.government said that the country does not have enough universities to accommodate the teeming population of youths desirous for university education

Experts want fees increased, more IGR, administration cost reduced, education budget raised

By Ebele Orakpo

University students have been at home for over seven months now and just last Monday, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU which has been having a running battle with the Federal Government decided the strike will go on indefinitely. Some are calling for the head of ASUU while others say they are fighting a just cause but who suffers? The students of course!

To permanently put a stop to this fight between two elephants while the grass suffers, some stakeholders have harped on the need for school fees to be increased as they argue that the current fees are not sustainable. On the other hand, some say that raising school fees is not the solution because that would cause many students to drop out of school as their poorly paid parents can ill afford the current school fees so what happens when the fees are increased? They say rather than increasing school fees, universities should be more creative in generating funds internally.

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In this report, Saturday Vanguard takes a holistic look at Nigeria’s tertiary education sector and sought the views of experts and parents on ways to solve the problem of funding public universities as Prof. Tukur Sa’ad rightly said that funds are the magic wand that drives the university system. The respondents identified corruption, low fees, lack of creativity, poor administration, low use of technology etc., as some of the issues bedeviling the universities. Excerpt:

ASUU’s grouse

ASUU’s grouse include FG’s failure to sign the 2009 renegotiated FGN/ASUU Agreement; implement the Memorandum of Action, MoA signed with the Union on December 23, 2020; and replace the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS platform with University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS and non-payment of arrears of minimum wage.

Speaking while calling for an indefinite strike, ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke said: “… none of the issues that forced our Union to resume the suspended strike as listed in the December 2020 FGN-ASUU MoA has been satisfactorily addressed by the Government to date.

The draft renegotiated FGN-ASUU Agreement (second draft) remains unsigned; the UTAS has not been adopted and deployed to replace the discredited IPPIS; and the White Papers on Visitation Panels to Federal Universities, if ready as claimed by Government more than six months ago, are nowhere to be found.

“Similarly, Government has not delivered on the promised balance of one tranche of the Revitalization Fund more than one year after, the outstanding two tranches of the Earned Academic Allowances, EAA have not been released; and nothing has since happened on the promised support for amendment to the Law of the National Universities Commission, NUC.”

No funds

The FG’s defense has always been paucity of funds. Meanwhile, in December 2021, while presenting a paper at the First Distinguished Parliamentarians Lecture Series organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan had said that a Senator earns N1.5 million monthly while a House of Reps member earns N1.3 million apart from about N13m and N8m quarterly office-running cost for a Senator and House of Reps member respectively.

This lends credence to the view of Prof. Hamman Tukur Sa’ad, former Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna who said that when the FG says it has no money, “we know they mean Education is not their priority. For areas that they have prioritised like estacode for foreign travel, or constituency allowances and bullet proof vehicles, there will always be funds. They would even take foreign loans to service these areas.”

It is said that a problem shared is half solved. The ASUU-FG imbroglio has been on for years and stakeholders want it to end for good.

Way Forward

Increase tuition

All the respondents agree on the need to increase school fees and other fees as public university students pay next to nothing. Dr. Taofeek Akinola of the University of Ibadan said there’s a need to at least “triple the tuition paid at federal universities from the present N26,000/N50,000 per year to about N80,000/N150,000. Truth is, over 60% of newly admitted undergraduates attended private secondary schools with tuition averaging N120,000 per year. As such, more than half of the parents can pay N100,000 per annum.”

An ex-student of Imo State University who pleaded anonymity said the authorities wanted to increase tuition fees in 2020. Indigenes were paying N29, 500 and they wanted to increase it to N90,000 while non-indigenes were paying close to N190,000 but later on, they backpedalled and asked indigenes to pay N31,500 while non-indigenes now pay close to N150,000-N160,000 depending on the course.

On what it actually costs to give a student a world-class university education, Dr Margee Ensign, former VC of the American University of Nigeria for eight years said: “The actual fees they pay for tuition, depending on the credit hours and course of study, is much less than the estimate of N10 million it costs to provide them with the world-class education we offer.”

Prof. MacDonald Idu of the University of Benin said that those against raising the fees are not being realistic. “I was the VC of a university and I know that to run a university is capital-intensive. The FG should support education and allow students to pay some reasonable amount as fees. Right now, some pay about N25-N30,000 while year one students pay more, sometimes over N100,000.) Many of these students come from secondary schools where parents paid up to N500,000 per term and these are the ones that shout the most about cost of tertiary education; it’s like they want tertiary education to be a social service.”

