In the last couple of weeks, I have been working with my office publicly and privately to find a way of resolving the stand-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government (FG), including the launch of an online petition requesting the immediate end of the strike.
Calling for an end to the strike is in no way suggesting a final solution, but it will provide an opening toward addressing the critical issues causing the strike in the first place. With my experience dealing with strikes while in government, I have first hand insight to some of the issues on debate, but ASUU and the FG can disagree and find solutions without making Nigerian students suffer in the process. Ultimately, ASUU and the FG should consider themselves as fighting for the same objective, which is providing quality education in Nigerian universities. This must be the common goal.
Full-scale negotiations to end the recurrent strikes should form the basis for a full overhaul of our education system. Resolving this crisis is a two-way street. While ASUU tries to find a long lasting solution to university funding shortages, the government also has an opportunity to make the university system more accountable, in order to reduce corruption in revenue appropriation.
The first move should be to sign a good faith agreement, supported by an act of parliament or federal court, binding both parties to set negotiations with targets toward meeting demands from both sides of the disagreement, while immediately suspending the strike for the sake of the students.
Next the FG should come to the table with their own demands:
- All universities must submit clear, transparent appropriation plans to demonstrate how funding will be utilised.
- Universities should be required to provide a baseline-funding framework establishing minimum financial requirements for university operations. Supplementary funding would then be made available based upon successfully meeting academic, financial and infrastructure goals.
- Universities commit to seeking alternative revenue from alumni, grants, private sector and international funders. This is an untapped revenue stream and universities should reform their alumni networks to encourage lifelong financial relationships with their former students. Institutions that excel in meeting alumni/private sector fundraising goals could then qualify for additional FG funding for special infrastructure projects as reward for successfully engaging their members.
- Universities must set up independent anti-sexual harassment units to reduce harassment and assault on campuses.
- Universities should present plans for immediate roll out of technology based classroom and administrative management. With infrastructure limitations, technology presents the opportunity to provide quality education to a larger student body, with little pressure on physical infrastructure. All student records should be computerised, which will immediately reduce administration costs.
While ASUU may feel aggrieved at the inability of the FG to honour its agreements, they must also realise the university system does itself no favours by being opaque in their financial appropriations and the manner in which academic staff go about the business of teaching and research.
Government officials will not (and should not) descend from their Abuja offices to come design growth plans of universities. If a university is working on significant, groundbreaking research, it has the moral right to approach the FG to request special funding.
Aside from being paid better salaries, what else is ASUU fighting for? Are we ambitious enough? When will Nigeria’s university lecturers make the move from classroom teachers to driving research and innovation? Universities striving for excellence and setting ambitious goals should attract the most attention and funding.
But the FG alone cannot fund education. That is impossible and not how successful university systems around the world function. University administrators need to be aware of this fact and begin working on plans to become self sufficient and more independent from government funding. In order to ensure the ability of schools to quickly meet their challenges we must restore autonomy to local school boards and the councils and senates of tertiary educational institutions. Over the years the excessive centralisation of power and resources by the FG has been replicated in the states hampering school leaders with lack of authority in policy making and execution.
While financial independence is tough, the rewards are immense. Financial independence will allow universities to truly outgrow the vice grip of the government, and become real ivory towers.
Most students take higher education seriously as they mature from childhood to adulthood – it is time the FG and ASUU follow suit.