• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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ASUU and our knowledge system

ASUU and our knowledge system

Our knowledge system is not what it should be. This may well explain why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on this long running; seemingly endless strike action. In terms of quantity, we appear to be up there. But as regards quality; certainly no.

Very recently for instance, the National Universities Commission (NUC), a body that should know, revealed that we have over 200 universities. This is huge; this is more so when comparisons are made with other countries in Africa. The immediate implication of the revelation from the NUC is that, under normal circumstances, and on a regular basis, knowledge is being transmitted in over 200 universities in Nigeria. When the polytechnics, colleges of education and vocational schools are added to this figure, we will be coming up with over 400 learning centres.

The government that should be in the vanguard of this fiscal enterprise has dropped the ball several times to the point that it is virtually irrelevant as far as funding is concerned. Yet, and if I am allowed to say this, finance is in reality the oxygen of any knowledge system

Unfortunately, as regards the substantive output, something very different obtains. One of the painful aspects of this situation is that there is hardly any link between our knowledge system and the policy world.

Whereas, they should inform and interact with each other in a symbiotic and dialectical way. At least, in the developed countries this is what obtains. Here, there is no such thing. They are parallel domains, such that they hardly meet. Let us take a familiar domain like oil. Here and there, you have universities in Nigeria offering courses in the areas of Engineering, Geology and Geophysics. But these have nothing to do with say the NNPC, and by extension the oil industry itself.

The strong suspicion here is that, over time, we have been imbued with a turn-key mentality. In view of this mental profile, we have lost

our capacity to give concrete outputs to our mental constructs.

Rather, what obtains is that all our needs have been imported from outside, whereas if we run a functional educational system, all such needs must derive from our educational system. The ongoing mess of adulterated and imported fuel is a case in point. It bears repetition that, it is a disgrace in itself that a supposedly oil producing country has to rely disgracefully and exclusively on imported refined oil.

This is more so in a situation where most of our universities are offering courses relevant to how crude oil can be transformed into petrol and other derivatives. Something is not just right. And one can easily observe this in the latest news about the rankings of our universities within the African continent.

Out of the first 10 listed universities in Africa, Nigeria barely got a mention. Save for the University of Ibadan, which occupied an ungainly seventh position, Nigeria was visibly absent. By contrast, on that same list were four or five universities from South Africa.

As we have often pointed out in this column, apartheid was an evil doctrine, yet its apostles, the Boers, had clear ideas as regards what they wanted for their country.

The clarity was such that, while, successive Nigerian leaders took them to task for the evil called apartheid, still, they were focused on building within narrow limits, a wholesome state system, and certainly their university system was an integral part of this wholesome profile.

In view of their pigmentation, it was very possible and easy for them, to want out of the South African System and send their children to American and European universities. But no. They chose to build their own universities i.e. knowledge systems from scratch. On the other hand, our own leaders, the anti-apartheid apostles in their myopia and pig-headedness have chosen to go in the opposite and bankrupt direction. This is evident from the fact that most of them decided to send their children abroad for schooling and they continue to do so till date.

The situation has been worsened by the fact that before our very eyes and at a point in time in this same country of ours, a sitting president and vice president established their own private universities. Indeed, when one of them was asked about the ownership of the university; straight-faced, he responded that the university belonged to Dr. Onaolapo Soleye.

Read also: NUJ wants FG to cushion hike on foodstuffs, resolve ASUU crisis

This extensive background goes a long way to explain why, and possibly for the umpteenth time, ASUU is poised to go on another industrial action. At a reflexive level, one is inclined to blame ASUU that: again!!. But the reality is such that, till date, our universities and other tertiary institutions continue to be underfunded. Yet they cannot charge appropriate fees to cover their costs for obvious political reasons.

The government that should be in the vanguard of this fiscal enterprise has dropped the ball several times to the point that it is virtually irrelevant as far as funding is concerned. Yet, and if I am allowed to say this, finance is in reality the oxygen of any knowledge system. Without it, that system is dead.

In coming forth like this, it is necessary to appreciate here that even basics like power, water and rudimentary laboratory equipment are in short supply in our universities. The immediate and obvious consequence is that our universities have been turned into ghettoes. All the foreigners have since gone. They have fled. They can no longer function in a diseased environment like ours.

In saying this, a comparison with Ghana is very instructive. At the University of Ghana in Legon, what you will encounter is an authentic university in which the city is really in the universe, and the universe is also in the city. In our own universities no such positive situation obtains.

In deed such is the level of our own insularity that the foreigners are not just absent they have since fled on a journey of no return. The insularity has been deepened by the fact that whenever there is a struggle for the position of vice chancellors, ethnic champions emerge to demand that the post must go to the son/daughter of the soil. In the process, scant regard is given to variables like: competence, exposure and international stature.

It is against this background that it is possible to appreciate why ASUU is on song again. Over time, the Union has had to contend with a spate of broken promises as regards funding, the infamous Integrated Payment and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and the poor reward system of academics.

As regards the IPPIS what should be appreciated is that managers of our university system have virtually been robbed of their autonomy on the hiring of staff. These days, they have to go cap in hand to ensure that somebody in Abuja gives a positive nod to their initiatives. It is that bad.

I stand to be corrected; but I do not know any sane system in the world, which centralises the payment of university workers like this. On the reward system, it is evident that overtime, our lecturers now subsist on starvation wages. Under this kind of inclement circumstance, they cannot give their best.

Worse still is that the push factor is such that the brain-drain becomes the name of the game. The irony and puzzle in much of what has been said so far is that, way back at the 2017 Education Summit, President Buhari himself gave voice to the fact that there was the need to put in place a healthy education system. The least we can do here is to urge our president to walk his talk.

Our knowledge system is certainly in urgent need of urgent rescue. Urgent has been repeated in the immediate foregoing for effect; since time is not on our side.