BY ABU BILAAL ABDULRAZAQ BN BELLO BN OARE
It has become a norm that a student who is going to study a four-year course, for example, in a Nigerian university, knows that he should spend four years plus X, where X is a variable determined by the total duration of the ASUU strike within the stipulated period.
According to verifiable reports, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has spent a cumulative period of 49 months and two weeks boycotting classrooms between 1999 and present. That is to say, a total of four years and two weeks was lost due to a labor dispute between the professors and their employers, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in a short period of twenty-two years .
In the past five years alone, excluding the current year (2022), ASUU has spent a total of 395 days, more than a full calendar year, on strike. This represents one day in four over a period of 1,825 days. A number of interventions have been made by prominent well-meaning Nigerians, to find a lasting panacea to the recurring blackout in the university system, to no avail. Various high-level federal government negotiating teams, led by eggheads like famed board guru, Gamaliel Onosode, and legal luminary, Wale Babalakin, have negotiated and renegotiated different agreements and memorandums of understanding. with the ASUU, which are all gathering dust in some shelves right now. The reason is that a comprehensive package of welfare benefits for university professors that only exists in theory cannot solve the problem on the ground. The workability of appetizing wraps is where the challenge lies.
With the continued expansion of our universities in terms of numbers, and without commensurate growth in government revenue, it stands to reason that the Onosode Committee agreement is no longer fully enforceable, except that we choose to live in denial. . In the education sector alone, several sub-sectors are currently in intensive care units, gasping for government oxygen. In fact, within the university system in particular, SSANU and NASU have their plethora of unresolved issues. Expand the list to include other higher education institutions like polytechnics and colleges of education and you’ll find a litany of issues hovering around worker welfare and infrastructure development, all requiring financial intervention. colossal.
It is therefore obvious that the university system needs alternative funding, instead of depending entirely on the federal government. This need for alternative funding, which was first highlighted by the Gray Longe Commission established by President Ibrahim Babangida in 1990 to review post-independence Nigerian higher education after Lord Ashby’s 1959 Commission, has gave rise to programs like the ETF and TETFUND, which imposed a 2% tax on the taxable profits of all businesses in Nigeria, as a local solution to solve the problems of financing the rehabilitation of decaying infrastructure, restoring the lost glory of education and trust in the system as well as consolidating the gains, building the capacity of teachers and lecturers, etc.
However, the extent of the lack, underdevelopment and decay of our higher education institutions requires more than just token interventions. Building a block of Inns here, and a pair of Amphitheaters there will do little more than cosmetically dress up the problem at hand.
To begin with, ASUU demanded university autonomy. This was one of the strengths of their argument against the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). However, claiming university autonomy while living at the expense of the federal government raises a moral question, as it’s only natural that whoever pays the piper dictates the melody. If the university system is to be truly autonomous, it must be self-financing.
This is where the idea of concession comes in. Under concession agreements, the state delegates the right to provide a service to the private sector, while retaining some control over the sector by incorporating into a concession or license agreement the terms and conditions that will govern the infrastructure. , the project or the company. Nigeria currently has 43 federal universities and 48 public universities. Instead of suffocating under this bloated system that ends up producing unemployable graduates, the government can turn to the top six universities, one from each geopolitical zone, to appease ethnic and political beliefs, and evolve these six to the status of Ivory tower. A higher standard can be set for admitting students into these six specials to ensure that only the bright and intelligent are absorbed, and those successful students will benefit from government scholarships or scholarship allowances. Then the other schools can be concessioned in a well-thought-out public-private partnership where private investors run the system, generate their own funds without relying on state subsidies, while the state concentrates on a strictly regulatory role and provides an effective framework within which schools operate.
Such an outsourcing arrangement, among other things, will check the disappointing performance of sluggish university staff, lead to a drastic improvement in faculty welfare and throughput, improve investment in university education in both the big six and concessionary schools, and will deal adequately with the problem. incessant strikes by university professors. Just as strike action is non-existent in private universities in Nigeria today, so will be with public concession universities. It will be much easier and more convenient for the federal government to run six universities than the current forty-three, many of which are no better than glorified high schools.
Unfortunately, however, such an arrangement is expected to lead to an increase in the cost of university education, but this can be looked at in two ways.
First, quality education is not cheap anywhere in the world. You can’t compromise on quality and cost. It is better for students to pay realistic tuition fees and get value for money without unduly disrupting their academic schedule than to continue with the current system which is failing in all its ramifications. The desire to provide every Nigerian with access to education at all levels is laudable but unachievable given the current circumstances. Politicians only use it for campaigns to win votes.
Second, with the number of institutions scattered across the country, in a perfectly competitive market, the cost of university education will eventually come down to a reasonable level over time, if left to the private sector to manage and operate. .
Recall that since the introduction of private universities in Nigeria, the sector has already been somewhat deregulated. This, therefore, is only a call to expand deregulation to achieve greater private sector involvement and less government involvement.
Anyone who has visited Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja can easily tell the difference between Terminal 1 (MMA I), which is government operated and Terminal 2 (MMA II) which has been concessioned. MMA II facilities – including elevators/escalators, restrooms, air conditioners, scanners, etc. – are more functional and the personnel are more responsive to their tasks. That’s what the dealership does. Until we start looking in the same direction for our universities, we may never stop discussing the ASUU strikes.
Oare writes from Kaduna. He can be reached via [email protected] or on Twitter @Sahaabah01