On his part, Prof. Uche Amalu of the University of Calabar agrees that students pay ridiculously low fees and so, should be increased by an acceptable percentage, say 300 per cent.

Prof. Saád said there’s need for user contribution, “call it fees, charges, levies or whatever. Students whose parents cannot afford it should take loan from Education Bank and pay back when they start work.”

Dr Niyi Sunmonu, National Coordinator, Congress of University Academics, CONUA, asked the unions, especially the academic staff, to let the public know how much it takes to train a student throughout his course period. Then it will be clear whether to raise the tuition fee or reduce it or even cancel it completely. He noted that “university workers are poorly paid and they have remained stagnant on the same salary since 2009. Government should call a meeting of all stakeholders and put all the cards on the table. Let everybody know how much is generated and how much is spent and also block all leakages.”

In the same vein, the Founder/President, Morgan Smart Development Foundation, Dr Evelyn Urhobo stated that universities must come up with realistic costing of what the students must pay to obtain qualitative education. Look at the private universities, it’s almost a scandal in terms of what they charge as fees, but parents still look for money to send their children to these schools.”

Mr. Benard Njoku, a parent and CEO of Mematich Chemicals Ltd, noted that government has failed in funding of tertiary institutions “so relying on them further, will slow down the pace of these students.” He believes that if parents see that increasing school fees by a reasonable percentage will impact their children positively, they may decide to pay in order to help their children go back to school and graduate on time.”

While urging the FG to wake up to its responsibilities, Urhobo said universities must look for additional sources of funding. “Increasing school fees is a very dicey issue because I know some universities in the past that got into trouble because they increased their fees but that is an option that should be explored.” She advocated that first generation universities by now should be functioning as Ivy League universities and should increase their fees so that only the best are admitted. The universities themselves should also make the services rendered commensurate to the fees charged.”

University Autonomy

This brings us to the question of autonomy. Do federal universities have autonomy? Without autonomy, they will continue to be at the mercy of the FG, tied to their apron strings.

Although Profs. Idu and Sa’ad answered in the affirmative; they differ on the level of autonomy.

Said Idu: “The universities have some level of liberty but not organised liberty. “For instance, a university’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, with a well equipped laboratory can do drug packaging for people for a fee; it’s part of drug development. A few years ago, I asked the university to see if they can create a space for me to use as herbal clinic, people would come and be treated and pay to the university.”

Prof. Sa’ad said that federal universities have autonomy courtesy of the University Autonomy Bill, UAB. “I have been a vice-chancellor in a federal university and made full use of this autonomy to run the institution and I was successful in so doing. Universities are more autonomous now than they had been when I was a VC (2002 – 2007). The University Autonomy Bill that the unions were able to get through NASS had wrested a lot of power from the FG and handed it to the university Councils, Vice-Chancellors and Unions.

Former President Obasanjo would testify to that because even though the Bill was passed in 2003 at the end of his first term, when he learnt that what he was signing was not the Bill NUC and Ministry of Education drafted but what ASUU was able to doctor and squeeze through NASS, he never released the Bill throughout his tenure.

Lack of courage

Prof. Sa’ad said the problem may have to do with government not wanting to be blamed “for taking drastic action that could help the system, like introducing fees. Councils and VCs also don’t want to take the blame or face crises that would ensue on taking such measures.

In other words, both parties lack the courage. The third party, ASUU, on the other hand, lives in the world of the 1960s and 1970s of approaching every problem through the lenses of obsolete Marxist doctrine and jargon.

“What I see is that most people in Nigeria like privileges of power but don’t like the responsibilities that go with it. Vice-Chancellors like the consolidated salaries they now take. (In our days, VC’s salary was two steps ahead of the terminal salary of a Professor. In fact, a Veterinary Professor earned more than his VC.) Nevertheless, VCs, through their CVC, never confront government over the issues that unions are going on strike about. They let ASUU do the talking and struggling, as it were.

“Government on its part, through the ministers, don’t seem to respect the Autonomy bill. This bill actually distanced them from the nitty-gritty of what goes on in the university. But ministers want to feel big by trying to consume menus that are not on their tables at all. ASUU, on the other hand, feel big when they confront the Big Brother – Government.

“Minister of Education or Labour has no business negotiating with university unions, in my little understanding of the university laws. I believe I do understand the laws of the universities where I taught such as ABU, or which I managed like FUTMIN, or where I participated in visitation panels such as UNIBEN and UNILAG. None of these laws lumps university employees with civil servants. So when ASUU refused to be on IPPIS, they are partially right.

