Re: Wanted : A president to solve the ASUU puzzle by Simon Kolawole- Danbala Danju
By Danbala Danju
Disclaimer: let me declare upfront that I am an ASUU partisan and my encounter with your article of 1st May, 2022, titled “Wanted: A president to solve the ASUU puzzle” provoked me to write this rejoinder, hopefully to immunize gullible people from your market fundamentalist premise, half-truths, misrepresentation of facts, erroneous conclusions and defend the just and patriotic struggles of ASUU.
The thrust of your argument is the familiar tirade that public universities in Nigeria are too heavy a financial burden for the government to bear alone and therefore aspiring students must share the burden. Although you are not clear what percentage of the “burden” should be borne by the aspiring students, it’s clear it should be a nonnegative number. You are also not clear, whether the burden sharing should be done in an instance or gradually over a period of time.
Admirably, you are charitable enough to argue that the sons and daughters of the poor should not be left behind due to their possible inability to pay, and so you suggest a student’s loan scheme be inaugurated, and financed, perhaps paradoxically, by the same government that lacks the sufficient funds to finance public education in the first place, through perhaps borrowing, printing money, guarantying or other incentives for the private sector, and or philanthropic individuals and organisations, to operate such schemes. When students graduate and start work a corresponding mechanism should be in place to get them to pay back the loan.
You recommend, the adoption of similar student’s loan scheme as currently in vogue in the USA and in the UK. Although there may be losses here and there, in general the financial burden on the Government will be reduced or even eliminated and resources will be freed to address other pressing concerns.
First, the notion of (university) education as a commodity, that could be priced according to its scarcity value, hits a brick wall; conceptually, public goods, like education, health and infrastructure, suffer from the fact that the costs of their private provision far exceed their private marginal benefits Accumulated theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that education is a public good, investment in which yields bountiful harvests for both the current and future generations.
Contrary to your claim, student’s loan schemes in the USA and the UK, far from levelling the grounds for the rich and the poor to compete effectively, further exacerbate the inequalities in access to education in those countries, and with serious consequences for social cohesion and growth. In the USA for example, even conservative analysts are more recently calling for an education system where “no one is left behind” to enable it compete effectively with China
The privatisation of education in the UK, along with gradual introduction of student’s loan schemes, did not significantly increase the access of the poor students to higher education while leaving scores of poor students and parents with massive debts. The lowering of entry standards to attract more foreign students into various degree programmes (often with little or no serious academic contents) largely lowered the quality of UK education. Many foreign students returned to their respective countries with colourful diplomas but with little or no prospects of employment. The privatisation of education, like the structural adjustment of yester years, is one of the biggest scam in modern economic reforms.
Secondly, the implementation of the dubious privatisation exercises in Nigeria, and indeed elsewhere, had shattered the myth of the efficiency of the private sector and further strengthens the resolve and intransigence of patriotic and progressive unions like ASUU and the National association of Nigeria students to resist the further transfer of our commonwealth to the private sector in the name of ‘efficiency’. For example, despite the ongoing haemorrhaging of the national treasury by the security agencies, no serious analyst would call for their privatisation. The call for a president that will end the public subsidies on university education amounts to the loss of confidence in the intellectual debate and a resort to the use of an autocrat, to “ride rough shot the shoulders of ASUU and other progressive forces to “end the era of government underwriting the entire budgets of public universities.. ”Well, note that even the tyrannical military regimes of Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, could not cower ASUU and other patriotic Nigerians to the dictates of market fundamentalists.
Thirdly, and more fundamentally, it’s not clear how you arrived at the conclusion that the federal government does not have enough resources to finance public universities .First of all, our university system lacks a robust result management framework that links resources, institutions and processes with expected outcomes in different programmes. The regulator of the university system in Nigeria, the National universities commission, NUC, has not evolved to provide robust metrics that could rigorously quantify the adequacy or otherwise of the resources put in the system. For example, the NUC has no explicit target student-teacher ratios for the different programmes in Nigeria, nor what constitutes good quality teaching, nor does it categorise the various journals in to higher, medium and lower impact journals so as to help evaluate the quality of the various research publications, nor does it have any structured support mechanisms for researchers in Nigeria The NUC rather issues a descriptive progress report on what it calls “the state of university education in Nigeria” annually, which is far short of linking resources to programme objectives and robust measures of performance.
Without a sound result management framework it’s difficult to agree on the adequacy or otherwise of the resources needed to finance our university system. The 200b Naira agreed to be pumped annually into the university system was more of a kneejerk reaction to arrest the ever widening funding gap in public universities.
