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Public Universities Bill: These are the reasons why it's 'unpopular'

In April 2019, the government of Ghana through the Ministry of Education introduced a new Public Universities Bill to Parliament.

Nana Addo and Matthew Opoku Prempeh

This new bill, according to the Minister of Education, Matthew Opoku Prempeh, "is to provide the procedure for the establishment of Public Universities, principles of management of Public universities, the legal status of Public universities, the procedure for financing Public universities and administration and supervision of the activities of Public universities and related matters.”

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However, its proposition and possible enactment into law has riled up academia and other civil society groups in the country.

For many in the University community, the proposed bill if passed will be an affront to academic freedom and leave the Universities to the manipulation of politicians.

One of the critics of the bill, Prof Ernest Aryeetey, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana has said when the bill is passed into law, it will destroy everything universities are meant to represent.

According to him, universities don’t just train people and confer degrees on them, but rather, universities are to generate knowledge useful for social and economic development.

“For this, what he wants is men and women who are curious about things happening around them, how development will go faster, how people are responding to things…as soon as you take away the incentives to be curious, that incentive to search for knowledge, you make universities useless,” Prof Aryeetey explained.

Why the bill is unpopular

One of the main fundamentals of the proposed bill is the setting up of University councils to oversee the activities and operation of the universities.

Currently, the composition of the council is primarily done by mechanisms instituted by the public Universities themselves, however, this new bill will leave the composition to the president of Ghana.

It will change the structure of the governing councils of public universities with the majority of members being appointed by the President.

It will be a deviation from the norm, where the university members are normally in the majority.

Under section 5 of the bill, it states that the president shall nominate a chairperson of the council as well as 5 other persons with which two will be women.

By this provision, many of the critics of the bill believe the positions will be stacked with people affiliated with a particular political party instead deserving and qualified persons.

Futhermore, the president has the power to dissolve the university council.

Also, according to Prof Aryeetey, the bill if passed in its current form, will grant the Ministry of Education overreaching powers to interfere in activities of universities across the country.

Government's position

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has defended his government's position on the bill by stating that it won't undermine academic freedom.

He said the bill demonstrated the cardinal importance of the principle of academic freedom of the universities and described the allegations as flimsy, mischievous and disingenuous.

President Akufo-Addo, in an address at the 11th Congregation ceremony of the University of Professional Studies (UPSA), dismissed claims that the bill would stifle academic freedom of the universities.

Having gone through the consultations stage ready to be laid before Parliament, he said the bill would, amongst other things, bring all the public universities under a common law and, thereby, make the administration of the public universities less cumbersome and more efficient.

"Government is not sparing any efforts to make education in Ghana of the best quality, and fit for the needs of the 21st century."

"From September this year, all students in our public senior high schools will be covered by the Free SHS policy. We are making sure that poverty is no longer an excuse for any Ghanaian child not to reach their full potential, and I am happy that it is under my time as President of the Republic that this feat has been chalked," he said

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