September 01 2003
By Olufemi Olowolafe
THE government alone cannot accomplish the heavy task of funding university education. It is the responsibility that, ideally, should be shared by the government, individual universities, communities, and parents. Nigerians should count themselves lucky that most universities are owned and heavily subsidised (or to be heavily subsidised) by the current federal government.
It is common knowledge that Nigerian universities were terribly brutalised and destroyed by previous military juntas over the last two decades. This is the main reason why a number of intellectuals went into self-imposed exiles. Since it is easier to destroy than to build, academic colleagues, students, parents and the entire nation should work synergistically and co-operatively with the government to rebuild and nurture the universities back into their glorious past.
The most pertinent issue is an enduring long-lasting funding system for the universities so that the incessant industrial disputes between academics and the government might disappear. This will take a lot of hard work, determination, honesty and dedication on the part of the government (the executive and the legislature), the universities (VCs, University Councils, Deans and Department Chairmen and Professors), communities and parents.
It is the responsibility of the government to provide and maintain basic infrastructure including (a) offices and research buildings, (b) faculty accommodations for rent, (c) students accommodations for rent, (d) power and water, (e) teaching facilities, (f) basic research facilities provided only once for every new faculty, (g) good roads and a conducive learning environment. In addition, and possibly more important, is the responsibility of the government to provide salaries, that must increase annually with the rate of inflation.
It does not augur well for the economy if the government waits for a number of years until ASUU demands salary increase by embarking on strike, and then suddenly increases salaries five or tenfold. The consequences of such an action are quite obvious and grave. However, such a move was wise and justifiable in 2000 after several years of perpetual poverty and subjugation of academicians by past military juntas. But once is enough.
The responsibility of vice-chancellors, pro-chancellors and university councils are not less important than that of the government. In developed nations a Vice Chancellor is expected to shoulder responsibilities that are far greater than just paying salaries and awarding contracts. He is not only supposed to be a renowned academician and administrator, he is expected to be a resourceful "businessman" for his institution. With the support of the pro-chancellors, the university council, and deans of facilities, the Vice Chancellor is expected to be proactive in raising funds periodically through alumni activities, endowment activities, named professorships and named facilities and buildings. These are funds that should be used to maintain old facilities and to establish new programmes.
In addition to the efforts of the government and the university administration, individual professors should be encouraged to engage in consultancy services for companies and corporations to obtain funds for research and for other academic activities. A fraction of such funds must go to the university's financial pool for recurrent expenditures. In most developed nations, the career development of an academician depends not only on his intellectual prowess but his ability to obtain research funds as well.
An American would say "there is no free lunch in America" while its Yoruba equivalent is "obe to dun owo lo pa", meaning a delicious soup is not cheap. My interpretation is that nothing superior is cheap. If Nigerian parents want very good education for their children, they have to be ready to subsidise the efforts of the government by paying tuition that should not be less than one third of the payment in an average private university. In addition, accommodation presently subsidised by the government, should be the responsibility of the parents. But no academically talented child should be denied an opportunity for good education because he/she is from a financially destitute home. The government should make adequate provisions in terms of scholarships and loans for bright children from poor parents. The yardstick for awarding such scholarship and loans should be well spelt out by a commission established by government legislation.
Every university provides a source of economic development in terms of job creation, marketing, real estate, housing development etc. for the community in which it is established. The local council home of a university should also be ready to financially support the university through real estate taxes. The suggestions listed above could provide a permanent solution to the perennial disputes between the government and the attendant incessant academic strikes, student lay-offs, anaemic programmes, inferior qualifications, increase in cult activities and armed robbery if the government could summon the courage to do a couple of things.
One, the funding responsibilities of the government, the parents (or students) and the local community should be legislated and widely broadcast. Two, the responsibilities of the university administration (VCs, Pro-Chancellors and the University Council) in raising funds should be documented in the university "constitution" and enforced. A university that is destitute in these activities would suffer direct and indirect consequences. A direct consequence is for the government to reduce its subsidy to such an institution and indirect consequences are inferior accreditation.
In summary, it would take the co-operation of the government, university administrations, parents and local communities to work together and provide laws that would enforce effective funding activities for a sustained university structure, high-quality education and superior academic programmes.