ADETUNJI-AFOLABI ADEPOJU HARRY.
The Deputy Rector,
Deans of Faculties,
Heads of Department,
Academic and non-academic staffs and
Fellow International students.
Today marks history in the life of Koforidua polytechnic, it is indeed a memorable day in the life of every international student on this campus that we are given a platform to communicate our yearnings to the authorities of our great institution. On behalf of the entire international students on this campus we say thank you for this great opportunity.
Nevertheless, as the number of international student’s studying in koforidua (Ghana) increases, it is important that college administrators become abreast of laws and policies affecting this student population. International students studying in Ghana are encountering stricter application and screening processes since Terrorism entered the West African sub region. Due to these difficult procedures, international students face challenging experiences both before and after the arrival of international students here in Ghana.
Today, we face many obstacles when seeking opportunities to study here in Ghana. Some of the most troubling issues are the difficulty obtaining student visas and the Accommodation of international students.
In this century, Universities, polytechnics and colleges rely heavily on international students for income and as resources. Because these students have become such an integral part of Ghana campuses, it is essential that educators take it serious about legislation regarding this student population and the need for National associations with the mission to assist international students’ educators in this process couple with the recently created International Relations Department as a secondary player. Mr. Rector. Sir we think International students and exchange visitor programs will enormously be beneficial to this country, and our contribution to the Ghanaian economy is not the only, nor the most impactful way that they are beneficial. According to one writer, “International students and visitor bring knowledge and skills to any nations classrooms, laboratories and businesses” International students also give campuses a unique level of diversity that cannot be simulated any other way, they create and promote long-term linkages between institutions in Ghana and abroad, and workforces.
Terry Hartle, a Senior Vice President of the American Council on Education (2002), explained, “International students increase the knowledge and skills of the U.S. workforce, boost appreciation for democracy and market based economics, give future world leaders a firsthand experience of Americans and America, and generate billions of dollars of income every year”. Even President George W. Bush has said, “The United States benefits greatly from international students who study in our country” (Hartle, 2002). Also, the government explained that half of the world leaders who agreed to support the war on terrorism first came to America as an international student or exchange visitor (2002).
A sense of wellbeing is integral to a high-quality experience for international students and is supported by personal safety, secure accommodation, meaningful local community engagement, having a say in decision-making and good health.
We (International students) face particular challenges and may require some specialized services to support our wellbeing. We may be living independently and for the first time in a foreign country with an unfamiliar culture. We may be far from our families and with few friends or people who can support us. Our English skills may be limited in some cases, and our everyday financial situation uncertain. Any of these factors can be very stressful.
Our (international student’s) experience is determined not only by our education experience but by our home life, relationships and security. As such, our authorities must consider the broader issues that can impact on our wellbeing, such as accommodation, resident permit related matters, and health and safety issues. Wellbeing is central to a positive study and life experience for us (international students).
Why having a strategy is important
Research has shown that International students enrich Ghanaian communities, bringing energy, diversity and new ways of seeing things. Many international students have gone on to become highly successful permanent migrants, creating a more diverse skills base, stronger international links and increasing the diversity of Ghanaian society.
International students educated in Ghana have also returned home to assume leadership positions in government and industry.
Ghana’s relationship with international students deepens our understanding of the world and the world’s understanding of Ghana, contributing to our regional and global reputation.
Education is now becoming one of Ghana’s biggest export sector, supporting approximately 125 000 jobs across Ghana. In addition, international students supplement and diversify our labour force in the longer term if they meet Ghana’s skills needs and choose to stay in or return to Ghana.
Application, Addimission, and Registration
We are using this medium to appeal to the School authority that they need to liaise with international student’s home country to have adequate knowledge of the senior secondary school subjects and requirements as this will help in setting their admission requirement. Because as at now I think the Ghanaian Tertiary Institutions Admission requirement is somewhat different from that of sister countries within the sub region. An example is a situation where Ghanaian SSS offers integrated science and social studies at the senior level while their Nigerian counterparts take these subjects at the junior schools and offer physics, chemistry and biology for integrated science and government for social studies at the SSS level.
Good physical and mental health
Good physical and mental health is vital to a person’s wellbeing. While the particular challenges that international students face as a result of living in a foreign country with an unfamiliar culture are well understood, there is much less understanding of health issues affecting us. Many of the initiatives in this document (such as increased community engagement and better information) may contribute to better health —both mental and physical—for international students.
We welcome the recently conducted NHIS registration by the Women commissioner of the SRC, though we are not eligible for national Medicare.
Through a national community engagement strategy, we feel the government of Ghana should support activities that involve international students in community life, promote best practice in community engagement and help develop local partnerships. Stronger community engagement will make students’ experiences in Ghana more fulfilling by making us feel welcome and a valued part of our local communities, while also addressing our safety, health and wellbeing needs
Stereotyping and discrimination.
We have come across beliefs that international students lack English and academic/teaching abilities, that we are not culturally and socially adjusted, that we may be withdrawn, lonely, nervous, and frightened. International students sometimes are seen as competitors for scarce financial and educational resources and as outsiders who illegitimately displace Ghanaian students. We find that some people actively discriminate against us or other international students.
