Matthew Opoku Prempeh
UNIVERSITY TEACHERS Association of Ghana (UTAG) has offered constructive suggestions, which it believes will help enrich the Public University Bill 2020 that the government is seeking to pass.
Members of UTAG are, therefore, calling on the Parliamentary Select Committee of Education to consider their detailed recommendations before the bill is passed into law.
Prof. Charles Marfo, National President of UTAG, has stated that his group will wholeheartedly back the bill only if their various recommendations are considered.
According to him, UTAG seeks to the betterment and improvement of education, especially at the university level, but it abhors any imposition from external sources.
Prof. Marfo disclosed that UTAG members instantly rejected the 2018 Public Universities Bill because they realized that the bill seemed to infringe on their rights.
Again, he said they initially kicked against the Public University Bill 2020 because it also infringed on academic freedom in the universities just like the 2018 Bill.
Meeting With President
According to him, their rejection culminated in a meeting between UTAG and President Akufo-Addo, where UTAG raised serious concerns about the current bill.
Prof. Marfo said the meeting with the President was followed by another meeting with Education Minister Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh over the bill in Kumasi a few days ago.
According to him, their meeting with the Education Minister, nicknamed Napo, was very fruitful as UTAG and the minister made some headway in resolving some nagging issues.
“The minister was very cooperative during our meeting in Kumasi and we made it clear to him that we shall submit our recommendations for consideration,” he indicated.
Prof. Marfo observed that the present state of the bill seems to infringe on the rights of public universities; therefore, UTAG did not support it in anyway.
“At the heart of our disquiet about the bill is the impact it will have on academic freedom of the university, which thrives on the pillars of institutional autonomy, self-governance, individual rights and freedoms of academics and students, and tenure of academics,” he said.
According to him, the bill seems to infringe on the academic freedom of the public universities, for which reason UTAG members would only accept it after their suggestions are factored.
He said key among UTAG’s recommendations is the fact that they (UTAG) are not happy with the composition of the University Council, where government has eight of the 13 members.
According to him, per the current state, only seven members of the council are needed to form a quorum “and this gives government total control of the council and is not good.”
Prof. Marfo also said the current practice where universities have to seek the Minister of Education’s approval before doing business with an international body is unfair, so it must be changed.
Again, he said the appointment of the Chancellor of the university by the President doesn’t augur well for academic freedom, so they are requesting an electoral body to be formed to select a chancellor for universities.
Prof. Marfo said UTAG had given several other important recommendations, which he believes if considered, would prevent external control in the affairs of the universities.
The UTAG National President stated that UTAG believes that their recommendations have the potential of making the bill better, so he is expecting it to be included in the bill to ensure peace.
According to him, UTAG, a powerful group in the academic arena in the country, would have no qualms with the bill should its recommendations be considered eventually.
The new Public Universities Bill being introduced by the government through the Education Minister is seeking, among other things, to regulate the activities of public universities under one law.
It is seeking to change the structure of the governing councils of the public universities, with the majority of the members being appointed by the President.
Dr. Prempeh, in defending the new Public Universities Bill, recently insisted that the government does not have any interest in stifling academic freedom in the public universities as being claimed with the introduction of the bill.
According to him, the focus of the bill is to bring all public universities together under one policy, properly regulated under a well-defined scope of operation as has been done in other democracies across the world.
FROM I.F. Joe Awuah Jnr.,Kumasi