Public University Bill threatens higher education in Ghana – UG UTAG

The University of Ghana (UG) branch of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) has noted that the Public University Bill (PUB) introduced by this government threatens higher education and democracy in Ghana.

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

But UG UTAG said the introduction of the Bill was unnecessary because it doesn’t help higher education in Ghana.

A statement issued by the UG UTAG on Wednesday September 16 said “the PUB violates the 1992 Constitution of our Republic. If passed into law, this new legislation would confer on the President powers that the 1992 Constitution explicitly denies him or her under Articles 68(1)(b) and 195(3). Through provisions in the Bill that give the Executive majority representation on the University Council and that allow the President to dissolve the Council, the President would effectively control universities.

“The new law would thus erode the protections that the Constitution grants universities in order that they can effectively carry out their mandate of teaching, learning, and research; academics would become beholden to the political party in power, either as a result of direct interference or through self-censorship, and would cease to be the source to which the media and public can turn for impartial analysis of government policies.

“Although in the interview on Oman FM the President did concede that the issue of University Councils required a second look, he did not indicate whether these clauses would be totally removed or merely tweaked.”

Below is their full statement…

THE PUBLIC UNIVERSITY BILL – A GRAVE AND IMMINENT DANGER TO

DEMOCRACY AND HIGHER EDUCATION IN GHANA

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the local and international media: 2020 has been a difficult year and all Ghanaians are going through trying times. Given these circumstances, it is only a matter of the utmost urgency that would compel us to convene a gathering of this nature.

The University of Ghana branch of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UG-UTAG) has invited you to this press conference to engage you on an issue that poses an imminent danger to our institutions of higher education and that has the potential to irreparably damage Ghana’s global standing as a pillar of democratic governance in Africa.

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The matter at stake is the Public University Bill (PUB) that purports to harmonize public universities under one law but that has disturbing implications for the future of higher education in Ghana.

UG-UTAG is made up of academics of diverse disciplines, of different ages and political persuasions. We want to stress that the PUB is not a partisan issue but one of national importance. We have, therefore, taken up this campaign on behalf of current and future students, lecturers, and staff of universities, and on behalf of the larger Ghanaian society that benefits from the work that we do.

For the sake of the listening public, a bit of background on the PUB. The Executive branch of the government has put before parliament a Bill that would, among many other things:

  1. a) allow the President to indirectly govern universities in Ghana by appointing a majority

of the members of governing councils;

  1. b) allow the President to close down any university and replace its governing council;

UG-UTAG Press Statement on PUB, 16 Sep 2020 Page 2 of 4

  1. c) allow a Minister of Education to give directives to the Universities on any matter, with

which the Universities must comply; and

  1. d) take the process for admission of new students away from individual universities.

In an interview on the 4th of September 2020 on Oman FM, the President conceded that “valid criticisms” had been brought against the PUB and said that these would be reviewed. However, the President ultimately concluded that “the basic thrust of the Bill and the rationale for it is incontestable”. With this press conference, UG-UTAG is, in fact, contesting the very basis of the Bill and calling for it to be completely withdrawn.

In sum, our objections are that the PUB is unconstitutional, unnecessary, and will create more problems than it claims to solve.

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First and foremost, the PUB violates the 1992 Constitution of our Republic. If passed into law, this new legislation would confer on the President powers that the 1992 Constitution explicitly denies him or her under Articles 68(1)(b) and 195(3). Through provisions in the Bill that give the Executive majority representation on the University Council and that allow the President to dissolve the Council, the President would effectively control universities.

The new law would thus erode the protections that the Constitution grants universities in order that they can effectively carry out their mandate of teaching, learning, and research; academics would become beholden to the political party in power, either as a result of direct interference or through self-censorship, and would cease to be the source to which the media and public can turn for impartial analysis of government policies.

Although in the interview on Oman FM the President did concede that the issue of University Councils required a second look, he did not indicate whether these clauses would be totally removed or merely tweaked.

In any case, there are many more problems with the Bill that make it untenable.

Second, the PUB is unnecessary. Public universities are already accountable to all three branches of government (the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) through a large number of laws and institutions. The PUB seeks to attain by legal meddlesomeness what can already be achieved by enforcing existing laws and laid down administrative procedures, and by ensuring that the regulatory institutions do their job. Where there have been any cases of wrongdoing, it behooves the state to proceed with investigations and, if necessary, bring charges to bear.

PUB is yet another instance of the government introducing a new law rather than ensuring that existing laws work as they should.

Third, the Bill will do more harm than it claims to fix. Having a one-size-fits-all piece of legislation for our diverse and unique universities will inhibit innovation. Let us not forget that, among other achievements, our public universities have turned out leading professionals in all fields and have produced innovative research, perhaps none felt as profoundly as during our current battle with Covid-19. These achievements have been in spite of dwindling subventions from the state over the years.

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The Bill would hobble public universities by bringing them under the direct day-to-day management of the Minister of Education. Clause 47 of the Bill states, “The Minister may give directives on matters of policy through the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission to a public university and the public university shall comply”. In addition, the Bill states that the Minister of Education can direct or must approve the following: the establishment of any new academic units; any relationship with academic and non-academic entities; all research collaborations; and all financial matters, including the leasing or sale of university properties.

In effect, the law would allow one person—the Minister of Education – to make decisions that currently go through due consideration by a number of institutionalized bodies, including the University Councils.

Again, by seeking to centralize University admissions under one platform, the Bill takes the process for admission of new students away from individual universities.

This would not only be cumbersome but would strip from universities the ability to seek the best students for their unique programmes. Centralized admission, under the control of the government, would conceivably lead to pervasive nepotism and the expansion of ‘protocol admissions’, deepening the disadvantage of students without means or political connection.

To conclude, the PUB is unconstitutional, unnecessary, and deeply harmful to the integrity of our public universities. It poses a threat to the ability of students, lecturers and administrators to carry out their day-to-day learning, teaching and research functions without fear of government dictates or reprisals.

We urge the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to exercise his constitutional powers to have the PUB withdrawn.

By Laud Nartey|3news.com|Ghana