….Prof. Opoku Agyeman on new university bill
By Gifty Arthur
Former Minister of Education, under the erstwhile John Mahama government, has waded into plans by government to introduce a new Public Universities Bill ostensibly to control affairs, saying “Universities are not glorified secondary schools”.
Prof. Naana Opoku Agyeman, argues that government got it wrong with it controversial plan to introduce a new bill seeking to take away the freedom of these universities to operate without much control from politicians.
The Public Universities’ Bill, which is before Parliament, will give the President the power to appoint and dismiss Vice Chancellors as and when he pleases, as well as appoints more than half of the members of public university councils.
According to government, the bill will harmonize the governance, administration and accountability structures of public universities.
Explaining the rationale behind the bill, 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.
But the former Vice-Chancellor of the Cape Coast University, has rejected this explanation, saying as a member of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS), she supports the group’s rejection of the bill claiming it “sends us back” as a country.
The GAAS criticizing the move said it is “dangerous and uncalled for” and “a recipe for total chaos in our tertiary education system”.
In a statement, the Academy, said the autonomy that past vice-chancellors of all public universities fought for over the years would be reversed by the bill, “if it is indeed passed into law”.
The teaching professor adding to calls to abandon the bill during an in-studio interview on Accra FM’ ‘Citizen Show’ on Saturday monitored by The Herald, said contrary to much criticized government argument; the bill “will solve no problem”.
The former Minister, said government should not pretend to be solving a problem that does not exist.
She said, Ghana, over the years has worked to make progress in the area of higher education, insisting if it is the case that government feels there is a problem in a particular university, “they should go and solve that problem.
So I don’t think that they should put all universities at the same level. I Don’t know the problem the government is trying to solve”.
The former Vice-Chancellor said universities need to be given free hands to work for diversity. According to her, “this bill will kill diversity and initiatives” adding universities are not glorified secondary schools”.
She continued “This is the last stop where objectivity must work. If we keep this up, even the deans and the heads of department, will be appointed not because of competence but where they come from. This bill will kill universities in Ghana, it should be stopped”.
Already, many stakeholders including university lecturers have raised objection to the bill and have advised government not to go ahead to pass it into law
The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) for instance has mounted spirited opposition to the passage of the controversial bill threatening a court action against government at the Supreme Court.
After perusing bill, UTAG says it “is at a loss regarding the rationale for the enactment of the legislation.”
“After a careful clause by clause analysis of the Bill, the passage of the Bill into law in its current form will create more problems for the running of the universities than they seek to resolve,” UTAG said in a statement.
Paramount among UTAG’s concerns is that the bill seeks to curtail academic freedom as established in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
These freedoms, UTAG says “thrives on the pillars of institutional autonomy, self-governance, individual rights and freedoms of academics and students, and tenure for academics.”
UTAG also believes the composition of universities’ council under the bill “and the overwhelming powers given the President within the Council structure and mandate is out of line with the constitutional provisions of the country.”
“We are also concerned about the powers granted the President to control the appointment of the Chancellor of a public university through the backdoor, in clear violation of article 68 of the Constitution of Ghana.
“Equally concerning are the powers being allocated to the Minister of Education to issue directives to run the university and the provision to ‘subtly’ control the admission process in the universities,” the association stated.
According to UTAG, they would not hesitate to challenge the “serious constitutional matters” they raised in the Supreme Court if their concerns go unaddressed.
They have, meanwhile, proposed 24 major amendments to the bill which is currently before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education.
One of such proposed amendments is formation of a quorum of the governing council.
UTAG says with a proposed 13-member council — eight of them from the government –should seven members form a quorum as proposed the government team can hold a meeting by themselves at any time.
“Rephrase Section 9(2) to read as follows: The quorum at a meeting of the Council shall be 60% of the membership including representation from the university, presidential appointees, and independents,” UTAG said.
Meanwhile, the University of Ghana chapter of UTAG, has served notice that it has initiated processes to impeach the National President of UTAG, Prof Charles Ofosu Marfo, accusing him of working against the interest of the association in respect of the Public Universities Bill.
The Chapter is accusing their leader of “consistently misrepresenting and sidelining UG-UTAG’s position on the Public Universities Bill in his public engagements” by making arguments that they desire that the bill be passed with the input of UTAG when their position is that the bill be done away with.
Dr Samuel Nkumbaan, UG-UTAG’s President, noted, in a statement conveying the chapter’s intention, that the National President, has proven through his actions and inactions that he does not support the near unanimous position of UTAG that the controversial Public Universities Bill be withdrawn from Parliament.
UG-UTAG has been resolute that the bill is not only unconstitutional, but is impracticable, insisting that it seeks to solve problems that do not exist.