By Ebele Orakpo
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been going on strike for a number of years over the same issue – government not honouring agreements reached with the union; yet, nothing seems to have changed. In this report, Vanguard Learning sought the opinions of some Nigerians on the way forward. Excerpts:
The respondents believe that as long as tuition in federal universities is free, the problem will continue.
Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Professor Boniface Egboka believes that tertiary education should not be free. “Tuition is free in federal universities in Nigeria and that is a problem because there is no free lunch in education,” he said, adding; “students are the future hope of their families and the nation, so they should be the centre of gravity of the university system and should not be made to suffer.”
Mr. Ajibola Olatoye, a polymer engineer, educator and Managing Director of Ibadan-based AugustMoon Plastics Ltd., said one of the reasons ASUU is on strike is because of the state of Nigeria’s education sector. “Educational standard has fallen much more than when I was in the university and this is the reason why ASUU is asking for government’s cooperation. I don’t know what ASUU can do to improve education standard without the cooperation of government. In other countries, government funds education massively. I know this in Japan and this is why it is one of the most literate nations today and it can be seen in their products.”
Olatoye suggested that ASUU should meet government half-way.
“The government might say ‘ok, let’s share the financial burden. Let the parents pay for accommodation and books and we will take up tuition.’ May be if it is done that way, they will meet mid-way. This is better than students and lecturers staying at home and government being unable to meet their demands 100 per cent,” he said.
On his part, Dr. Omadeli Boyo, Medical Director, Pinecrest Specialist Hospitals, Lagos and Senior Pastor, Chapel of His Presence, said both the Federal Government and ASUU have a part to play. He outlined a multi-pronged approach to the issue.
“ASUU is complaining that they are supposed to be paid allowances for marking, teaching and supervising more than acceptable number of courses and projects. They have been drawing government’s attention to outstanding allowances. I think that sometimes government signs agreements to get ASUU back to work; they are signed with the intention to break them as they are reached under duress,” said Boyo.
“Government has to learn to keep to bargains and meet up with their obligations; they should not wait to be reminded. ASUU has been drawing their attention to outstanding in terms of allowances. Again, instead of opening more universities, government should invest more in already existing universities and ensure they have enabling environment for academic pursuit. This includes ensuring that there are enough lecturers for students. Government is just interested in admitting students into the university and not asking themselves how many students a lecturer should handle. They should invest more in polytechnics and other specialised institutions; many more students deserve to go to vocational training institutes so that less pressure is placed on the university system.”
Checks and balances:
“The Federal Government must ensure that lecturers are appropriately monitored, ensure they get to work on time and have enough to do, not just saying they are overworked and they are not getting their allowances. There must be a system in place to assess what they are actually doing and then we will be able to know what constitutes excess work. If we cannot define what they are paid to do, how do we define when they are overworked?”
Taking a swipe at government, Boyo said; “Price of oil is dropping and the agreement cannot be met, according to government. If government says it is broke, people outside government cannot see signs of being broke because the convoys, jeeps etc, are increasing everyday, so people cannot come to terms with the fact that the government is broke. They believe there is money. During Obasanjo’s military regime, government cut down on ostentatious lifestyle and if people see such a thing happening now, the way government is being pruned, they will understand.”
Division of labour:
“We should revisit the issue of post-graduate universities; some universities should just face post-graduate studies and do more of research and training rather than lecturing undergraduates. In many modern universities, when students are very few in a department, you close down the department. When research and training are not going on in the university system, they close down any department that cannot attract funding for research to face mainly undergraduate studies. But what we have now is like they say, water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink. Now it is universities everywhere and no one is coming out with good degrees.”
“The lecturers should have a peer review mechanism in which the university system itself is able to assess lecturers and at the end of every semester, find out how many of these lecturers are really lecturing and what their workload is because some lecturers are overworked while some are just there doing nothing.
“Students complain that tutorials no longer hold. There used to be lectures and tutorials. You go for lectures and still have small group tutorials where graduate assistants and other lecturers go through the main lectures with you in different ways. In today’s lecture halls, you have thousands of students gathered for one lecture and they hardly hear the lecturer. Universities should also ensure that something like sexual harassment is curbed maximally.”
Instead of always going on strike; “ASUU should use internal mechanisms to ensure that government is reminded of these agreements and when the agreement is flouted, they should take pages in the newspapers and draw the attention of the media and the general public to how government is flouting the agreements. They could then appeal to the National Assembly’s Education committees, appeal to the president and after that, they could give an ultimatum and do warning strikes like two days without lectures. It could also include refusing to hold convocation,” he said, adding; “Most people will be more concerned about ASUU raising alarm that students are not taking their academics seriously, the standard of people coming in from secondary schools is dropping, that they cannot teach these people because they don’t understand English, rather than going on strike just over emoluments.”