Govt alone can’t fund education
Students loan scheme a necessity
Why ASUU should return to the negotiating table

By Mike Ebonugwo

THE on-going strike by the academic staff of public universities is obviously an indication that  the recurring face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and Federal Government is not likely to end any time soon. ASUU, through its national president, Abiodun Ogunyemi,  said it embarked on the strike, which has again thrown the Nigerian university system into another round of crisis, to protest poor funding of universities in the country and the refusal of government to honour an agreement it entered into with the union through the signing of a memorandum of understanding, MoU, in 2017.

Ogunyemi said the agreement as encapsulated in the MoU outlined ASUU’s proposal on how university education in Nigeria can best be funded, with specific demand for a N2 trillion annual funding for the sector.

But it is a demand the Federal Government considers unrealistic. And it is a sentiment shared by a team it inaugurated to negotiate with ASUU. The five-man Federal Government Negotiating Team has as its chairman, Dr. Olawale Babalakin, Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos. The other members of the team are: Prof. Olufemi Bamiro, Pro-Chancellor, Tai Solarin University of Education; Prof. Nimi Briggs, Pro-Chancellor Federal University Lokoja; Prof. Munzali Jubril, former executive secretary, National Universities Commission, now Pro-Chancellor Federal University Lafia and Lawrence Ngbale, Pro-Chancellor, Federal University Birnin Kebbi.

ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi

While efforts are on to resolve the contentious issues, a prevailing stalemate threatens the realisation of this as ASUU is presently not in dialogue with the government negotiating team, with its officials insisting that they will not call off the strike until all their demands are met.

But speaking with news men in Lagos last weekend, Dr. Babalakin, who is also the Chairman, Implementation Committee of Federal Government/ASUU,SSANU and NASU Implementation Committee,  appealed to ASUU to reconsider its stance and return to the negotiating table as “dialogue on the same table is the most effective way of resolving issues”. He did not stop there.

“Our position as a team is that, Nigerians deserve and should have quality education. This must not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding which has been the situation in the last 30 years. We also believe that no Nigerian should be deprived of university education because of his/her financial circumstance. This position is consistent with that of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Going by the figures provided by ASUU, Nigeria requires over N2 trillion per annum to fund university education. This figure exceeds in value the total amount of money available for all capital projects in Nigeria, including Health, Infrastructure, Security and others. No doubt that if the money were available for university education as ASUU has insisted it is, the government will have no difficulty in spending it on university education. However, as it is, government cannot ignore all other areas of expenditure that require funding.”

Speaking further, he said:  “The team is determined to avoid the pitfalls of previous negotiations which had on certain occasions left loose ends that have become the basis for future crisis. What we’re keen upon to achieve is that the educational system is sustainable, robust, the funds are available and not subject to the vagaries of the Nigerian economy. This is how we can create the kind of educational system we require in Nigeria”.

Faulting the basis of ASUU’s current demand with regards to university funding, he said: “For the past 20 years, ASUU has gone round Nigeria stating that UNESCO has prescribed 26% of the national budget for education for all developing countries. When this suggestion was made to us by ASUU, we said good idea, but we want a backup documentation from UNESCO or any other body. Till date nobody has presented any document to back it. That’s why in our response, we insisted on verifiable figures. Let’s talk like intellectuals, bring the figure out and a document to support the figure.

“That is not the only anomaly. Our position is that we should not be fixated about percentage. We should have a need-based budgeting. What does this means? It means that if a peculiar university requires a particular amount of money we should work towards getting that amount of money rather than coming with generalisation that allocate percentage. So, our position is that there must be need-based budgeting.

“The third aspect, in our view, puts a big question mark on ASUU’s suggestion. In a developing economy where the budget fluctuates  massively, if you are tied to a percentage,   what happens when the budget shrinks? Will you immediately shrink your expenditure? Will you immediately shrink the plan you have for the university because the national budget has shrunk? To justify our position just compare the budget of 2018 to the proposed budget of 2019. In 2018, the budget was about N9 trillion; government has now said the proposed budget for 2019 would be about N8.9 trillion. So, if you have been fixated about percentage, over night the budget for education would have been reduced….. So that is not a proper way to plan for an enduring system that we want to grow to an international standard.

“Is N2 trillion too much for the   university system? Not at all. But it must be available. Our position is simple: there must be no compromise about funding education. But let us look at the current budget. If you look at the breakdown of the budget, after debt services is removed, you remove recurrent expenditure. All that is left for the Federal Government is about N 2 trillion. Last year, the former Minister of Finance celebrated that in 2017 we spent N1.5 trillion on capital projects…, which was the highest we have ever achieved in Nigeria. So that was what was a available and disposable.”

The proposed way forward

In proposing the way forward, Babalakin had started off by asking thus: “With the substantial shortfall in the funding of university    education, how and where can we access the desired funding to provide a good educational system? Should the Federal Government make available the sum of    N1 trillion every year to fund university education which    is equal to 70% of the total capital releases for 2017 which    was N1.3billion? In our opinion, this is not realistic in a country that has other competing needs such as   infrastructure, defence, security, health    and other needs that require Government’s urgent attention.    Academic Staff Union    of Nigerian Universities, ASUU however believes otherwise.

