The Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU, is on strike again and this time, it has been on for over 90 days. This is no longer news to Nigerians who are accustomed to the periodic refusal by this body of academics to return to the lecture rooms once negotiations break down.
In this episode, the bone of contention is over a 2009 agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU. On one side, the government claims that agreement cannot be implemented due to budget constraints while the other party claims gross irresponsibility and manipulation by the government in not fulfilling an agreement wilfully entered into by both parties.
The prevailing situation of Nigerian universities calls for a total review as captured in the 2012 Report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities. This is not only about wage increase for academic STAFF as Government’s propaganda claims, but about the quality of education in these institutions.
In Feyi Fawehinmi’s blog, he aptly questions the qualitative capacity of ASUU members in tandem with the funding made available to our Universities. From this view, one gets a perspective of how unrealistic ASUU may be, which is not necessarily the situation. There is the pertinent question as to why Nigerian academics do not excel back in Nigeria but are rated first among equals when engaged in other parts of the world. The answer is simple; there is a conducive academic environment outside our shores that is designed to bring out the best in any average individual. We are intelligent and resourceful, but will never come to maximize our full potential in the absence of a facilitating environment.
There is no need to go down memory lane about the decades of waste and neglect that characterizes virtually all sectors of the Nigerian economy despite the abundance of natural resources. How can we call ourselves a rich country when we are yet to make anything of our potentials when compared to our contemporaries? While I support the strike in line with the right of an employee to decent wages and working conditions, the demands being put forward here may be impossible for the Federal Government to meet up with. About 68% of the national budget goes to recurrent expenditure while 32% goes to capital projects, about the same ratio for state budgets. With all sectors from health to education in dire need of funds, it will be a challenge to give in to ASUU’s demands.
The begging question is the way out of this recurring quagmire that does not seem likely to be going away in the next couple of years. This is no longer the 1960s when and where free education was the order of the day; the population has grown 3 times in size without parallel improvement in development.
The debate on university autonomy has been a bone of contention between ASUU and the Federal Government. Like those who think voting at the polls alone is the solution to democracy, university students are not left out in joining the call for university autonomy without careful consideration of the ramifications of such prayers if answered. University autonomy comes with a lot of responsibilities to be borne by the University but should not mean that the government must stop providing grants to academic institutions for teaching and research, seeing as our future is dependent on a foundation of quality education.
The European Universities Association’s position on university autonomy appeals to universal practice, universities should be granted not just organizational and academic autonomy but such a move must include financial components. In practice, the government provides a fixed grant and the universities have to find means of supplementing their budget through endowments and internally generated revenue. IGR depends on several factors, e.g. it will be easier for the University of Lagos to generate funds than it will be for the University of Maiduguri, in line with the economy of their respective states/location. Some would argue that location is not a barrier for IGR in this technology age, but it does not work that easily. With reference to the American University of Nigeria, Adamawa and location may not be considered a major determining factor because it is a private university that has the freedom to allow the tuition rate reflect existing demand and supply. With autonomy comes decentralization of wages and I do not expect Nigerian Universities will have a unified wage for academic staff on the same hierarchy. However this should not be exclusive of minimum wage for entry academic level across the country.
Private endowments are very rare in Nigeria universities. Rich citizens and corporate organizations are known for their endowments in political parties and promotional events to promote their business or political interests.
Should the universities be granted autonomy, they must be run like sustainable businesses. Have we considered the reason why an average Nigerian parent will not want to invest $4000 per annum at the University of Lagos but will easily part with same in a University in Poland or Malaysia? It is all about perception, qualitative education and the opportunities that exist in a conducive environment.
Tuition for a Business Management course at the University of Lagos is about $100 per session! No average primary or secondary school in Lagos would ever cost that little. Under the disguise of providing free education, we have built and come to accommodate a system of crappy education. If primary and secondary education must be provided for free, there must be a minimum standard. Is Nigeria able to adopt a free education system considering the depth of our debt and our dismal political system?
It is impossible to compare Nigeria with Nordic countries where education is free up to graduate level. The total population of the 7 Nordic countries is approximately 25.2 million which is less than the population of the 7 most populous states in Nigeria. With their sovereign wealth and steady rate of development over the last 3 decades, we pale in comparison.
Should Nigeria get it right, may we not find ourselves in the same predicament with Egypt, where University education is not free or cheap yet over 400,000 graduates per year continue to find it hard getting a decent job? Seeking for alternative solutions to the Nigerian educational system is long and overdue and it is high time we phase out the politically cheap taglines of free education at the tertiary level.
Are Nigerian students satisfied with the quality of education provided at the Universities? If no, are they willing to pay more to get more? Is the government willing to facilitate student loans for those who cannot afford the tuition? Who bears the burden, ASUU, the government or the students who mostly come from average to poor families?
Today the student loan debt in the United States stands at $1.2trillion. Are we willing as a nation to run our debts high for education to save our future? In my opinion, this may be a move that will be worth it in the long run.
In England where universities have their autonomy, this does not come without governmental support which is run through the Higher Education Funding Council for England, HEFCE, with a priority to invest government funds on behalf of the students and the wider public to promote opportunity, choice and excellence in higher education. For the 2013-2014 session, a total of 4.7billion Pounds will be allocated to 129 universities and higher education colleges spread out to cover areas such as teaching (£2.3 billion), research (£1.6 billion), knowledge exchange (£160 million), capital grants (£280 million) and special funding (£149 million).