Fourth, if the Federal government is indeed faced with the scarcity of resources why did it sign and fail to implement the 2009 Agreement, the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, the 2017 Memorandum of Action and the 2020 Memorandum of Action? Yes, the normalisation of strikes in our universities and the attendant disruptions of academic activities should be blamed squarely on Government. ASUU is arguably the most patriotic and visionary union that goes on strike only as the last option, and after several calls for government to respect the agreement it duly signed with the union.
Regrettably, ASUU strikes exact unquantifiable hardship and misery on union members, their families, and the nation at large due to the dereliction of duty by irresponsible government and its bureaucrats. ASUU leaders are often arrested, molested, imprisoned, ejected out of their houses, their contracts terminated, go for months without salaries or allowances, risks their health and often sustain injuries or even die in the course of pursuing the lofty ideals of public education while some of their corrupt, lazy and often incompetent lackeys nestle in government bureaucracies and political offices milking the country dry.
ASUU and its patriotic leadership, the “aluta people” are often vilified by right-wingers like you, for exercising the right to trade unionism as enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution but which is being gradually chipped away through denying workers the right to unionise, refusing to pay striking teachers their full entitlements including earned allowances, with such slogan as “”No work, No pay” and shameless call for a “final” solution to “end all strikes” and return the intellectual workers to modern slavery.
Fifth, if we agree that the deficiency in funding is at the heart of the crisis in the university in Nigeria, how does one square the lofty objectives of transforming the universities into citadels of learning and development as for example enunciated in the national policy on higher education of 2014, with the pitiful state of financing of education in Nigeria? For example, on the basis of government expenditure on education as a percentage of total expenditure, for countries at similar level of development in Africa, the latest figures available suggest, in the year 2021, Nigeria spent only 5.7 percent compared to Niger’s 12%, Chad’s 15.1%, Mali’s 16%, Senegal’s 21.1%, others such as Cote d’ivoire, Ghana, Gabon, Ethiopia spent between 19 and 25 % of the their national budget on education. Thus, Nigeria has not been giving the priority education deserves. Moreover, the experience of the fast growing economies of East Asia, such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, suggests that Nigeria should be spending colossally more on public education not less.
Six, I hasten to add that the quantum of resources channelled to education although necessary is not a sufficient condition for national development.The pattern of investment and the efficiency with which such resources are managed matter. For example, in the era of the knowledge economy, investing in Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), is crucial for a country like Nigeria to achieve international competitiveness, that is, ability to produce high quality products and services at cheaper prices
Seven, sustained spending on education needs to be properly managed. This is because universities are like black holes, they absorb whatever is thrown at them. Thus, how well managed are resources spent in the university sector? Anecdotal evidence, of ghost workers, inflation of contracts, outright theft of resources, frauds and corruption of monumental proportions, suggests inadequate management of resources.
Indeed, one of ASUU’s key demands has been for the federal government to be sending visitation panels to universities on a periodic basis for critical evaluation. Regrettably, ASUU, had on occasions, had to embark on strike actions for the Federal Government to institute such panels, and several months or even years elapsed without government actions to address identified lapses.
Eight, a disturbing issue in the article is the attempt to orchestrate public anger against ASUU by insinuating that ASUU is against public control of universities financed by government! This relates to ASUU’s rejection of the integrated payroll system and personal information system (IPPIS), which was unilaterally imposed by the Government, and ASUU sees IPPIS as a cesspool of corruption and undermining the autonomy of the Nigerian university system. Instead, ASUU developed an alternative local software, the university staff transparency and accountability solution, (UTAS) which was tested and found to be adequate and cost effective.
The demand by ASUU for the deployment of UTAS was based on the concept of university autonomy as agreed by both ASUU and the federal government. The autonomy to govern universities according to their bye laws, structures and processes is the same as that requiring the army, police, civil service and the judiciary to be governed according to their respective bye laws and statutes, even though they are all financed from the same national treasury.
In conclusion, I agree with you, there is the need for a sound public education based sustainable financing model for our university system. This requires among other things a robust result management framework that links programmes, objectives, institutions and processes with resources coupled with transparent and accountable public management and quality assurance provisions. Universities in Nigeria need to be more transparent and accountable in the management of public resources. For example, there should be public hearings on budgets and performance by different departments and other units within universities and the NUC.
However, the market fundamentalist model of privatisation of education you proposed privileges the rich-few over the poor-majority, and exacerbates the already high and widening inequalities while undermining social cohesion and unity of our country and are at the root of the social insecurity and conflicts in our society. Nigeria does not need another autocratic president to resolve the crisis in our educational system. University education is of too strategic importance to be left to any one person. Rather, it requires full discussions with all the stakeholders to explore different funding models, including allowing the establishment of private universities to be taxed heavily to support public universities.
Danju, was formerly, MD/ CEO, Bank of Agriculture and Currently University Professor of Economics, North Cyprus, Via Mersin 10, Turkey and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org