Will allowing the price mechanism to drive the public university system in Nigeria solve the relentless ASUU strike?

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“Higher education and huge numbers are contradictory to begin with… What is causing the decline of German culture? The fact that higher education is no longer a prerogative, the democratism of a culture that has become commonplace. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols.

Bowen University, a private university in Nigeria, recently came under social media attack on Twitter after the private university posted a controversial post on the social media platform that allegedly mocks students at public universities who were forced to stay. home since February due to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike when these students are expected to be in class or have completed a semester like some of their private university counterparts.

The post which consisted of a photo of a group of graduate students from Bowen University with the caption, “this is what the end of four years in a calendar year four at Nigerian university looks like…you should be here” was bitterly criticized by the Nigerian. young people who thought the University was unnecessarily insensitive to the plight and emotional state of students in public universities.

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However, some other people think there is nothing politically incorrect or morally wrong about the message; they argue that the position that is characteristic of competitive marketing communications only presents the unique selling point of the university and offers alternatives for those who care to listen or who can afford the value offered by the university .

It has been over six months since public universities in Nigeria were closed due to the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and millions of Nigerian students in public universities have shown their disappointment with to the system that has denied them the right to learn and meaningfully engage when they are expected to be in the classroom.

The current ASUU strike wave began on February 14, 2022 just after the completion of the first academic session following the previous strike wave in the year 2020 which also lasted over 6 months. Since 2007, public universities in Nigeria have been shut down intermittently for over 146 weeks due to the ASUU strike which has become an ongoing issue in the country.

The issue of the ASUU strike has become synonymous with culture in Nigerian public universities, and this has the effect of a popular joke that if, for example, you are taking a 4-year course in a Nigerian public university, you must get ready to graduate in 5 or 6 years or even worse if you are studying medicine which is a 7 year program you should expect to graduate in about 10 years after taking into account the strike of l ‘ASUU and other internal disruptions that lead to a postponement of the academic calendar.

The recurrence of the ASUU strike and its disruptive effect on the college calendar not only frustrates the dreams and aspirations of many students who are expected to be in the workforce at a certain age in order to have a good chance of get quality jobs that match their qualifications; it also contributes to the pressure and backlog of unemployed graduates in the labor market each year.

The average age for getting an entry-level or graduate trainee job in Nigeria is 24 years old. And while it is not uncommon to hear labor employers making remarks such as “Nigerian graduates are unemployable”, it is perhaps also relevant to consider the possibility that a quarter or half of these so-called unemployable graduates are those who are easily eliminated. age due to a delayed school calendar and extended years of study at university.

In a highly digital economy that requires fast thinkers and doers who can innovate or improvise quickly to keep up with the current market order, Nigerian public universities, which are supposed to be places where industry leaders are fed and shaped, are characterized by slow school schedule and very mechanical models.

Thus, overtime labor employers across industries have preferred to base the employability of graduates on the strength of their extracurricular experiences, including community service, internships, and volunteering, rather than on the strength of their academic grades. The problem of disconnection from the city or the disconnect between industry and academia has raised more political quick fixes than long-term management-based ones, which has exacerbated the problem rather than detracting from it. nip in the bud.

Since the founding of the ASUU in 1978, the Union has been conditioned to view industrial action as the best language or mechanism to pressure the federal government into aspiring to its demands which often include, but without s limited to, issues such as salaries and college welfare conditions. staff members, infrastructure of public universities and policies centered on university education, etc.

However, recently the ASUU has been more agitated than ever, accusing the government of being dishonest and lacking the political will to position Nigerian university education to compete globally, especially as the government has not yet repaired the memorandum of understanding concluded with the Union since 2009.

The federal government, on the other hand, has accused ASUU of being unrealistic in its demands and insensitive to the country’s current economic realities. Thus, the standoff between the Union and the government has been on a merry-go-round, and efforts to resolve it have resulted in deadlock upon deadlock.

While Nigerians continue to hope for a permanent solution to this incessant strike which is not only disrupting academic activities but also indirectly affecting the country’s economy, unfortunately, the best solution available seems to be the worst and most unlikely option conceivable. In a mixed economy such as Nigeria, when the government mechanism fails to achieve its intended purpose, the reasonable alternative is to allow the price mechanism to assist or correct the imperfection of the former.

Currently, in Nigeria, the supply of labor far exceeds the demand for labor, implying that the cost of producing graduates is increasing while there is no corresponding increase taxpayers’ money that is used to subsidize education in public universities. Therefore, the most logical thing to do is to reduce the costs of production, which in this case suggests that the federal government should reduce the amount of subsidies intended to finance university education or higher education in general. .

According to the Secretary General of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Prof. Yakub Aboki Ochefu, during an interview with TVC Break fast show on Friday August 12, the cost of training an average student per year in science, Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities from 100 level to 400 level is between 2 and 3 million naira, while a medical student will need 3 to 5 million naira. In federally owned public universities, the federal government provides 95% of the cost while the remaining 5% comes from usage/maintenance fees that are often incurred by the parents or guardians of the students.

Analyzing the numbers, one does not need any divine revelation to understand that the current situation is not statically feasible, especially in an economy with an unemployment rate of up to 33% and an unemployment rate of young by 53.40%. This way, the government and ASUU can work together to re-examine and restructure the education grant program based on current realities in the country.

Although the grant for university education may be abolished or, better still, reduced temporarily, the social cost of reducing the grant must be compensated by increasing scholarships, scholarships, assistantships and loan facilities. to qualified or deserving students. The federal government, in partnership with relevant agencies, should develop a sustainable structure to achieve this. This will not only prevent waste in public universities, but also promote inclusiveness and improve merit and efficiency.

Another way for the government to reduce costs while achieving efficiency in public universities is to encourage investment in these institutions by interested individuals, businesses, non-governmental or non-profit organizations and especially former university students. This will bolster internal ingenuity and foster the Town-Gown relationship which has long been threatened and now nearly extinct in the country.

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