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Stakeholders kick against Public Universities Bill - Ministry says reactions are premature

BY: Severious Kale-Dery
Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh - Minister of Education
Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh - Minister of Education

A draft Public Universities Bill submitted to the public universities for their input has elicited mixed reactions from a section of the public and stakeholders, including some university lecturers.

While some of the stakeholders contend that the bill seeks to take away academic freedom and the autonomy of public universities, the Ministry of Education says the reactions are premature because the document is only a draft and not even at the stage of a bill.  

Ministry’s reaction

The ministry said the document was only to allow the input of lecturers before the bill was presented to Parliament.

The Head of Public Relations of the Ministry of Education, Mr Ekow Vincent  Assafuah, described the reactions as politically motivated, adding that whether it was at the level of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) or the Parliamentary Select Committee, “we think it is wrong to have leaked the document out”.

He wondered why some of the universities resorted to social and traditional media, instead of putting their concerns on paper, as requested, saying, for instance, that the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) and the University for Development Studies (UDS) had already submitted their concerns.

Justification for the bill

Mr Assafuah explained that the draft bill was part of the educational reforms by the Ministry of Education to harmonise public universities, just as it was in the case of the colleges of education and the technical universities.

He explained that the expected law was particularly necessary, as some of the laws governing the public universities were outmoded, citing the one for the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) which dated back to 1961.

“They cannot just meet contemporary demand as a public university in the 21st century, and even for the ones that are a bit recent, there are quite a number of provisions that are missing in their laws,” he explained.

He again wondered how promotion to the status of a professor in two public universities should differ, citing, for example, that it took nine publications in KNUST for one to be promoted as associate professor, while the University of Ghana might require 20 publications.

Disappointment

Mr Assafuah said he was disappointed with parliamentarians who were also commenting on the draft bill, since they would have all the opportunity to make inputs when the bill was presented to the House.

He said after the input from the universities, the bill would be sent to the Cabinet and that it was possible that some of the clauses could be deleted and new ones introduced.

Denial of academic freedom

But a Political Science lecturer at the University of Ghana, Prof. Yaw Gyampo, on traditional and social media platforms, contended that the move was an attempt by the government to deny public universities academic freedom.

He said his preliminary reading of the proposed law pointed clearly to an attempt by the Executive to control the administration of public universities, a move he described as totalitarian.

“Per the draft bill I have read, the government is seeking to reduce the composition of public university councils from the average of 15 to nine.

“With this number, the government wants to appoint more people than other constituents. This is the first step at mortgaging the independence and freedom of academic institutions,” Prof. Gyampo contended.

He was of the belief that such a move would relapse independent minds into a culture of silence.

Authoritarian agenda

A former Deputy Minister of Education in charge of Tertiary Education, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, in a statement,  said a careful consideration of the provisions in the draft bill portrayed “a desperate authoritarian agenda to assail the pillars of insulation and thereby blatantly interfere with the management of our higher institutions of learning, in flagrant violation of Article 21 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana”.

Backing his claims with specific clauses of the bill, he said Clause 3(1) sought to give the President power to appoint a majority of five members of a proposed nine-member governing council.   

He contended that the proposal would successfully place the university councils and, by logical extension, the entire university, under political control.

University autonomy

Speaking to journalists in Accra, a ranking member on the Education Committee of Parliament, Mr Peter Nortsu, said the committee would kick against sections of the policy which undermined the autonomy of public universities.

“If it is so, it is an attempt by the government to control the management of public universities, which is not the best. It is going to take away that autonomy or freedom from the universities, so the universities are going to be managed like senior high schools.

“When it comes in its entirety, we will look at it, and where it aims at making the government control the universities, we will kick against it,” he added.

Politicisation

A former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, said the draft bill, in its current form, would stifle initiative and politicise the universities.

He said it would take away any incentive for Ghanaian public universities to seek to be innovative and progressive, adding: “It is designed to stifle initiative and politicise universities under the full control of the Minister of Education.”