world. The ‘massification’ of higher education is a worldwide phenomenon (Daniel, 1996; Mohamedbai, 1998). A debate on these issues is already happening in many countries, including Ghana.

This paper is a contribution to that debate. What are the more and less effective ways of assessing very large cohorts of students? What pressures and tensions does assessment introduce into business schools and what do staff think about the developments? What are the implications for business school policies and practices?

The paper draws on conversations within the ABLE-Ghana learning community, and presents the results of an informal inquiry into current practices. Those involved shared examples of the assessments they used, and spoke in confidence about the practical challenges they faced in meeting the needs of their students, the expectations of their institutions, and the demand their roles placed on their families. All were experienced academics who were well placed to observe practice in their institutions – what might be called ‘key informants’ in research terms. The report is not, of course, comprehensive, because not all business disciplines and none of the new Ghanaian universities and polytechnics were represented. But it presents an up-to-date snapshot of what is happening in Ghanaian business schools, both to inform the debate and as a challenge to others to provide better data on and analysis of this important issue.

Viewing alternatives

No digital document available to download for this item

Item Actions