Friday, 03 December 2021

THE NATION EDITORIAL: A strike too many •The trouble with Nigerian public universities is down to poor funding

Posted On Thursday, 25 February 2021 23:16 Written by Thenationonlineng.net/ Editorial Board
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Obviously exasperated and frustrated by the multifarious crises confronting and grossly devaluing higher education in the country, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, over three decades ago, advocated that universities in Nigeria be shut for a year, during which their problems would be intensively studied and enduring remedies found. Not a few at the time considered Soyinka’s suggestion extreme and outlandish.

Despite the emergence of scores of well funded and managed private universities in the country over time, the crises in public universities, which still cater for the vast majority of students, that prompted Soyinka’s call, persist; and have even worsened in several ways. This makes us wonder if taking radical steps to address the challenges of public universities much earlier, as Soyinka had suggested, would not have been a stitch in time, that would have saved us from the current utter dysfunction.

Last year, public universities, at both state and federal levels, lay prostrate for ten months, as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) undertook a ten-month strike that commenced in March and was called off on 22 December 2020. With the Federal Government agreeing to pay the N40 billion earned academic allowances demanded by ASUU, another N30 billion for the revitalization of the education sector, as well as the arrears of salaries owed the university teachers, ASUU called off its strike.

Parents and students heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that the prolonged disruption of academic activities in the universities, with the attendant negative financial, social and psychological implications, had been put behind. But alas! From February 5, another strike, this time by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), has disrupted activities, in federal universities across the country.

Reports in the media indicate that the industrial action, by the non-academic staff unions, has resulted in the piling up of uncleared refuse, abandonment of toilets and bathrooms to filth, disruption of power and water supply, as well as healthcare services, in many of the affected institutions. These support services are the job of striking NASU members. Also, routine students’ registration, accessing of transcripts and even critical security services, have been disrupted. These are the core duties of SSANU.

This means that, even though lecturers are at their duty posts, meaningful academic activities can hardly take place in this kind of environment.

The grievances of the non-academic staff include the alleged non-payment of their minimum wage arrears, rejection of the Federal Government’s Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) — just like ASUU — as well as opposition to the Federal Government’s sharing formula for the N40 billion earned allowances negotiated with ASUU, which reportedly allocated N30 billion to the academic staff.

It is difficult to understand why these two unions did not raise these issues during the ten-month ASUU strike. Their concerns could have been addressed alongside those of the academic staff, thereby averting the fresh round of industrial crisis in federal universities.

Again, if the non-academic staff had left the struggle for the payment of earned academic allowances to ASUU, can they justifiably complain if ASUU members are allocated a larger share of funds released for that purpose? In any case, if they are described as earned academic allowances, it stands to reason that lecturers will be the major beneficiaries.

Even then, the lesson to be learnt is that there are other stakeholders in the universities beyond lecturers. In future, the Federal Government should address problems in the universities holistically ensuring that the interests of all parties are taken into account at all times.

Still, the root of the problems confronting Nigeria’s public universities is insufficiency of funds to enable the system function efficiently and meet its onerous responsibilities. Despite the current economic fragility and consequent paucity of funds, governments at all levels must accord better funding of universities appropriate priority.

On their part, university administrators must manage available resources more transparently and prudently, while also more effectively tapping the universities’ huge, yet unrealized, potentials to raise funds autonomously. We urge that the current strike by non-academic staff be urgently resolved to restore normalcy in these institutions.

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