By Bello Yusuf Idi
The impacts of the changes in the global economic and political order on the higher education system have been raising debate all over the world as it led to the emergence of unpredictable challenges bedeviling the system.
These challenges were analyzed by the strategic planning experts using the SWOT analysis model where challenging factors were grouped into Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. According to the SWOT model, strengths and weaknesses are adjustable intrinsic factors. “Opportunities” are external factors that cannot be changed, but can be utilized to achieve greatness while “threats” are external factors that cannot also be changed, but can be avoided (akin to bypassing an immovable obstacle).
Reports of the analysis from various institutions show that reduction in government funding and proliferation of private for-profit universities are categorized as “threats” whereas responses to changing dynamics and instability in academic calendar are considered as “weaknesses”. Higher education institutions all over the world are bedeviled with a serious predicament of cuts in budgetary allocation.
However, many university authorities believed over-reliance on government funding or lobbying for an increase in government funds could lead to a trade-off between financial need and the institution’s autonomy. Many universities, therefore, consider this factor as a threat that could be bypassed by looking inward toward developing innovative alternative funding mechanisms, and strategic planning for effective and efficient unitization of scarce resources (human and material).
By this approach, public universities were fairly separated from governmental affairs even in countries where university education is 100% free. Hence no country on earth shut down its operation as a result of the cuts in government allocation experienced almost globally during the 2008/2009 global recession, and the Covid 19 lockdown.
For instance in Germany, the 4th largest economy and the only country among the top 10 economies that provide free university education, government funding is by far below the university budgetary requirement.
Alternative measures taken to bridge the funding gap include trimming the cost of administration and supporting services, scrapping sports programs (highly expensive in Europe), and curtailing enrolment using an alternative “dual model” program where vocational training is offered to the applicants in collaboration with corporate firm, which provides more employable alternative to youths applying for university education.
This maintains expenditure per student above a minimum level, which will otherwise result in a trade-off at the expense of quality and wages of the lecturers. Brazil provides free-tuition university education to its citizens for highly limited spaces, with an option of cost-sharing and student-financed programs for non-successful applicants.
In Saudi Arabia where “you can’t pay the king” is the slogan associated with the free university education, a new policy was introduced in 2016 under the vision 2030 strategic planning, to provide financial autonomy to the country’s universities.
The policy whose aim is to free the universities from the bureaucratic and limited government funding, allowed the universities to charge tuition and other services for postgraduates, diplomas, special training, consultancies and to make investments in companies as a means of developing alternative financial sources.
In the countries where tuition fees are charged (Southeast Asia, South Africa and most European countries), government grants to public universities range from 70% (Malaysia) to as low as 34% (University of Cape Town). The balances were generated internally through tuition, consultancies, philanthropies, investments, catering, museums, ICT services, etc. Prior to the 1976 education reforms, the few existing public universities in Nigeria were relatively more autonomous, while at the same time students enjoyed free university education provided by the governments (not the universities).
The universities charged tuition while regional and federal governments pay adequate scholarships to the students. Other services were sufficiently charged and adequately provided, leading to a conducive learning environment. Today’s lack of autonomy amid the autonomy act is one of the consequences of overdependence on government funds.
Other consequences include lack of labor discipline, encroachment of political office holders/politicians into the affairs of the universities which gives way to nepotism, bridges of ethical conduct and university regulations, and procurement malpractices. These are responsible for the culture of resource wastage, failed contracts and employment racketeering afflicting our universities today, and they do more harm than what IPPIS and lack of revitalization funds do.
It is on record that these vices are responsible for the deployment of IPPIS and GIFMIS payment gateways in public universities. Furthermore, today’s system of university administration is being revolutionized by the advances in information technology, leading to diverse modes of teaching and learning processes that ensure optimal utilization of resources. This poses a great challenge to the conventional and capital-intensive public university education system of this country.
Complicated by the proliferation of private universities in the country, most of which are based on partnerships between local investors and foreign experts and therefore technology-driven, the labor discipline and resource optimization is rapidly reducing the cost of higher education in the country.
This is manifested in the minimal impact of the Covid 19 lockdown on the academic calendars of these universities.
Hence private university proprietary is rapidly becoming the most profitable venture in the country. Although public educational institutes are not profitable ventures, there are good lessons for stakeholders in the Nigerian public universities to learn from the extinction of some state-owned monopolies such as NITEL, Nigeria Airways, etc. NITEL collapsed, despite the establishment of the MTEL, due to the inability of the firm to adjust to the tune of emerging realities, over-reliance on government funding and the “Nigerian factor”.
NITEL’s counterparts such as Saudi Arabia’s STC, Egypt’s Telecom, Sudan’s Sudatel, etc (also state-owned), undergo transformation similar to NITEL’s, and are now multinationals. Ironically Nigerians have never had improved communication services with wider coverage than now. The recently sighed Petroleum Industry Bill is meant to save the NNPC from the NITEL’s scenario after operating four refineries for more than four decades at a loss without the products.
The continuously-reducing operational cost of private universities is coming at a time when the public universities rigidly maintain the status quo of using strikes as a means of demanding more funding from the government, to operate the universities in the obsoletely high resource-demanding traditional model.
Consequently, many parents have for long realized that the unstable academic calendar occasioned by the time and material costs associated with public universities have by far outweighed the cost of tuition charged by the private universities. This fact is proven in action on the record-breaking maiden matriculation of Maryam Abacha American University in Kano.
The phenomenon is earlier predicted by Prof Abdalla Uba Adamu, a double Professor of Science Education and Media Communication, in a keynote address at the 2022 BUK International Science Conference. Envisaging the limiting case scenario of the incessant ASUU strikes, he opined that the surge in the number of registered private universities abetted by the strikes may break the monopoly of public universities to the extent that the strike will no longer be noticed.
This is certainly what Prof. Kemi Rotimi corroborated on the 26th April 2022 edition of the NTA Tuesday live where he declared that life will never come to a halt because of these boring and annoying strikes.In line with popular opinion, the government’s lackadaisical handling of the crisis in public universities could be bbu case, there is virtually nothing the union can do if a strike is the only
Bello Yusuf Idi, is a Professor of Physics, SLT, Moddibo Adama University, Yola.