Psychologically and physically discomfortable. We feel sad, anxious, frustrated, and lonely, misunderstood, stressed out, homesick. Also, we have psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, general fatigue, and irregularity. These negatively toned emotions and symptoms have limited the activities of some of us and our overall adaptation to the new environment is abandoned. The stress may reach crisis levels, especially in the first six months of our stay in Ghana.
Legislation and Legal Issues Regarding International Students
While administrators are aware of the risks and legal issues regarding international students, the subject has not been given much attention until recently. This neglect could have contributed to international educators elaborating about the positive aspects of academic exchange programs.
Visa Application and Acceptance
Many Ghanaian institutions seek international student participation, yet it is becoming more difficult to apply and be accepted to participate at a Ghanaian institution. The process of obtaining a student visa can be lengthy and strenuous, as evident when we visit the Ghanaian consular in our home country for such application. An international student who wishes to study in Ghana begins the process by applying for admission to an institution. The student must then be admitted by the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS)-approved institution where he or she must enroll as a full-time student as practiced in developed countries. When a school accepts the student, the institution must send him or her Immigration Form, a GIS required document consisting of demographical information; this form is needed in order for the student to be approved for a visa. Upon receiving the immigration form, the student must take this form to a local consulate where it is reviewed and the student is interviewed. Here, the consulate ultimately decides whether or not to grant the student visa.
With the recent threats of terrorism within the sub region, the student visa application process has become more strenuous and the likelihood of receiving a visa has decreased. Hence, many innocent students are being denied the opportunity to fulfill a dream of studying in Ghana Some reasons for denial of an international student include the student’s academic performance and preparation, as well as their ability to pay for the education, but the most frequent reason for students being denied is the perceived idea that international students have intentions of remaining in Ghana indefinitely.
The Tracking Process
For many international students and their allies, the level to which they are tracked by GIS officials is disturbing. Like some time last week we were told that in mile 50 some foreign students were being chased after to be arrested; which we think is not fair to the students but such authorities should rather meet with the management of the schools where these students are part to sort these issues out.
Concerns for Student Affairs Professionals
The individual student is not the only one who is at risk of having their rights violated; student affairs professionals and other polytechnics personnel must be aware of their rights to have fair warning. Representatives from a number of institutions stated that the time frame deemed by the GIS is unreasonable. We were made to believe by the GIS that communication between the GIS and higher education institutions is lacking.
Appeal to Government of Ghana
It is our appeal that while some of the heightened security measures remain, others should undergo modification. Effective ways to address these issues include the examination and possible modification of the visa application process; providing education to international students, their educators, and polytechnic administration; and examining whether or not the students are truly experiencing discrimination.
It is necessary that Ghana though a member of ECOWAS maintain the difficult visa application process to ensure a sense of safety in Ghana, to encourage serious students to apply, and to discourage those who would abuse the student visa. Currently, student visas are granted to international students, and a renewal is not often easy to come by for a number of years. Perhaps the student visa renewal process should be annual. A continual renewal process might provide visiting students with a greater sense of responsibility to the Ghanaian government as well as the polytechnic as we would have to renew our visas in order to enroll each academic year. This way, in order to remain a student, international students would have to provide demographic information about ourselves to receive our visa in the first place, as well as each time we renew it. Therefore, the student is providing the information rather than the university and the government is still able to monitor student activities.
Finally, it would be helpful to reexamine the guidelines that address the process of applying and receiving a student visa. For example, instead of receiving a visa before applying to attend a higher institution as recently requested by the Ghanaian government, the international student could be given a temporary visa. For this recommendation, temporary is interpreted to be 90 days or more as required by Ecowas law for member nations. Therefore, if the student enrolls in and actually attends a school, his or her visa is made active for one year. However, if the student chooses to enroll in school, but chooses not to attend classes, his or her temporary expires and they would not be permitted to stay in Ghana
Recommendations for Student Affairs Professionals
We the International students wants to use this opportunity to plead with management that the International Relations department in the school need the support and financial backing from the school authority to become knowledgeable of international and domestic laws and regulations. This is necessary in order to better serve us and secure the safety of the institution. Because of the benefits international students bring to campus, institutions must provide special services for international students wishing to or currently participating in international study/exchange programs. This must be done in order to promote future international study and cultural exchanges.
It is essential that we are not only educated on the policies of Ghana as evident in the Subject African studies but also that we are provided with networking and social opportunities that are aimed at making our experience in Ghana a positive one. Many of us (first year students) need to enroll in a seminar that introduces us to Polytechnic policies, involvement opportunities, and college life in general. Having a similar opportunity for international students who plan on studying in Ghana their entire college career would be wise to implement. These courses could include educational sessions, how to abide by domestic laws, obtaining a driver’s license, and other practical skills as well. Today, most colleges and universities are extremely student focused and are increasingly concerned with the academic and emotional development of its students; offering a course that introduces international students to life in Ghana as well as life on a particular college campus could be worthwhile and helpful.
Since multiculturalism and global thinking are such important aspects of society and education, it is becoming increasingly popular to participate in study abroad and international partnership programs. Because of this, we are using this medium to plead that international administrator and educators find it necessary to educate themselves in both international and domestic laws, regards international students. Professionals working in the field of student affairs need to understand this complicated issue from all possible viewpoints; the process the international student goes through to obtain a student visa, the concerns of the government regarding terrorism and illegal aliens, and most importantly, the needs of the international students once they are on campus.
Thank you and Jehovah bless us all.
12 May, 2014.