I said partially because both ASUU and VCs seem to be opportunistic over such issues. When government circulars benefit them, they just pick it up and implement.

They don’t even take such circulars to Council to be domesticated. Chairmen of Councils being government appointees, believe that government circulars are above university laws, which is not the case,” stated Prof. Sa’ad.

He advised university Councils to take their autonomy serious by working in accordance with the University Laws not jumping at every Government circular and trying to implement it in their universities. “I am very sure few Chairmen of Council know that for them to go by these civil service circulars, there is a long process that includes incorporating some of such in their statutes. Congregation, Senate and Council will be involved in such endeavour.

But since we are running a lawless society, everybody who feels powerful enough can issue a circular and insist that every organisation that has something to do with government should comply.”

Fund generation shouldn’t be emphasised

On the issue of universities raising money to fund the institutions, Prof. Umolu said that it is so bad in the USA now that “promotion of lecturers is not just based on publications but on how much funding a lecturer has brought into the university.”

Prof. Saád, however, is not favourably disposed to lecturers putting their energy into sourcing for funds to run the universities as according to him, their primary duty of teaching students and research suffer a lot. “Universities are rendering essential services to the community and should not be saddled with the responsibility of generating funds in order to render these services. There is also a tendency to commercialise certificates when the fund generation functions are emphasised.”

Commercialise

Research work

It is a fact that most research works in the varsities end up on the shelves when they should be income sources for universities. The universities should be more creative. Said Prof. Idu: “So many viable research works are on the shelves; let there be grants to commercialise them. Students of a South Korean university manufactured solar panels, commercialised them and the university generates money from there. Year after year, many research works are carried out in our universities but they are not commercialized so that could be a very effective way of generating funds.

I wrote a paper entitled: Evaluating the IGR of Tertiary Institutions; we don’t have to shy away from doing business; we have the manpower to generate money for the university.”

Idu blamed the curriculum for over-reliance on theoretical aspects of learning saying: “Theory is not helping the university system, it’s a big problem, so let’s begin to go practical. Dr Akinwumi Adesina, CEO of African Development Bank was talking about Agribusiness and we were talking about Botabusiness in my own department so that we can commercialise some products and make money. Our curriculum is not tailoring the minds of students towards entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship has been taken as an academic venture instead of a practical venture so they only read to pass.”

Perhaps, Nigerian universities should borrow a leaf from the Koreans. Last year, the VC of the University of Benin, Prof. Lilian Salami told journalists that they spend N60 million from their IGR on electricity monthly and the students were to pay extra N20,000 to keep enjoying basic amenities. Is it not possible for the students in the relevant fields to solve the problem of power in the institution, commercialise it and make money?

University campuses should be solution grounds. Staff and students should seek out the problems in their communities and proffer solutions to make life easier for the people while making money at the same time.

Grants/Scholarships/TET

Dr. Ensign said that apart from tuition, universities have numerous ways to generate revenue. These include “generating funds for research and development from international organisations, grants for projects from international organisations and international donors, and donations from alumni and others.

AUN offers Nigerian parents the very best at 1/5 of what they would pay in the US. The poor are taken care of through full scholarships. Our Financial Aid Program is designed to assist qualified but indigent students. We use our own funds for many full scholarships every year.”

On her part, Prof. Joanne Umolu, formerly of the University of Jos and Director, Open Doors for Special Learners, Jos, advised students to explore the scholarship option from different sources. She noted that even in the US now, fees have gone sky high. “That is why there is the need for funding of scholarships from the private sector so children of low income families can still enrol.”

Amalu called on the FG to increase the percentage of Tertiary Education Tax currently paid by companies and conglomerates in Nigeria, may be by 100 per cent.” (From 2.5% to 5%).

Akinola agrees with Amalu, saying that the “Tertiary Education Tax should be doubled, education budget raised, lecturers’ pay tripled, and loans for indigent students created.

Corruption

You don’t necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. Politicians who value their pockets than the life of citizens always do that every day. – Israelmore Ayivor, inspirational writer, blogger and speaker.

For Dr David Macrae, former Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the EU to Nigeria, Nigeria’s greatest problem is Corruption which must be dealt with in order to get things right. He noted that the country must completely reorder its priorities if it is to move forward.

Citing the example of Rwanda where he worked as the Chancellor of the University of Kigali for five years, the former University of Leeds lecturer said: “How is it possible for a poor country like Rwanda to provide free education (paid from the budget) and free medical care to all Rwandans? Rwanda has no oil wealth like Nigeria; nothing in the way of natural resources to compare to Nigeria.