A focused government will not leave its education sector entirely in the hands of the private sector even though it is unable to provide 100% funding. Every penny must be accounted for with clear provision and expectations, below is a sample quote from the HEFCE funding guide:
- In 2010-11 our recurrent grants to institutions are almost entirely allocated by formula according to our expectations of what each institution will need for various activities and the contribution that our fixed budget can make towards meeting those needs – alongside income from other sources, such as student tuition fees. This ensures we are fair, transparent and efficient. But we give the funding as a ‘block grant’, so institutions can target spending towards their own priorities. This means they can be autonomous and do not have the burden of accounting in detail for their expenditure.
- The block grant does not, however, come without strings attached. We have a Financial Memorandum which sets out the general requirements we make of institutions, and each year we issue a funding agreement that details further particular conditions. These include targets relating to student numbers. Accountability is in terms of what is delivered, by way of the numbers of students taught and audit outcomes and the quantity and quality of research.
Funding Universities must be tied to specifics. Above is a clear provision for university autonomy by a government grant agency with financial memorandum for accountability and delivery.
The UK government is not limited to just grants via HEFCE, it also facilitates student loans via its nonprofit making organization called Student Loans Company. When I come across Annual Report and Accounts of Universities i.e. University of Hertfordshire, I am compelled to agree with Feyi Fawehinmis’ opinion that ASUU and University administration have a long way to go in service delivery; none ( government or private universities) have a report on their activities and funding in public domain.
We have Nigerian universities with multi-million Naira entrance gates and palatial offices for the Vice Chancellors, yet the libraries and laboratories are empty with over cramped lecture facilities. Is this not a reflection of priorities? Are there any key performance indicators used to measure overall performance against student recruitment, management and financial inputs? Universities in the West declare profits year in year out with mega investment portfolios. Nigerian Universities must be encouraged to look in that direction.
The President in his September 2013 media chat questioned why Nigerian Universities want all properties transferred to the University management board. It is about time the government let go on this matter while putting in place policies to guide full University autonomy. Granting University autonomy while holding on to land, the main capital required to generate funds in some instances is rather tricky. As the Yorubas nicely put it: ‘why give a ram and hold on to the rope?’ About time it is done and responsibility shifts to the University Management Boards while government concentrates on more important issues at stake.
ASUU Strike is Political. Why are State and Federal Universities on Strike?
The President and the government as a whole, needs to put aside their victim mentality, come off its high horse and do what it is elected to do, run this country right. Propaganda & blackmailing will not solve the problems of ASUU, neither will just throwing funds at the Universities help, without a clear cut open and transparent process that is anchored on evidence-based interventions. I doubt if ASUU will not embark on the same strike regardless of which political party is in power at the centre. The government has 2 options; go to court or negotiate. ASUU is not made up of dumb entities who do not know their right from their left. * The President, a product of the same university system, should be in a better position to understand the disposition and stance of ASUU. He may also decide to meet with the leadership of ASUU if that will convey the importance this government places on education and the relevance of ASUU as a stakeholder.
The 36 states of Nigeria are not all run by the opposition parties, all public universities owned by the federal and state government are in tandem with ASUU strike, so we can logically dismiss the idea that the position of ASUU is aimed at discrediting the incumbent president or his political ruling party. If ASUU must make a sacrifice for the future of Nigeria via tertiary education, our elected political office holders must be seen to do same, walk the talk, stop the pretence and move swiftly to cut wasteful government spending.
How fair is it for the academia to continue to languish in a society where political office holders acquire wealth like mad men from God knows where. Our federal legislators have continued to shroud their humongous wages allowances in secrecy, the recent advocacy and match by young Nigerians under the guise of #OURNASS continues to ask for accountability from these over fed and pampered legislators who sometimes amuse us with exchange of blows in the parliament.
Regardless of the political parties, all are guilty when it comes to not cutting government spending to conform to our reality. Neither can President Jonathan openly declare his financial worth in comparison with his worth before entering the political space. The impunity in Nigeria is killing, all those who have the right and will to fight it, must not relent.
How do you expect a PhD holder earning less than $1300 monthly to survive in a city like Lagos where the cost of accommodation and healthcare is way beyond his reach? How do we expect that he can give his best alongside looking for alternative ways to supplement his income? The incentive to give his best is dead on arrival, save for his wish to be different. If we must sacrifice at all, for the sake of this Nation of ours, then let all, including the elected political office holders cut their pay and surrender to much needed changes.
Wages across universities must be decentralized to ensure sustainability based on economic indicators. The Government at federal and state level, must provide grants to universities within a structured transparent process, where the universities can plan ahead and justify their funding. Student bursary needs to be reviewed and possibly upgraded to student loans.
There is little the civil society can do than ask both parties to return to the negotiating table. The whole debate here is simply about financial allocation and who bears the brunt for outstanding costs in running the university. Who will bear the cost of providing qualitative education in Nigeria? At the end of the day, there must be a compromise on all sides. ASUU will have to return to work but not with the presently offered terms and conditions.
* I erroneously stated that President Jonathan was a former member of ASUU, correction has been made.