Persistent ASUU strike: Increased investment in education, necessary but insufficient condition
The last time Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) called off her most recent industrial strike action on the 24th of December 2021, it was estimated that strike actions have cost Nigerian universities a minimum of 1,500 days (50 months, 4 years and 2 months) of its academic calendar. The power tussle between the federal government and ASUU have been attributed to revitalization fund for universities, payment of earned academic allowances, implementation of University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) and against government-proposed Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and renegotiation of condition of service. The crux of the matter can be summarized in a simple clause “a need for increased government investment in tertiary education” to enable Nigerian universities to become globally competitive in research and infrastructure development. While ASUU have accused government of lack of honesty in addressing the poor plight of education sector, especially at the tertiary level and reneging on past agreement and promises from the government, the federal government, have accused ASUU of being insensitive to current economic realities in making “unrealizable demands” considering that revenue inflow into government coffers have significantly reduced. These opposing arguments have warranted experts, stakeholders and onlookers to ask; would increase in investment in tertiary education transcend to swift improvement in our university system to world class standard?
In the 2021 federal budget, only 5.6% was the budget for the education sector, that is; primary, secondary and tertiary level combined. In the 2022 proposed budget, 7.9% has been proposed for education, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to increase the budget for education by 50% in 2022, 2023 and 100% by 2025, in the Global Education Summit in London a few months back. Again, this percentage falls below the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) bench mark of 26% for investment in education. Budgeting $320 million (approximately) for education in a nation with over 200 million people is seen as a lack of government commitment to improve the status of the education sector in Nigeria. This falls below Egypt and South Africa’s budget percentage for education. Some experts and stakeholder have also argued that though the government has in time past and at present shown no seriousness in education, that high investment as advocated by ASUU may not necessarily transcend to Nigerian universities competing as world class institutions at continental and global levels. Experts believe that ASUU, an umbrella union for academic staff union should be held responsible for some blames that has culminated into systemic decay in the Nigerian university system. There have been cases of corruption and mismanagement of government funds injected in the past by university administrators who are also members of ASUU. Cases of sex-for-grade is also a major issue that have presented the Nigerian university system in a bad light and image, especially in recent times. There are also believed to be cases of witch-hunt, exchange of money for undeserving grades, being perpetrated by university lecturers against defenseless students. A lot of which are not brought to public knowledge or swept under the carpet. Experts and stakeholders have opined that increase in investment in tertiary education would not curb these serious and degrading challenges believed to be exhibited by union members of ASUU.
Some social commentators believe that students have also contributed to the challenges in the university system. There is a culture of lack of academic commitment on the part of students in the universities. Hard work and excellence have been jettisoned for easier and faster routes to academic success. Malpractice, social media, cultism and other distractions have overtaken the core essence of their mandate; academic success and career pursuit. Again, student unions who are supposed to act like a pressure group on the government to scrutinize their responsibilities and confront some of the challenges in the university system, have either compromised or shown no genuine concern. Parents and guardians have been guilty of poor social and moral values of their children. Tuition fees are considered by some experts as being too “cheap” and unsustainable in running and administering a world class educational learning environment that is expected from the universities administrators, considering the poor budgetary allocation from the government that has made it nearly impossible for universities to be run effectively and efficiently.
While it is important and urgent for the government to invest and increase funding on education in Nigeria, it is very vital that other underlying issues that have affected the university system should also be addressed as they are as important as the funding challenge itself. Federal government, ASUU, students, parents and other stakeholders must commit and proffer a sustainable way forward, as investment in education is a necessary but not a sufficient condition in improving our university system in Nigeria.
Victor is a Health & Development Economist