The Minister of Education, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, has said the Akufo-Addo government does not have any interest in stifling academic freedom in the country’s public universities, and, as such, debunked assertions that the government is clandestinely taking control of public universities through the introduction of the Universities Bill.

The proposed law seeks to change the structure of the governing councils of the public universities with the majority of the members being appointed by the President.

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

The admission of students into public universities will also be altered with the introduction of a centralised system.

According to Dr Prempeh, 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.

He said: “The President has given his word to all the Vice-Chancellors when they met him and assured him that the common admission platform will be ready for use in the 2021 academic year. The Vice-Chancellors paid a courtesy call on the President and the President stated emphatically that he, as a president, and his government, have nothing to do with stifling academic freedom. In fact, this draft bill is the first bill in this country to try and define what we mean by academic freedom using examples of how other nations have developed it. If it has to be improved, we are hoping for that, but the government will not and must not and does not intend in any way to stifle academic freedom.”

Dr Prempeh stressed that the bill will improve the governance, leadership and accountability processes of public universities.

He further posited that the bill is yet to be finalised and the government is open to all suggestions and inputs from stakeholders, especially those in academia.

“The draft bill was circulated to all the universities and the unions with the caveat that they should let us have the suggestions to improve the bill before we can formally take it to Cabinet; before we take it to parliament and get it passed. So, it is a stakeholder consultation that we are doing. The government has declared its intentions fairly, it hasn’t hidden anything, it is open to suggestions, it is open to discussions on the various clauses and it is opened to views,” he said.

The bill, which is yet to be presented to parliament, has already received some resistance from some stakeholders within the education sector and the Minority in parliament.