The Ministry of Education has explained that the Public Universities Bill is intended to harmonise the management of public universities.
Explaining the rationale behind the bill in an exclusive interview in Accra yesterday, the Minister of State in charge of Tertiary Education, Professor Kwesi Yankah, said there was no intention whatsoever in the bill to curtail the academic freedom and autonomy of public universities.
For instance, he said, while appointment to the Governing Council of the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) was for a period of two years, the governing councils of the other universities had a three-year term.
Additionally, he said, while some of public universities had 12-member governing councils 12, others had 15 or 21.
“It is some of such inconsistencies and lack of uniformity in the management of public universities that we seek to harmonise to ensure that when you talk about Ghana universities, we are singing the same tune,” he said.
Prof. Yankah gave an assurance that the government was not interested in the diversity aspect of the universities and had no intention of touching on that aspect.
The 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.
Prof. Yankah was of the opinion that his “colleagues in academia panicked too soon.
Their reaction was premature panic, unnecessarily dramatised, exaggerated and needless and smacked of lack of trust in the system, lack of trust in the government and about its sensitivity to democracy, academic freedom and institutional autonomy”.
“It also amounts to underrating the calibre of people we have in the ministry and in government who have administered universities for years, including our board of advisers, such as Prof. J. Anamoah-Mensah, Prof. Mohammed Salifu, my good self and the sector minister,” he stated.
He, therefore, advised those kicking against the document, which he described as “near zero draft of a bill”, to hold their breath because no one was interested in denying public universities academic freedom.
Giving a background, Prof. Yankah said the whole issue was about the leaking of a draft document which was submitted in confidence to respective vice-chancellors as a way of getting their buy-in as key stakeholders in tertiary education.
He said there was no way the government could come up with a new policy without getting the input of stakeholders because they were going to drive the policy.
Expectation of government
He said what the government expected was for the stakeholders to critique the document and make their comments, suggestions and recommendations.
“That will then form the basis for the internal consultation with the ministry for the outcomes to have been added,” he said, adding that that would have helped and that was what the government expected.
He said so far only the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) and the University for Development Studies (UDS) had submitted their concerns and “we are still waiting for those of the other universities”.
Prof. Yankah pledged that the ministry. and for that matter the government, would not be distracted in its forward march to reform education in the country, which included tertiary education.
He further gave an assurance that “this government is not about to reverse the tenets of academic freedom” and recalled the “track records” of the government and its predecessors of their commitment to academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
He assured Ghanaians that the government was going to deepen intellectual freedom, academic freedom and institutional autonomy, adding: “We are not about to extend the long arm of government into people’s promotions and admission.”
Prof. Yankah contended that people were unnecessarily scared and questioned what made people to think that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government would change from its freedom and development and take suddenly to singing other people’s tunes.
“We are not known for these kinds of abuse that people are anticipating. I rather wish to request them to channel their views and help us shape the governance of the universities,” he stated.
Prof. Yankah said if there would be any reverse of academic freedom and autonomy at all, “at least that will not be by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. It will not be for this government to do that, if anything at all. The worst offenders of academic freedom are well known”.