Webster moves toward new study abroad campus in Ghana


Webster University has started the search for a location of a desired new campus in Accra, the capitol of Ghana, according to Grant Chapman, associate vice president and director of international programs. Chapman intended to visit Accra the last week of July to narrow down the campus’s exact location. But the trip was canceled when Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, died on July 24. Chapman said the visit was canceled out of respect for the Ghanaian people.

During this visit, Chapman will meet with Ghana’s National Accreditation Board through its Ministry of Education to further discuss the accreditation approval process, exact location of the new campus and the facilities. Ghana’s accreditation approval and finalization of the facilities’ plan will be a yearlong process, Chapman said. The search for a Ghana campus founding director has made progress throughout the summer. Chapman said he expects the university to select this person in the next two weeks.

“(The founding director) would be a person who has a keen U.S. higher education experience and an international passion that would at least start the facility. It may not be a person who stays 10 years there. It may just be a person who specializes in the start-up and creation of the campus. Then, we would have a full international search for the permanent director,” Chapman said.

Chapman added that he plans to seek advice from Ghanaian students who are studying on the home campus.

Yvonne Osei, a senior graphic design and international studies major, grew up in Accra. Last year, Webster awarded Osei the Neil George International Endowment Scholarship. She sat next to George at the awards ceremony, where he informed her of the new campus in her home country.

“I was just in shock … It’s really emotional,” Osei said. “Webster actually gets to see where I’m from and how it feels to be Ghanaian and what it means (to be Ghanaian). Students, like my friends, will get to visit my country and go to school there. They’ll get to be a part of my world, what was my world, what still is my world. It’s an emotional feeling.”

Osei said she believes Ghanaian students would be interested in studying at Webster’s Ghana campus. She added the majority of Ghanaian high school students want to earn their undergraduate degree in Ghana. However, it is common for Ghanaians to seek a master’s or doctorate degree outside the country.

Webster, Osei said, should take advantage of Ghana’s architectural and artistic assets when building the facilities. Osei suggests mimicking Accra’s wall design patterns and utilizing local artists to paint murals.

“Ghana is such a colorful country and it’s really alive in that sense,” Osei said. “I expect it (the Ghana campus) to be more culturally open and really artistically inclined in a way. And, very inviting.”

About one and a half years to two years ago, Chapman said, the university took a look at the continents without a Webster campus. Africa and South America were two of those continents. Webster’s initial interest, Chapman said, was in Egypt. The Egyptian cities of Cairo and Alexandria were two attractive options for a new campus. However, Webster did not want to compete with the American University of Cairo, so the university took a closer look at Alexandria, Chapman said. That was before the Arab Spring.

“There were new issues concerning Mubarek,” Chapman said. “Then, we switched to looking at sub Sahara locations…(Ghana) is a lot safer than its Ivory Coast and it’s near Nigeria, but doesn’t have the issues Nigeria does.”

Webster narrowed down their decision to Accra after discovering students’ access to libraries, transportation and business. Students’ access to Accra’s businesses could lead to potential job opportunities, Chapman said. He added the high number of non-governmental organizations in Accra helped the administration decide on the city.

“Accra is a growing city,” Chapman said. “We decided we need to be in the greater Accra area.”

When Webster selected Ghana, the university hired an independent global market research company — TNS — that operates an office in Accra. Their main purpose is to research what programs the Ghanaian government needs and what high school students want to study. The company has also conducted focus groups with high school students and their parents in the city.

“This got us down to the real level of, would students get something out of a campus in Ghana? Would Webster attract Ghanaian students?” Chapman said.

The study found 21 percent of students had an interest in business, 13 percent in engineering, 11 percent in both science and law, 5 percent in history, politics and international relations collectively and 4 percent in art.

Chapman said the opinions of the Ghanaian high school students were important to the university because Webster hopes to serve these students in Accra. Chapman added, Webster hopes a Ghana campus will be similar to its other campuses in terms of classes offered and student population.

“Ten to 20 percent of students will be the national local students, 10 to 20 percent will be North American students and the other 60 percent will be from (the) West and Central Africa region who have an interest in an American education,” Chapman said. “We hope to have an interest from other nations, which would add to the richness in diversity.”

Chapman added, during focus groups TNS conducted with Ghanaian parents and students they asked three main questions:

—      Why do students leave Ghana for higher education?

—      Would students be interested in a higher educational experience in Ghana?

—      Or, would they still want to travel to the U.S.?

Chapman said an early and ambitious goal for the completion of the Ghana campus is fall 2013.

Webster must earn certification through the National Accreditation Board of Ghana through Ghana’s Ministry of Education as well as the U.S. National Accreditation Board.

Chapman said Webster will carry its American accreditation with it to Ghana. When the National Accreditation Board approves the campus in Ghana, Webster will be able to recruit students to study there. Now, Chapman said, Webster is in an awareness campaign for the Ghana campus.

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