“In our view, the Federal Government should provide    enough funds for the education system in      sustainable    manner. We cannot continue to subject the funding of the    university    system to the vagaries of the availability    of government resources and swinging political    dispositions of political office holders.”

Current funding of the university system

The first step, according to him, is that: “We should appropriately define the funding provided by the Government. We should situate it in the context of the overall cost of providing   proper university education.” Citing the University of Lagos as an example, he said apart from personnel and capital projects cost, it requires about N50 billion to achieve full accreditation of its course. He added that the Federal Government is responsible for 22.5% of its overall educational cost. In other words, it has provided scholarships or sponsorships for 22.5% of the student population, that is 12,500    students out of a total population 50,000 students.

“Defining Government’s funding in this manner will enable the Government to appreciate the level of    shortfall in the funding of university education and thus provide the information that will guide Government in making an informed decision on how much it intends to    invest    in the university system.

“It is our position that Government should immediately increase the number of scholarships provided for every    Federal University from 22.5% to 30 % of the    student    population of the university. Once again, using University of Lagos as an example, this will    mean    an   additional 7.25%   to the existing 22.5% already    provided by Federal Government. In other words, Federal    Government   will provide    scholarships    to an    additional 3625 students of that    university.

“This will immediately add another N3.6 billion per annum  to the annual revenue of the university. This money    should, however, not be seen as a    bonanza. It is    proposed that this additional funding    ought to be  tied to    the achievement    of certain    milestones    or Key    Performance    Indicators    that    would be    measureable    and    show    clearly if the    recipient    university is    producing    the quality    graduates    expected from    it. At    this stage,    Government    would have    increased its    funding of    the    university system    substantially,    however    with a    qualification that    this increase is    purposeful    and for a defined    purpose which is    measurable.    It is not a largesse.

“Every university will now have the resources it requires to    position itself as one    of    the leading Universities in the    world within the next ten years of the    operation of this    system. 9.1.    From this matrix, we still have 70% of the students population    to provide for,    that    is, students that are not covered by the    scholarships / sponsorships    of the Federal Government,” he said.    Funding for this must be made available if we are    going    to turn around the University System.

“Our position is that every student who gains admission    to a    university and is    not able to qualify on merit for the    Federal Government’s scholarship    should    be entitled   as    of right to obtain a loan from the Education Bank. A loan    of    N1million    per annum would be made available to each of such    students.    N700,000 (seven hundred thousand naira) out    of this loan

“The loan from the Education Bank is a    right for all    those who are qualified and who apply for it. It will    be    provided at an    interest rate of no more    that    5% per annum to    enable the Bank    cover the    cost of administering    the loan. The loan will be   structured in a manner    that   the    student borrower will not expend    more that 10% of    his income in repaying    the loan over a given    period”.

 Effect of the proposal

Babalakin said once the loan scheme is operational: “Every university will now have the resources it    requires to position itself as one of the leading    universities in the world within the next ten years of    the operation of this system.  It will create an immediate boost to the funding of    the educational system. It will create a cash flow that is ring fenced against    the vagaries of the economy and will save the    funding of education from the changing political    mood of a ruling party”.

 Funding not the only problem of university system

In his informed view: “Most of the previous negotiations have proceeded    on the basis that the critical problem of university    education is funding. While we admit that funding is    a very serious problem, we are unable   to concede    to the proposition that increase in funding will    necessarily increase the productivity of the    universities. In our view if we increase funding    without adjusting the structural defects in the    system, we will not have an enduring solution to the    problems of university education in Nigeria. The list    of issues to be addressed are quite extensive,    however we will seek to identify the most salient    ones.

No to universities as large bureaucracies

“Universities must run as institutions designed to    promote scholarship in an intellectually competitive    environment and not a bureaucracy. Outstanding    performance must be rewarded appropriately by    various university councils.

“The university leadership must have the capacity for    original thinking.   University Councils must be

constituted in a manner that Councils can provide    the    leadership it requires. In present day Nigeria,   Universities must be led by persons who have a    serious commitment to the university system and not    those who are mainly representatives of the ruling    party.

Real federal universities

“In addition, the leadership of the Federal Universities    should reflect the geographical diversity of Nigeria. Our position is that out of the five    principal   officers of the university who occupy the positions of Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice    Chancellor, Registrar, Bursar and Librarian, not more    than three of these positions should be held by    persons from the same geographic zone.

Supervision of federal universities

“The university educational system must be    supervised in    a    harmonious manner    without    compromising its self    regulation.    The idea of    certain universities being supervised    by other ministries   such as   the Ministry of    Agriculture and    the    Ministry of Science and    Technology and    Ministry of    Health is not    appropriate. Whatever    contributions    those    ministries want to make should    be routed through    the    Ministry of Education in    order to    achieve a centrally coordinated        supervision of the    university education    system.”

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