The prestigious WISE Prize for Education has been presented to Mr Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ashesi University College, a private, not-for-profit institution that has become one of Ghana’s premier universities in little over a decade.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, presented the Prize to Mr Patrick Awuah at the Opening Plenary session of the eighth World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, before an audience of 2,000 participants from 100 countries.
Stavros N. Yiannouka, the CEO of WISE said: “I am pleased to welcome Patrick Awuah as the sixth WISE Prize for Education Laureate. He joins a distinguished group of individuals who share a passion for empowerment through education. The WISE Prize Laureates have recognized needs that challenged them to action.
“Each has blazed a path in engaging and enrolling others in a vision. Patrick Awuah’s story is unique in his awakening to the role of renewed ethical leadership in social transformation, particularly in Africa. Ashesi University College, under his guidance, builds varied contemporary curricula on the pillars of liberal arts.
“He recognized that the tools for acquiring and interpreting knowledge are at least as important as the knowledge itself. In placing leadership at the core of his commitment, Patrick Awuah stands as a model for all of us who are dedicated to empowerment through education,” he said.
The WISE Prize for Education is the first distinction of its kind to recognize an individual or a team of up to six people for an outstanding, world-class contribution to education. The Laureate receives the WISE Prize for Education gold medal, and $500,000.
Mr Awuah is well-known for his dedication to supporting education in Ghana and across Africa. Every Ashesi University College graduate has found quality employment, and almost all have remained in Africa, where many have started much-needed businesses.
His innovation in higher education is not only empowering students; it also has the potential to transform Ghana and other African nations by developing a new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.
Patrick Awuah left Ghana in 1985 with $50 in his pocket and a full scholarship to Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, the United States. Over the next four years, its liberal arts education showed him the power of critical thinking, a stark contrast to his prior schooling.
After graduating, Patrick Awuah had a very successful career at Microsoft where he spearheaded design for dial-up Internet access. Keen to make a difference in his own country, he returned to Ghana, intending to start a software company.
Arriving back in Ghana, Patrick Awuah quickly understood that fostering ethical leadership would be key to building a generation that is able to bring positive change in Africa. He decided to go back to study, this time to the University of California, Berkeley, to understand what it takes to start a university that would foster leadership and integrity.
Mr Awuah said: “I decided to create a new university in Ghana, not because of a lack of universities in my country, but a lack of universities teaching 21st century skills. There was too much emphasis on rote learning and memorization, much less on critical or independent thinking, ethics or collaboration. I decided to open a university that would offer young Ghanaians and Africans the opportunity to excel and become problem solvers – the next leaders of Africa.”
In 2002, Ashesi University College (“beginning” in Akan) University College opened its doors in a rented house with a first class of 30 students.
Today, Ashesi University College has a world-class campus of 100 acres, overlooking Accra, with nearly 900 students. Ashesi University College offers four-year bachelor degrees in engineering, business administration, computer science and management information systems.
The degree is based upon an interdisciplinary curriculum with a continual emphasis on leadership, ethics and entrepreneurship. Before graduating, all students engage in community service.
Ashesi University College places an emphasis on cultural, economic, and gender diversity with 50 percent of the students on full or partial scholarships.
Half of the students are women and over 20 countries are represented on the campus. Additionally, in 2008, Ashesi University College students established an honour code, holding themselves responsible for ethical behaviour, the first of its kind in African universities.
On receiving the WISE Prize, Patrick Awuah said: “I am honoured to receive the WISE Prize for Education. This is a crucial moment for Africa – today, one out of six people on earth live in Africa, and this is set to rise to one in four by 2050.
“We urgently need to boost the education system in Africa to ensure we can tap into this shift to strengthen the continent. Winning the WISE Prize will support the work we are already doing at Ashesi University College to inspire and educate, and build a community of people who can navigate the complexities of Africa’s growth and set an example for the rest of the world.”