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Time to seek alternative funding for Nigerian universities

After three months of industrial action, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has called off its strike. As was the case with previous strike actions, the union returned to the classrooms based on government’s commitment that issues of funding the education sector, as canvassed by the teachers, will be granted.

The deplorable state of the nation’s educational institutions, particularly the universities is always cited as the reason for the incessant strikes by ASUU. The frequent and often prolonged strikes by ASUU have not helped this course either. This current state of education especially the universities impede any meaningful match by Nigeria to joining the league of the 20 most advanced economies by year 2020.

Indeed the collapse of infrastructure in the schools has been blamed for the sustained dwindling fortunes of the nation’s ivory towers. Libraries and laboratories are dilapidated. Manpower is inadequate and other research facilities such as reputable journals, fellowships and other exchange programmes are either too sparse or are non-existent.

The impact of these has been resoundingly dangerous – graduates of Nigerian universities are adjudged to have fallen short of expectation as a large number of them cannot match the educational performances of their counterparts from other climes. The most noticeable sign is the rigorous aptitude tests that Nigerian graduates take before being admitted into foreign universities. This negates the previous practice where extremely high premium was placed by such schools on products of Nigerian schools.

The blame for this decay lies squarely on a long period of neglect by government. Nigeria has consistently ignored the UNESCO guideline which stipulates that member-countries should dedicate at 26 per cent of their total annual budget to education. In a bid to redress this ugly situation, government signed a pact with ASUU.

However while infrastructure in the schools collapsed, federal government barefacedly reneged on its promise. In calling his colleagues out for the recent strike, the ASUU president, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie noted that government neglected, ignored, failed and refused to implement the core components of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement after more than two years of signing, adding that ASUU is convinced that government is terribly insincere and is manifestly unwilling to genuinely implement the agreement.

Given government’s consistent failure to honour its agreement, ASUU and the universities should develop self-sustaining strategies. Internal revenue generation can be enhanced by allowing the universities conduct their admission examinations. Rather than take JAMB, students seeking admission in schools should deal directly with institutions where they are seeking admission. This way, money hitherto paid to JAMB for examinations go directly to the coffers of individual universities.

Another means of self-reliance is by aggressive focus on research and marketing of end-products of researches. Agriculture, engineering, visual arts are some viable areas where aggressive research can yield huge cash for the universities. Departments or faculties of agriculture for instance, can tap into the vast arable land in the country as a means of upping the nation’s food production by developing improved breeds of crops and animals. It is inestimable how much wealth can be generated if the ivory towers also known as the gown live up to their billing as the brain box of the town.

Besides, the universities can sign into partnerships and collaboration with foreign institutions for regarding exchange programmes. This collaborative engagement if properly structured based on comparative advantage can help in the retraining prgrammes of staff, open up more access to grants and loans as well expose the student to new research ventures.

The domestic institutions could serve as platforms for overseas institutions wishing to carry out studies around this region. The culture of interdependence is a global phenomenon and Nigerian universities cannot afford to stay aloof, while students and parents suffer.

Budgets must be implemented judiciously. Corruption which has crept into the system should be tamed. And only projects of meaningful value to teaching and learning should be embarked upon. Over-bloated workforce, unreasonable allowances and estacodes and other forms of graft should be tackled if excellence and academic sanctity must return to our schools.

This position is not call for government’s withdrawal from funding education in the country. In fact, the bottom line is that there should be a consolidated fund that caters for education, as it is the case with the judiciary and a few other arms of government. By this, schools will be sure of accessing funds whether government budgets are prepared early or not. This will propel teaching and learning, hence, extending our strides to becoming one of the 20 most developed economies by the year 2020.

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