A western passport over a PhD
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A western passport over a PhD

Education, especially higher education, has been at the receiving end of ridicule for a very long time. There seems to be an excitement from individuals that have not achieved such levels of education when higher degree holders do not secure high paying jobs or end up not benefiting from the degree, financially. 

Recently, there has been a discourse in the Ghanaian social media space about what is considered more valuable between acquiring a Dutch passport or acquiring a PhD from a Ghanaian University. This was to provoke a conversation in the public on what is more important between the two. The conversation was sparked by a Ghanaian facility’s cleaner who recently naturalized for the Netherlands.   As absurd as this conversation sounds, it was not surprising that scores of people chose the western passport. What was even more jarring was an interview of university students who unanimously chose the western passport over a PhD in Ghana. I have with so many questions!

It is important to unpack a few factors that may influence individuals’ life choices.

The current economic climate in Ghana is nothing to write home about. A record 7.3million people in Ghana are reported by the Ghana statistical service to be living in abject poverty. In such situations, survival and acquiring basic needs is of utmost importance. Reaching for higher academic goals leading to self-actualization would be secondary. 

The importance placed on acquiring material wealth pervades Ghanaian society especially in this current digital age. Individuals have a desire to show off their wealth and good life, travel abroad etc. This contributes to the importance placed on having a passport that allows one to travel across the world more seamlessly. Besides, the educational system’s promise of high-paying jobs skews the value of education.

Gendered and class notions of who is worthy to acquire a PhD as well shape the ridicule of higher education. Another discourse that made its way to Ghanaian TikTok is the relationship between getting a PhD and female sexuality, two concepts that are not mutually exclusive. Dare I say, that a PhD who taps into their sexuality will learn and practice sexual wellbeing that will support an invigorating sexual lifestyle. Along with this is a bigoted view that a female who acquires a Phd is not submissive. A male who acquires a PhD is difficult to deal with. These perceptions affect the choices people make.

Thwarted religious views of the design of a PhD has found its way to enter the chat. The funding for scholarships are from governments and individuals, and so it is ridiculous to learn that some individuals think the source is ungodly. Another problem is Africanists who do not believe in Africans traveling to seek education. While I see their argument, I challenge this by explaining that many African scholars in higher education abroad have a privilege that allows them to challenge colonial views of Africa. To contribute to knowledge from an African perspective, thereby amplifying our voices and experiences. 

This article does not suggest that the above factors and many more are not important to explore. In fact, the point of this article is to figure out how we actually got here. Never did I think we would be arguing and making comparisons between the relevance of acquiring a western passport and a PhD.

No matter how terrible things are in a country, for this topic to be a subject of discussion on almost all media outlets, there must be a critical examination of where the country is heading. Is it a failure of our political institutions? A failure of our educational institutions? Is it a failure of us as citizens of a declining nation? Or is it a failure of our ancestors to lay down a proper foundation for us?

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  • This is a well thought out piece!
    It opens up a further discussion on what we even consider more important as a people. Striking an equivalence between money and knowledge is quite problematic given that education in itself has been about improving our lives in ways not necessarily regulated by money. If you look at the humanities for instance, hardly do you find a course that can easily generate a steady income for its department. However such departments have produced a body of works that have impacted the relationship between people and their world. Policies about disability, colonialism, imperialism came from research and conversations in the humanities.
    Even science didn’t start as a money making venture; the debate about the shape of the earth wasn’t for a million bucks! It was for us to understand the world in which we live.
    So to say that knowledge has to generate money is a false assumption and arguing in favor of such cheapens knowledge and all the benefits it brings us.
    Yes, we need to make money to pay the bills and get through life, but to reduce knowledge to a mere cash cow is a dishonor to knowledge.

    • Absolutely! Knowledge is the basis of everything we do. And as Muslims, we know to value it more than anything. After all, IQRA.

  • Great piece. I like that you analyzed things from both perspectives. It’s high time we looked at things from an “AND” perspective rather than “EITHER OR”. There is indeed a lot that needs to be taught about the benefits of higher education because the stigma attached to the pursuit of higher education has exacerbated especially if you end up not getting a well paid job after ( as you stated). It’s even worse for women lol. We need to start discussing these topics in a more healthy way to achieve a great impact!!

  • Thank you Sabena, for this thought provoking article. I would like to talk from the Nigerian perspective. Permit me to start by quoting one of the phrases in your content, “No matter how terrible things are in a country, for this topic to be a subject of discussion on almost all media outlets, there must be a critical examination of where the country is heading”. African leaders have left the continent in such a pitiable condition, that majority of it’s citizens are willing to do ANYTHING to get this western passport.

    In Nigeria, so many first class and second class upper holders are roaming the streets jobless. Some, are somewhere as apprentices learning one skill or the other from an illiterate just to put food on their tables. The ones who dared to start up a small scale business or a skill shop, the government has succeeded in frustrating them out with the different taxes they are made to pay.

    After the last general elections in Nigeria, i met a man and his family at the airport relocating to the UK. When i asked him, he said “I do not see a future for my kids here”, it is better i become a cleaner in a sane environment where my right and that of my children will be protected.

    The above scenario are some of the major reasons why many Africans would chose the western passport against getting a PHD in any of our countries. As sad as the situation is, the truth remains that there is no JOB anywhere in Africa and many talents are wasting.

    Finally, we need to be reoriented into what eduction truly means. Is it a money making venture or a means to a profound knowledge? When we understand this, it will reduce the unnecessary debate or rather, the unnecessary dishonor given to education.