‘To govern or not to’ Who really has the power in our universities?

BY: Yaa Essah Armah
 ‘To govern or not to’ Who really has the power in our universities?
‘To govern or not to’ Who really has the power in our universities?

Ghana is clearly experiencing governance challenges and it seems that no sector has been spared the unpleasant and costly effects of poor corporate governance.

Now the issue has hit the higher education sector, with all its bureaucratic pomposity. And one would have thought that such issues would occur in inexperienced and relatively younger universities.

But alas, it is the older, more experienced mentor institutions who have suffered such instability.

 This creates a form of unrest for education practitioners because it is these same institutions that we look up to to set good examples in higher education management.

The events of the past few weeks at the KNUST campus are indeed worrisome and sound a note of caution that ‘he who thinks he stands’ in university governance, ‘should be careful, lest he falls’.

The Governing Council is the highest decision-making body within the university and would usually be constituted to have all relevant representation.

Although made up of different agencies, council is seen as a single entity and decisions are considered corporate, with an assumed consensus.

 However, this is not always the case as members may disagree on an issue.
The task of the chairman of the council is to ensure that members come to a compromise so that a decision can be taken.

In the recent case of the KNUST Governing Council, it is unclear whether a consensus was reached on the conversion of some single-sex halls of residence to a mixed-hall status.

 In this case, all stakeholders are to be fully engaged to table concerns and seek possible redress.

What the students at KNUST demonstrated is a clear case of resistance to the decision of the governing council. Obviously they were not in favour of this new directive.

It is now evident that there were a number of gaps in the institution’s management of their views.

The truth of the matter is that different stakeholders have different interests that may not necessarily be in the interest of the public good.

The role of a governor here becomes very critical.

Speed and tact to handle such disagreements become lifesaving. All stakeholders are very important and must be identified and fully engaged to come to a consensus in decision making.

 This will go a long way to mitigate against resistance, which is the number one enemy in policy implementation.  

With this case in mind, I keep asking myself, ‘who really runs our universities?’

 Is it the governing council with all its technical expertise and experience; or the vice chancellor; or the student body?

 A very strong stakeholder whose influence cannot be ignored in this case is the government, ministry and its related agencies.

Bearing in mind the fact that universities come into being through an act of Parliament that receives presidential accent, it is difficult to delineate the functioning of universities from government machinery.

As our Ghanaian proverb says, ‘you do not bite the hand that feeds you’.

 Perhaps it is this conflict of roles and accountability that leads to such misplacement of allegiance and loyalty.

The case under discussion vividly typifies the costly effect of poor stakeholder management and governmental interference.

The decision of the governing council that led to student vandalism and the destruction of property at the KNUST campus has now been used as a form of ‘punishment’ and led to the removal of all members of that board.

Such situations call for prudent, time-tested solutions from education experts who understand the terrain and for whom educational institutions were established.

 The government must take a firm decision to separate politics from education and academia.

Ghana must get to the point where we begin to see the governance of our educational system as a powerful tool for human capital development for the future of the country, and not as a means of showing off political muscle.

The writer is Coordinator/Quality Assurance, Ghana Technology University College
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