Widening Participation in Higher Education in Ghana and Tanzania


Ghana lies on the West Coast of Africa. It is divided into ten administrative and commercial regions, with Accra as its capital. Ghana's population is estimated to be 22.1 million people, of which about 45.9 percent are under the age of 18. Ghana's people include several different ethnic groups; the Akan 44%, Moshi-Dagomba 16%, Ewe 13%, Ga 8%, Gurma 3% and Yoruba 1%. About 1.5% of the population are not African. Forty-five percent (45%) of Ghanaians follow traditional beliefs, 43% are Christian, and 12% are Muslim.

Today, Ghana is a multi-party democracy. It gained independence from Britain in 1957, having been a Crown Colony since 1897. Its post-colonial history has included a series of military coups and extended periods of military rule, interspersed with brief periods of civilian government. Democratic governance was restored in 1992 with a new constitution, and Jerry Rawlings, who had been Ghana's military leader since 1981, was elected President. Since then, the country has held four, consecutive elections, broadly considered to be 'free and fair'.


Three sectors account for most of Ghana's economy: agriculture, industry and services. The agriculture sector dominates the Ghanaian economy; nearly 40 percent of GDP and 50 percent of all employment are derived from agriculture.

With the transition to democracy in the 1990s, however, Ghana became plagued by rising deficits which, largely financed from domestic sources, led to a crippling debt burden. By 2004, Overseas Development Assistance inflow accounted for 16 percent of Gross National Income. Although the macro-economic environment experienced some turbulence at each of the elections during the 1990s, since 2000 Ghana has sustained economic stability and an average annual growth in GDP of around 5 percent.


The majority of people in Ghana live in poverty - in spite of sustained GDP growth in recent years. Almost forty-five percent of the nation survives on less than $1 a day and 78.5 percent on less than $2 per day.

Economic inequality is starkly revealed by inequitable distribution of income within the Ghanaian population; 46.6 percent of the nation's income/expenditure is enjoyed by the richest 20 percent of the population, whereas the poorest 20 percent have access to only 5.6 percent of national income/expenditure.

Deprivation in Ghana is substantially higher in rural areas than in urban districts. Poverty rates among working women remain above those of working men. Women are disproportionately represented in precarious forms of employment, and the types of employment where poverty risks are high.

Although national levels of poverty may be declining, close examination of patterns in poverty data reveal that the poorest have not benefited.

Human development

Ghana performs better in measures of human development than most Sub-Saharan countries. This is partly due to higher average per capita income for the nation as a whole, but also longer life expectancy. Levels of social deprivation in Ghana are less severe than many low income countries, however a significant proportion of Ghanaians are excluded from even the most basic capabilities that make for well-being; sufficient income, nutrition, and access to water, health and basic education.

Life chances are not equal for men and women in Ghana. Although women have slightly longer life expectancy than men, men have much greater access to education and to higher average incomes than women.


The impact of poverty is evident in Ghana's mixed performance in terms of health. At present, more than one in four people do not survive to 40 years of age and more than one in ten children dies before their fifth birthday. However, infant and child mortality are lower in Ghana than in much of the Sub-Saharan region.

Life expectancy in Ghana is currently 57 years, which is higher than the average life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa, now 46.1 years. Ghana's better life expectancy is thought to be due to lower HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, estimated at 2.3 percent of the population.

Maternal mortality has remained largely unchanged in Ghana for a decade; 215 out of 100,000 women die in childbirth. This national average hides significant differences between levels of health care to poor and rich women. Whilst infant mortality has declined over the past 15 years, falling from 75 per 1000 births in 1990 to 68 per 1000 births in 2005, , it has not shown any significant change in recent years.

Ghana has a critical shortage of health care workers, with only 0.15 doctors and 0.92 nurses per 1000 people. Whilst access to water is better in Ghana than much of the region, access to sanitation is poor. Only 18 percent of people have access to adequate sanitation facilities, and this falls to 11 percent in rural areas.

Basic education

Access to education is increasing in Ghana. The youth literacy rate is significantly higher than the rate for the adult population as a whole; 71 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 are literate.

Enrolment rates at primary school are also rising. In 1999, 57 percent of children of primary age were enrolled in primary school, but by 2004 this figure had risen to 65 percent. Although actual numbers of students enrolled in primary school are increasing, net enrolment rates remain well below the goal of Education for All, or net enrolment of 100 percent. Completion rates are still problematic: only 63 percent of children that enroll in primary school survive to the fifth year.
Most young people end their schooling before reaching senior secondary school. Overall, only 37 percent of young people of secondary age are enrolled in secondary school.

In spite of the fact that girls show slightly better survival rates in primary school than boys, their participation in secondary school is lower, and decreases through the system. Children in rural areas, and children in poorer homes drop out of school earlier, drop out in greater numbers, and fail to make the transition to junior secondary school compared to their peers in richer homes.

Higher education

Ghana has 8 state and at least 11 private universities.
An estimated 3% of the 18-21 age group participate in higher education. Within a period of 13 years from 1983-96, total enrolment in universities and polytechnics increased by 162%.

At the University of Ghana current student enrolment stands at 11,637, about 30% of whom are women. In 2000, only about 11% were pursuing postgraduate studies, while at the University of Cape Coast the figure was only 6%. Enrolment of female students as a percentage of total enrolments increased in Ghanaian universities from 21% in 1991-92 to 26% in 1998-99.

The establishment of Science Resource Centres by the Ministry of Education and the creation of a Science, Technology, and Mathematics Education (STME) clinic for girls as an activity of the Ghana Education Service have both begun to produce positive results.

More information is available in the Country Profiles for Ghana and Tanzania: Economic, social and political contexts for widening participation in higher education.

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