UTAG Holds National Forum on Free SHS

Management of universities have been urged to put in place strategies to enrol more fresh students in the 2020/2021 academic year.

 This has become necessary as a result of the expected increase in the number of qualified candidates from the Senior High Schools. It is anticipated that the number of qualified students will double as a result of the huge increase in the enrolment figures of the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy introduced by the government in 2017.

The call was made at the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) National Forum on Education on the theme “Free Senior High School and the Double Track Policy: Implications for Quality Tertiary Education in Ghana”. The forum which was organised by National Office of UTAG in conjunction with the Canadian Association of University Teachers interrogated the Free SHS and Double Track Policies, its economic and social impact, human resource challenges, infrastructure challenges and the role of GETfund and other state institutions in finding solutions to the anticipated challenges of the policy.

FREE SHS Should Create Meaningful Access to Education

Opening the forum, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, Prof. Joseph Ghartey Ampiah, said it was necessary to create meaningful access to education with a focus on equity and not equality. “The issue with the free SHS should not be about access or quality but meaningful access to education” he pointed out.

Future of University Education in Ghana

In his welcome address, the National President of UTAG, Dr. Eric Opoku Mensah said the Association was deliberating on the future of University Education in Ghana in the face of the government’s Free SHS Policy. “The nation is at a crossroad and the conclusions we arrive at today will contribute in shaping the way forward regarding the challenges ahead of public universities,” he noted.

Dr. Mensah noted that GETfund projects in almost all the universities have come to a halt. “This is worrying when existing facilities cannot even provide adequate space for current students. What will then happen in 2020 when the products of the free SHS are ready to enter our universities?” he queried. Another challenge he mentioned was the inadequate lecturers in the various public universities arguing that “We cannot continue to make our universities competitive when our universities have to wait and receive clearance before recruiting faculty for new and expanding programmes.”

Age Limit for Professors' Post-Retirement Contract

The National UTAG President was also worried about the directive by government through the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) that lecturers on post-retirement contract beyond the age of 65 would cease to be on government’s pay roll.  “There is no doubt that our universities cannot pay the salaries of these professors from its Internally Generated Funds. This certainly cannot be the case if our universities are going to be positioned to provide the requisite training for the next generation,” he noted. He said UTAG and Vice Chancellors Ghana were willing to engage government in order to protect teaching and research in Ghanaian public universities. 

Resource Universities

Sharing his views as a panelist at the programme, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Prof. George K. T Oduro, lauded government for bringing relief to parents of beneficiary students of the Free SHS. He added that the policy has also enhanced enrolment statistics. “Available records show that only 74% of qualified Basic Education Certificate Examination candidates get access to senior high school with 26% handicapped” he stated.

In his recommendations, Prof. Oduro called for timely release of funds for universities to complete stalled projects and clearance  from government for the recruitment of academic and other professional staff.

Free SHS Should Provide Opportunities for Universities

Prof. Nana Afia Amponsaa Opoku-Asare of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology,  said the Free SHS was a bold policy by government and views from the public suggested that they have were appreciative for  the opportunity to educate their children in SHS without any financial commitment.

In her view, there were several opportunities for universities to increase intake even with the current staff strength. “We can tap the resources of non-professional teaching staff when it becomes critical,” she suggested. Prof.  Opoku-Asare said the universities should take advantage of technology to offer tuition through distance or online mode.

Preparatory Session for Free SHS Leavers

The Dean, Faculty of Educational Studies, University of Education Winneba, Prof. Samuel K. Hayford, observed that considering the manner in which the Free SHS was being implemented, it was obvious that quality would be negatively affected, therefore, it was necessary to make up for the shortfall. He recommended that  universities should organise preparatory sessions before admitting students form the Free SHS.

Prof. Hayford advised government to improve and add to the existing infrastructure on the campuses of the various universities.