In today’s highly competitive space in tertiary education, Ashesi University’s rise to prominence in delivering meaningful and top-notch graduates can be laid squarely on the back of the Blue Ocean Strategy. Ashesi is a private, non-profit liberal arts college, offering a four-year bachelors programme grounded in a liberal core curriculum featuring, majors in Business Administration, Management Information Systems, Computer Science, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. It was founded by Patrick Awuah in 2002 in a rented house converted to classrooms, with a class of 30 students. 

In 2007, a study run by The University of California, Berkeley found that local and multinational employees rate Ashesi University graduates as number 1 in Ghana in Quality Curriculum, Career Preparation, Communication Skills, Maturity, Professional Skills, and Ethics. With all these enviable records comes the magic of Blue Ocean Strategies, turning the ordinary “startup” University in Ghana with 30 students into a powerhouse of higher education. 

The underlying principle in the Blue Ocean Strategy is to avoid competition in the Red Ocean by making the competition irrelevant and creating uncontested market space. In this case, the uncontested market space of offering higher education of global repute. Ashesi may not be up there with the Ivy League Schools but it is giving some sense of hope that with the vigorous and consistent pursuant of the Blue Ocean Strategy it will create its own Ivy League School in Ghana and Africa. 

With the influx of new tertiary institutions spearheaded mainly by the religious bodies in Ghana, the competition to stay relevant is at an all-time high, competing for fresh graduates from the senior high schools, and churning out graduates to apply for the shrinking employment opportunities in the local economy are the bane of these institutions. But Ashesi’s approach is different; it aims to produce graduates who are ready to start their own local enterprises with the global marketspace in mind. DerryDean Dadzie is the Chief Executive Officer of DreamOval Ghana Limited an ICT company based in Accra offering world class ICT solutions to clients locally and internationally. DerryDean is a product of Ashesi university. There is now a popular cliché out there that, “Ashesi graduates either create their own or contribute to creating great companies, Ashesi graduates are not part of the unemployed graduates.”

One particular element that has contributed to Ashesi’s successful execution of the Blue Ocean Strategy is the Quality in Curriculum for education. Over the years there’s been some concerns raised as to the relevance of the curriculum used in our tertiary institutions and the matchup with industry or work. Analyst saw the need to match the curriculum with the needs of industry or be proactive in perceiving the needs of industry and churning out courses to meet these needs. 

This was the bane of the “traditional” universities at the time and in recent times the private universities but not Ashesi. It would be observed that these new private universities followed the conventional approach- following the liberal arts with emphasis on Business Schools. That is a red ocean strategy- following the convention, racing to beat the competition by building a defensible position within the existing industry (tertiary education) order. Ashesi doesn’t use the Ghanaian tertiary education as a benchmark and that’s the underlying principle of the Blue Ocean Strategy. Instead the institution followed a strategic logic which W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne termed Value Innovation in the bestseller- Blue Ocean Strategy. 

Value innovation, the cornerstone of the Blue Ocean strategies, places equal emphasis on value and innovation. Instead of focusing energies on beating the competition, Ashesi focuses on making the competition in the Ghanaian tertiary education irrelevant and it does that by creating a leap in value for students, parents, guardians and all other relevant stakeholders. It has opened up an uncontested market space in the tertiary education sector in Ghana. It is now competitive to get an admission in Ashesi mainly because would-be graduates and their financiers (customers) see the value innovation Ashesi has created in the tertiary education space. 

By value innovation, graduates (products) are not just getting by with certificates, but are also able to develop their interpersonal, career and professional skills, a necessary requirement in the corporate or work setting. Such skills seem to be lagging in today’s fresh graduates but Ashesi steps in to bridge the gap- value innovation. It promises and delivers on the education of a well-rounded graduate who can compete on the global stage with counterpart from the best business schools in Europe and the Ivy League Schools in United States of America. It’s evident with the number of Ashesi students who intern with some of the fortune 500 companies from Microsoft to Goldman Sachs, IBM, and The World Bank, the list continues. 

Push for the uncontested market space, make the competition irrelevant and create value innovation, these are the underlining principles Ashesi has pursued in building a world class tertiary education institution with the blue ocean strategy. 

What market space is your company ignoring? Are you following the competition rigorously? What value innovation are you bringing to the market you are creating? Ask these questions and be prepared to follow the blue ocean strategy for business development and growth for shareholders, customers, and society in general.   


Author: Paa Swanzy-Essuman||

This post is inspired by the bestseller; Blue Ocean Strategy…How to create uncontested market space and make te competition irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne both Professors of Strategy and Management at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD BLUE Ocean Strategy Institute in Fountainblue, France. 

In the coming weeks others blue ocean strategies and strategist in action would be discussed.