FG vs ASUU: Before The Next Strike, by Kabiru Danladi Lawanti
In the last 40 years, the Nigerian Public Universities (both states and federal) have seen a gradual decline in terms of output quality and infrastructure, despite huge billions that accrued into these universities through TETFUND and other sources. The declining output quality and infrastructure became the reason for the over four decades of industrial disputes between the Union and the Federal Government of Nigeria. In these years, ASUU had down tools more than 10 times from 1978. It had several altercations with military governments which led to its proscription and seizure of its property in 1988 and its members dismissed severally.
Since 1976, there was an attempt by the Nigerian government to change its role as the provider of education as public good to regulator of higher education in an effort to “marketise” university education or makes it a “private affair”. This is another way of removing its hand from funding public universities. This attempt was the bond of contention between the FG and ASUU. ASUU’s stiff resistance over the years – resulting in long closure of public universities and its radicalism stand has extended the intent of government of “marketization of education” till this day.
The crises in the Nigerian public university has lingered for so long, with ASUU receiving all the blame both from government officials, parents and students. All these years, few understood why ASUU extreme stand on the idea of university education as a public good. Most government officials, who over the years were trained to implement policies ala neo-liberal thinking have come to accept that university education should not be funded by the government. This is in line with their training, both in school and their role as civil servants – a system that was built on the neo-liberal philosophy after the 1986 shift in our philosophy of governance.
This debate was raised again last week, when the President, Muhammadu Buhari declared that his government has no fund to revive the public university education. Speaking at the 49th convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Buhari, through his State Minister of Education Emeka Nwajiuba said his government cannot afford the amount of funding needed to revive the country’s educational system (university).
When a government makes this declaration, two things are bound to happen – parents have to bear the cost of educating their children in the university (which they have been doing since 1992 anyway) or children of the poor have to find alternative source of education (the easiest is to drop out. These are the realities staring at us. As it is, a Committee set up by government to look at alternative funding for universities discovered that parents pay up to 70% of all expenses for their children education in the university, while the government pays only 30%. The Committee initially was to look at cost sharing system, where parents take some part of their children’s expenses in the university and government pays the remaining.
The Committee, which include ASUU members quantify student’s expenditure in the university, including variables – what he needs to survive semester by semester in the 4 or 5 sessions he spends in the university. These include; school fees, accommodation, transportation, materials needed for academic activities, feeding, laundry, incidentals etc. The expenditure then was categorise according to his area of study – Medical Students, Science based students, and humanities. The Committee also calculated the variables like seat in class, walk-way, laboratory (building and apparatus), cost elements of hostel (water, electricity and maintenance), sports’ facilities, conference chairs, garden chairs, worship centres etc and came up with amount for each item.
Based on their calculations, a medical student will pay a proposed N1.5m to N1.9m every session to be in the university. Science students will pay a proposed N1.2m – N1.5m and humanities students are expected to pay a proposed N900,000 to N1.2m for them to remain in the university for each session. May be realizing that the cost sharing method is a huge embarrassment to government when made public, the government either rescinded the decision or suspended it, but failed to come up with any alternative, except of course the usual threats of not having enough resources to fund education. Therefore, the cost sharing system is put on hold for now because as it is now, parents are already paying 70% of what is needed to pay for their children university education.
If the current system is not working because government has limited resources why do they keep on increasing the number of tertiary institutions instead of managing what we have?
Truth is that; it is the sole responsibility of government to fund education from primary school to tertiary institutions as specified in the constitution. Chapter II of the Constitution states that “equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels,” to “promote science and technology,” and “to eradicate illiteracy” by working toward “(a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; …
If by now we fail to see the logic of ASUU over the years that government should fund public university, then the recent spate of insecurity in the country is a child’s play compared what is facing us in the next 10 years. It is the belief of this writer that education should be prioritized over building of over-head bridges that are not needed in the first place.
Over the years, ASUU has come up with funding options for education (universities inclusive) which produced agencies like the ETF which was later TETFUND that helped in upgrading infrastructure in public universities and training and retraining of university staff. What we need is to sit down and look at these alternative funding, which are outside budgetary allocation that can help in reducing industrial disputes in our public universities. I want to belief both ASUU and our political leaders are working for the interest of Nigeria.
Kabiru Danladi Lawanti,
Department of Mass Communication,
Ahmadu Bello University,