It relies on taxation and the hard work of its people, modest salaries to those in the public sector and sizeable aid transfers plus, importantly, Zero-Tolerance of Corruption. He said that Nigeria has squandered its chances and hopes it gets back on track as quickly as possible.

Nigerian universities can’t boast of spending their allocations judiciously. Corruption is high and internally generated revenues are squandered with impunity. Corruption is a major factor holding Nigerian universities down.

In his contribution, Mr. Reinhold Wolf, a German IT expert conversant with Germany’s education system said most German universities and schools are free because Germany has a working system. “Everyone has to pay taxes and from this, everything is taken care of – roads, education and the poor.

The private schools are very expensive; most schools are government schools. You can’t compare the two systems. Actually, I gave up hope for countries like Nigeria where corruption is rife,” he said, adding: “Cost of living is quite high here because of the taxes but the system is organised and we all get some benefits from it.”

Sharing his experience as a VC, Sa’ad said: “When I took over as VC in FUTMIN, I found a situation where many people were trooping in from Abuja to take certificate and diploma courses in computer science. They were very popular with bankers and civil servants. I examined the contents of the courses and the arrangement under which these courses were taken.

I realised that the certificates and diplomas were not Senate certificates because the courses were done under Consultancy Services. They made money, but I scrapped the courses and asked the relevant departments to mount Senate-approved courses that we can stand by. We lost candidates but in the long run, we had more credible qualifications to offer candidates.

“Whenever I read the clauses of the laws of any of our federal universities, I wonder why Councils, ASUU and VCs are bothering government over things that are within their domain of control.

“The most coveted position in most universities is that of the MD or Director of University Ventures, which generates lots of money. Such ventures under the chairmanship of vice-chancellors are usually registered as limited liability companies. They do generate funds but, if what I saw in one of the universities is the norm, then there is a lot of hanky-panky going on in these companies,” said Sa’ad, adding that Councils should take their responsibility serious by operating in accordance with their laws not with the inauguration lecture given to them by NUC or the Minister. Most of them don’t know the laws. They don’t even know that these laws vary from one university to another.

“Vice-Chancellors should operate within the laws also. A situation where CVC resolve to adopt the Bureau of Public Procurement laws which render all the procedures outlined in a university’s laws useless and hands over power to Procurement officer working with VC who appoints members of Procurement Committee, is a rape of the university system and its autonomy,” advised Prof. Sa’ad, adding: “My philosophy had been and still is that beneficiaries of university education should contribute financially in improving the conditions of both staff and facilities.”

A former student of one of the state universities said that universities actually make money but are expected to pay a certain percentage to government from where the government gives them subventions.

Leveraging technology

Ensign believes that although quality education is not cheap, but using technology will go a long way to make it available and affordable to all. “Technology of all types – including smart phones – has to be used more widely in Nigeria for education. We showed how it could be done with the poorest member of the population with our TELA project, Technology Enhanced Learning for All, that taught thousands of young out-of school-children how to read,” she said.

Mr. Amed Demirhan, GM/Director, Barzani National Memorial & Project Co-Director, Digitalizing the Kurdish Heritage Institute, Kurdistan, on his part said that to reduce the cost of education, it is imperative to transform it to electronic environment.

“The electronic revolution creates a great opportunity for developing countries to become advanced countries. I call it Electronic (E) and Mobile (M) thinking in decision-making process for transformation. It means in any decision-making in this regards, we have to explore opportunities of E & M first. The change must start from curriculum because the whole university is organised around curriculum.”

He advised universities to avail themselves of the abundant learning resources like open access learning resources and the Internet.

“These changes will provide enormous opportunities to access millions of open access, learning resources from textbooks, library, laboratory resources, academic journals, videos, and more.”

He said the Directory of Open Access Journals, DOAJ, as of December 21, 2019, has 14,099 Journals – 11,146 searchable at Article level, from 130 countries 4,509,568 articles. “Students will have access to millions of free resources for their education.”

Recommended staff to student ratio is 1:15 but Nigeria has an average of 1:103 in public universities. Compare that with Harvard 1:4; MIT 1:9; Yale 1:4 and Cambridge 1:3. But with the use of technology, this gap can be bridged.

Efficient administration

Continuing, Demirhan said there must be efficient administration to ensure all components of education are coordinated and cooperate with each other for the success of students.

“In short, school administration will save money while increasing resources and the quality of education.

Cut governance cost, raise Education Budget

Some of the respondents noted that the problem is not lack of funds as government wants us to believe, but that of high cost of governance and inefficient administration of the sector.

