An Interview with Patrick Awuah

By Gouillart, Emily | Journal of International Affairs, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

An Interview with Patrick Awuah


Gouillart, Emily, Journal of International Affairs


Patrick Awuah is the founder and president of Ashesi University, a private liberal arts college located in Accra, Ghana. He was born in Ghana but left in the mid-1980s to pursue an education in the United States, earning a bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and a master's degree in business administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He later earned an honorary doctorate from Swarthmore College. After eight years working as a program manager and engineer for the Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, Awuah returned to his home country to found Ashesi University, currently the sole accredited coeducational liberal arts college in West Africa. Awuah solicited massive financial support from the private sector, particularly American corporate donors, like Microsoft. Beginning with a pilot class of thirty students in 2002, Ashesi University now has 352 students, 87 percent of whom are Ghanaian, and 50 percent of whom receive financial aid. Awuah has earned international acclaim for his commitment to creating a model for quality private education in Africa. He spoke to Emily Gouillart of the Journal of International Affairs about the experience of founding and building Ashesi University, the future of education in Africa and the importance of ethics in curriculum building.

Journal: Ashesi University is a small private college that stands in stark contrast to the massive public universities in Ghana, where education and student services are considered by many to be substandard. Are there elements of the Ashesi model that you believe can be incorporated into these public colleges? What steps do you wish those colleges would take in order to effectively educate more African students?

Awuah: All our educational institutions should see education as a project of enlightenment and strive to educate people to become inspired citizens and leaders. There are many aspects to this, but I would sum them up as developing intellectual and moral excellence. We need to pay a lot more attention to quality in our classrooms, in terms of our approach to teaching, our facilities and the relevance of our curricula to real world needs. We also need to pay a great deal more attention to ethics. Just as we seek to nurture the ability and desire to learn independently as students climb the educational ladder, we must also aim to nurture students to be self-disciplined with respect to their ethical compass.

You were educated in the United States, earning your bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and MBA from UC Berkeley. Have you intentionally modeled Ashesi University after your own alma maters? Did you find that you had to adapt many traditional aspects of American-style liberal arts education in order for them to function in Ghana? If so, could you discuss those differences and how you overcame them in creating Ashesi University?

Awuah: No doubt, my experiences at Swarthmore College, Berkeley and Microsoft where I worked after college--have influenced my leadership at Ashesi University. My introduction to the liberal arts method of education at Swarthmore had an especially profound impact on me, because it introduced me to a whole new way of seeing the world around me. I have become a big believer in the idea of an educational model that provides a very broad perspective and deep ethical bearing for its students. I am convinced that it is a superior way for any nation to educate its citizens and leaders. At Ashesi, the liberal arts and sciences have manifested themselves in a broad curriculum that melds the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and leadership courses, with majors in computer science, business administration and management information systems. The breadth of our curriculum thus includes both philosophical and quantitative thinking, along with an emphasis on professional thinking.

Ashesi has impressive numbers when it comes to students finding employment upon graduation. …

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