With the government unequivocally stating its intention to increase tertiary education enrollment rate in the country from its initial 18 percent to 40 percent by the end of the year 2030, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) believe a plan to wean off public universities from gov’t payroll will affect equitable access to education and derail the Gross Tertiary Enrollment (GTE) agenda.
The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori Atta, announcing the government’s measures to address the current economic difficulties, stated that in the medium-term, the government seeks to wean off public tertiary institutions from its payroll and provide them with a fixed amount of block grant.
According to the CSOs, the intervention is a classic case of policy incoherence between the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and Ministry of Education (MoE), taking into consideration the objectives of free Senior High School (FSHS) policy and GTE rate target (the Education Strategic Plan 2018-2030).
The CSOs – including the Institute for Education Studies (IFEST) and African Education Watch (Eduwatch) – expressed that the policy proposition has the propensity to cause tertiary institutions to charge ‘realistic’ higher fees and increase the percentage of fee-paying students, as a means of generating more internally generated funds (IGF) to pay its current and anticipated staff.
The Executive Director of IFEST, Peter Anti, emphasised that the result of making public tertiary institutions fee-paying would be a decrease in tertiary enrolment ratio which now stands around 20 percent.
“I would want to indicate that this might result in policy incoherence when linked to the desire of government to provide free secondary education which technically would mean increased demand for tertiary education. If we are to make our tertiary institutions fee-paying, then obviously we are introducing a financial barrier to the already existing infrastructure barrier,” he said.
On his part, the Executive Director – Eduwatch, Peter Anti, while conceding that the initiative has the advantage to ensure government is fiscally disciplined as expenditure on compensation will reduce or be controlled, he reiterated that this will affect equitable access to education, as it may constitute an economic barrier to tertiary enrollment in a country where Gross Tertiary Enrollment (GTE) is far below the international average.
“The Education Strategic Plan 2018-2030 has a target to increase GTE from 18 percent to 40 percent by 2030. Five years on, we are still stagnated at 19 percent. How can the MoE achieve 40 percent GTE by 2030, if such ‘cost shifting’ policies are introduced to burden students and potentially exclude prospective ones?” he quizzed.
Alternative Policy Proposition for cost-cutting
According to the CSOs, if government is seeking ways to cut down on compensation (payment of salaries and allowances), which takes a chunk of the education sector budget, then the first point of call is to scrape completely the teacher and nursing trainee allowance.
“If the government wants to cut down on its compensation budget, it must cut the teacher and nursing trainee allowance by 100 percent, and save over GH₵400million per year instead of transferring costs to poor students and potential ones who are already struggling to access tertiary education in a country whose scholarship system is opaque and irresponsive to the poor,” Kofi Asare said.
Background to governments action.
There is pressure on government for the recruitment of more lecturers since most institutions have up to 1,000 students more, handled by the same lecturers. But there is a cap imposed by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to limit their hiring due to fiscal discipline concerns.
In 2022, about 65 percent of the education sector budget is for salaries and allowances. With the recent University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) industrial action over demand for better conditions of service including research allowance arrears still on the table for government to address, to avert any further strike action, it is imminent that budgetary allocation in that regard will have to increase, a situation the ministry is trying to avoid.
“The finance minister is simply saying that government can no longer shoulder the full cost of paying current and demanded lecturers and staff, as it puts too much stress on its salary budget. It therefore wants tertiary institutions to raise their revenue to pay their human resource, as govt supports with a fixed Grant,” Mr. Asare contextualised.
A block grant is a grant-in-aid of a specified amount from a larger government to a smaller regional government body. Block grants have less oversight from the larger government and provide flexibility to each subsidiary government body in terms of designing and implementing programmes.