Prof. Sa’ad pointed out that there are many reports of missing billions of naira from the treasuries, both at the federal and state levels. Can something miss from nothing? So that claim doesn’t hold water.”

Prof. Idu believes that one of the major problems facing the universities, like all other government establishments, is heavy wage bill. “The university wage bill is on the high side. There are too many leakages in the system. The non-teaching staff, to a large extent, is one area draining the finances of the university so it should be looked into. Let us call for an emergency in the education sector and except we do that, this strike will continue.”

It was reported that there are 77,511 full-time non-teaching (supporting) staff in Nigeria’s public universities and only 37,504 academic staff.

Dr. Ensign harped on the need for the FG to increase its overall spending on education. “Education is the foundation of a society. In 2019, the expenditure on education in Nigeria was about 7 per cent of the total federal budget. With a population doubling about every 28 years, this figure is simply not sufficient.”

Dr Urhobo regretted that the FG has been insincere in its approach to funding education because it does not see education as the key to development. Looking at the budget over the years, allocation to education comes a distant 3rd, 4th or 5th in priority instead of being the top priority of govt.”

“Annual budgetary allocation should move from the current less than 5 per cent to 20 per cent with the ultimate target at the UN acceptable 25 per cent,” said Amalu. He advised government to cut down drastically on cost of governance so as to meet its statutory obligations to education at all levels.

Varsities-SMEs collaboration

The need to bridge the gap between town and gown cannot be overemphasized. Institutions get better results when they work in synergy. “Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, should give grants to faculties; ask them to develop products from their research works like brake pads.

 They can build cottage industries in the universities and students can benefit from that.

Students could create software, use their imaginations to do things that can be commercialised. No law stops us from achieving anything these days because we have to look for money and IGR is the way out,” Idu stated. He, however, noted that some of his “colleagues in the higher administrative circle don’t want to explore the opportunities.

They are all looking for money from government, but if they are able to articulate programs that would yield good money, I believe we will get through this phase. It is doable.”

“Universities in Germany sometimes work together with companies to find jobs for students and on the other hand, to get some benefits for the companies, like know-how and good students in the future,” said Wolf.

Alternatives to university

Return the technical colleges:

Indeed, not everyone can afford university education and not everyone is meant to acquire university education. Variety, they say, is the spice of life. Imagine if the entire body is made up of eyes! The world would be a terrible place to live in but the body has ears, nose, mouth, feet, hands etc, each playing its part to make the body function well, so Nigeria needs the universities, technical colleges, colleges of education, teacher training colleges etc. to excel. Also, each person has his or her unique gifts to add value to society.

In an earlier chat with Vanguard, former Director/Principal of the Federal Science and Technical College, FSTC, Yaba, Lagos, Rev. Chris Ugorji said the crisis in the education sector came about because apart from grammar schools and universities, other educational institutions were denigrated, making it look like only the never-do wells or second rate students attend those schools.

Ugorji recounted: “On assumption of duty, I inherited a system that was decadent, things were not done properly, both staff and students lacked commitment; parents found it difficult to buy books and pay the fees; unfriendly environment to both teaching and learning, inadequate facilities etc.

Today, “Industries come to look for our graduates because as they graduate from here, they have the skills. Most of the jobs we do here are done by teachers and students. The JSS1 building was constructed by teachers and students; the bunks were constructed by a teacher and students in the Dept of Welding and Fabrication. We want to convert classrooms to hostels, the staff and students do it. In fact, one of our staff here, who studied abroad, is fondly called Julius Berger because he does things you cannot fault. When the Girls’ hostel decking collapsed and they said they needed a structural engineer, he handled it with the students.”

Agreeing with Ugorji, Urhobo said: “It’s sad for me to say this but it’s true. It is not compulsory that everybody must go to the university. There are tertiary institutions that can absorb students who cannot afford university education. There are open and online universities so no child should be denied education.”

Conclusion

The late Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor of Germany, Guido Westerwelle, said it all in 2011 when he stated that education is everyone’s key to upward mobility. “A country like Germany, which has no natural resources to speak of, must focus on promoting one specific commodity – education. This resource of ours is not to be found beneath our feet, but rather, between our ears.” As the world moves away from fossil fuel which Nigeria solely relies on for survival, what next?

All hands must be on deck to stop Nigeria from going down this self-destructive path.

As Ensign said, “all of these approaches should be pursued in Nigeria NOW. There is no time to waste!

Vanguard News Nigeria

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.