What the Ghana Law Student Protests say about the Inaccessibility of Higher Education
On 7 October, law students from across Ghana convened in the nation's capital of Accra to protest the mass exam failures that occurred earlier this year. The demonstration was the culmination of years of what the students argue is an effort by the Ghana School of Law to prevent the entry of average, working-class students into their university to pursue a career in the legal profession. In order to express their opposition to the school’s admission standards, as well as the examination system as a whole, nearly a thousand students marched in protest. Many more joined the campaign via social media, as represented by the hashtag #OpenUpLegalEducation.
In July, 1,820 students in Ghana took the Law School Entrance Exams in the hopes of gaining entry to the prestigious Ghana School of Law. Only 128 received a passing mark, meaning that the exam had a failure rate of nearly 93%. As protestors told the BBC, "the high failure rate reflected an attempt to sideline ordinary people from accessing legal education in favor of the country's elite." This theory has seemingly been confirmed in the past by Ghana's Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo, who has stated that she believes that the number of lawyers in Ghana should be kept low in order to maintain high standards. According to a press release from the Ghana Institute of Management Public Administration Tertiary Education Institution Network (GIMPA-TEIN), "the worsening situation is not [caused by] students' lack of knowledge but the systematic failure of the professional legal education to meet the growing population of law students," especially those who are not wealthy or politically connected.
The 2019 Law School Entrance Exams mass failure was just the latest in what some claim is a long series of attempts by the General Legal Council (GLC) to prevent the admission of students into the field of legal studies. Similarly low passing rates have been reported in the past, with just 465 of 1,800 students completing the exam successfully in 2018. After the results were released, students petitioned the Ghanaian Parliament to take action on the matter. In response, the Parliament requested that the GLC reduce the re-marking fee, re-open the period for students to resit the exam, and make the marking schemes public for students and staff to access. Despite this, protestors are claiming that the issue has persisted.
In order to protest their frustration with the current legal education system, law students started a week of protests they referred to as a 'Red Week.' Nearly one thousand law students and members of groups such as GIMPA-TEIN and the Economic Fighters League (EFL) descended on the presidential palace in the nation's capital of Accra. The protestors were met with police resistance, with Joy News reporting that at least nine were taken into custody. Additionally, police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets on the protestors due to claims that they were assembling without a proper permit. Regina Amegah, a law student, told Joy News that "they sprayed us with water cannons both hot and cold. I was drenched from head to toe." As for the petition that the protestors planned to present to President Nana Akufo-Addo, "all the copies … are soaked," Amegah stated.
Since the Red Week protests, law students have continued to express their dissatisfaction with the current inaccessibility of the Ghana School of Law and the legal profession in the country as a whole. As one aspiring lawyer, Courage Nobi, told the BBC, “they have to change this system. The current practice, where family relations of the rich of society enter the Ghana Law School, must change.”