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University in Ghana Prepares Students for High Tech Jobs

In Ghana, a small private university is helping with entrepreneurial efforts to turn the aid-dependent West African country into a high-tech hub. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the campus in north Labone, in the capital Accra.

Very eager and disciplined students are taking part in a management class.

Ashesi University (the name means "Beginning" in the Akan native Ghanaian language) is modeled after small, four-year, liberal arts colleges.

But students here are mostly interested in computer science and business management.

The university's president and founder is Patrick Awuah. He studied in the United States and worked for software giant Microsoft. But when he had a child, he decided it was time to give something back to his native Ghana.

"Mostly, I think this is a very rewarding project to be engaged in. Students are doing well. The first ones graduated last year and they are placed in industry and are doing very well, getting very good reports back and that's very important. Frustration has to do with (the fact that) working in Ghana is not always easy. Infrastructures are not where they need to be and we have to struggle with that."

Araba Amuasi and Sarah Mills are Class of 2007. Like most students, some of their schooling is paid by their parents, but they also get a school loan to cover the several-thousand dollar tuition.

Araba Amuasi says her dream is to become, in her words, "a great African computer programmer." "I want to get a couple of friends together and set up a company that would develop software that is cheaper and would fit into our context better," she says. "Because, almost everything we use here is developed outside the country, outside the continent. There are certain scenarios that don't quite work when you implement the programs here. So I want to do something that is more centered on Africa."

One of the companies that need such future talent is nearby Rancard Solutions, which develops business application software.

Its chief technology strategist is Ehigozie Binitie, who was also educated abroad, and came back to help the local economy.

"We are an ambitious young company, forward looking with every intention of going global. Now it's a little hard to capture that culture and mindset," he says. "There are lots of graduates who don't really believe in it. They haven't experienced first-hand what it is to work at the cutting edge, so they struggled to see how and why it can be done in Ghana by Ghanaians like themselves. There is just a bit of a mind gap. But I think it's an exposure thing. So I think it is definitely a breath of fresh air to meet kids coming out of school with a mindset with which you can really accomplish a lot."

Some of the company's new recruits are recent Ashesi graduates, like the two 23-year-old programmers.

The man behind some of these new high-tech prospects in Ghana, Awuah, says it was nice to succeed for himself in the United States, but he feels he is doing much more now for others.

"When I was working at Microsoft that was also very exciting. Those were heady times when I was there in the late 80s and early 90s. There are times when I am back in Seattle and I visit my old colleagues there and they are working on some pretty cool technology, certainly there's a part of me that misses that sometimes. But what I am doing now is equally challenging -- even more challenging I think -- than what I was doing at Microsoft. I think that the impact on the world is going to be greater than what I was doing at Microsoft."

All the students here seem to be full of ideas and business plans, trying to design profitable and useful technological improvements.

Many want to develop software in local languages for Ghanaians who cannot read or write in French or English.

Rather than adding to the brain drain that afflicts so many sectors of Africa's economy, these students now say they have enough opportunity to stay here.