With over eight strike actions since that agreement and with no success, ASUU should have realised by now that strikes may not be the way to go and should have devised other means of persuading the government to make good its promises. Through frequent strikes, ASUU’s reputation has continued to degenerate, students are frustrated, the quality of tertiary education continues to fall, and the integrity of degrees issued by our universities is in decline. To avert these multiple slides, ASUU must rethink its approach to negotiating and pressurising the government to keep its promises.
Higher educational institutions (HEIs) are heading into a period of financial crisis. Now than ever, the financing of HEIs in Nigeria has to be matched continuously with competing claims for the use of present and future resources. The current ASUU’s demands and funding requirements need to be appraised given the financing options in terms of the sustainability of funding public universities.
Many developing countries, which fifteen years ago were spending only 1 to 2 per cent of their gross national product on education are today spending 3, 4 or 5 per cent. And whereas they were earlier spending less than 10 per cent of their total public budget on education, many are now spending 15, 20 or even 25 per cent. This rise in education’s share of national resources cannot go on at this rate indefinitely. The funding of education has not been up to 17% in any given year despite the UNESCO minimum standard of 26% of the national budget. In Nigeria, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) statistical bulletin, public budgetary funding for education ranges between 4-13 per cent
Since 2009 when the federal government and ASUU re-negotiated a 2001 agreement, ASUU has embarked on industrial action eight times, for a minimum of one month and some for as many as five months, yet the government has not ‘satisfactorily’ met the terms and conditions of the agreement. Worse still, none of the four objectives of the agreement has been met despite strikes. The essence of the 2009 re-negotiation includes: (i) “To reverse the decay in the University System, to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development; (ii) To reverse the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; (iii) To restore Nigerian universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and, (iv) To ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.” To indicate how the 2009 agreement raised the hopes of university lecturers, the 51-page document contained five bills for the amendment of laws that affect the education sector.
ASUU’s demand addresses the welfare of academics and the provision of a conducive environment for learning. These issues are not only germane but necessary conditions for effective learning and teaching. Comparatively, to other countries of the world, the welfare of staff can best be described as poor. Yes, the infrastructures and environment of learning and teaching have improved courtesy of Tertiary Education Trust fund (TETFUND) interventions.
The FGN Integrated Personnel Payroll Information system (IPPIS) has brought sanity to payroll administration in Nigeria. However, IPPIS has created distortions in the payroll of academics in federal universities, which made ASUU reject it. ASUU has a point here based on peculiarities of the universities and this can be addressed without so much disagreement. Unfortunately, the government has neither accepted this reality of modifying IPPIS nor accepted the solution proffered by ASUU through the deployment of the updated University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) despite the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) approval.
ASUU’s grouse on non-release of revitalisation fund and accumulated promotion arrears are understandable. The Ad-hoc response of government budgetary provisions to meeting these obligations is worrisome. ASUU also complained about the proliferation of State universities by State governments that have failed to adequately fund existing ones. I believe strongly that we need more universities, perhaps, self-funding universities to give access to underserved applicants. This funding challenge should spur stakeholders to seek alternative funding mechanisms for the universities rather than shutting admission opportunities.
My take is that ASUU should be part of the solutions to these problems. After all, ASUU recommended the TETFUND model that has saved our public universities from infrastructural decay and UTAS for addressing unique university system needs. What’s wrong with our strategy today is that we put forward several demands without helping to advocate the solutions. Academics must contribute to finding solutions than resorting to industrial strikes. I disagree with strikes, it fails to address our problems but compounds the growing challenges facing higher institutions in Nigeria. We must rethink and suggest ways forward.
The current challenges of the university system require collaborative and cooperative efforts of the government and ASUU. Whereas urgent action is needed on the part of the government, the reconstituted committee is expected to ‘renegotiate in realistic and workable terms the 2009 agreements with other University-Based Unions; negotiate and recommend any other issue the Committee deems relevant to reposition the Nigerian University System for global competitiveness and submit proposed draft agreements within three (3) months from the date of inauguration.” The committee should work round the clock and beat the period to avoid worsening the situation.
ASUU’s demand must be balanced with reality and workable in the light of economic realities in Nigeria. Certainly, the FGN and States cannot fund the ASUU’s demand sustainably. Government and the universities must, therefore, come up with options for funding university education sustainably. Some State Universities in Nigeria are already on the self-funding model, this may be a sustainable plan. The pull of funds with TETFUND has expanded, fund investments initiatives and new fund allocation models and priorities are now demanded. There is a need to rethink the model to focus on the current needs and realities of the universities based on age and level of development and devise a sound project management system that gives absolute value for money.
I suggest that both parties should put forward realistic strategic solutions to addressing the issues raised by ASUU. We must build a common interest in the development of the university system. All stakeholders have interests and responsibilities. Our students must not suffer because of the government’s failure and ASUU’s strike. The window for rebuilding trust exists and ASUU and other unions must be prepared to deal with reality and come up with workable terms to address the issues genuinely. In the end, a win-win outcome will benefit all.