ASUU strike and the future of the nation – Part 1
“The Almighty will not change the circumstance of a people until they (begin) by changing that which assail their hearts…(Quran 13: 11)
Such is the question that we must constantly ponder particularly now that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has just embarked on another strike action. ASUU is back to the trenches for the same reason it has always gone on strike-the urgent need and necessity for the revitalization of the university system. ASUU is on strike as a strategy to ‘encourage’ the federal government implement the funding agreement it reached with the Union based on 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017. ASUU is back to the trenches to cause a national dialogue on the necessity or otherwise of the proliferation of universities across the nation. ASUU is forced to embark on that path once again; that path that lends credence to Sophocles who once said that “without labour nothing prospers”.
But there lies the crux of the matter. Here I am confronted again and again by some fundamental questions which anti-ASUU commentators have always refused to contemplate: during the past two decades and more, can we point to any infrastructural development or a new policy on administration of our universities that have not been products of critical engagement of ASUU with government particularly through the instrumentality of strike actions? Have we forgotten so soon that the almighty TETFUND that has now become the golden cow from which all universities in our country including the privately-owned ones want to milk is a product of a strike action embarked upon by ASUU? Have we forgotten so soon that were it not for TETFUND interventionist programmes in the area of infrastructural development our universities would have become totems that are fit only for archives and museums?
The other day I had cause to visit a Federal College of Education and I was completely taken aback by the high number of new lecture theaters all around the campus of the College all of which have been ‘donated’ by TETFUND. I immediately that my Faculty could boast of no TETFUND intervention; I remember that my Faculty had no new office building complex or lecture theatre; I remembered that I have had to share my office as a Professor with a younger colleague simply because there was inadequate office accommodation for lecturers? In other words, despite the critical interventions of TETFUND in our universities the infrastructural deficit in the system which has continued to be worsened by continued reduction in allocation to education in the national budget every passing year is highly ignoble put it mildly. During the past ten years, not in one instance has allocation to the education ministry reached ten percent of the budget. I am aware that during the past two years, allocation to education in the Ghanaian budget once gone past 10 percent of the total budget for the country.
Have we forgotten so soon that were it not for ASUU’s struggle for university autonomy, our academy would have completely become extensions of the sovereign’s empire; sovereigns who pass budget bills by themselves in the people’s parliaments, who slap professors in the face for having the temerity to question their authorities, who rule and reign as if the power of sunrise lay under the bed upon which he and her excellency lay their sides at every dusk. These sovereigns are not only in power but constantly desire to be seen to be in power. Or how else would you make sense of the failure of those ‘sovereigns’ who could not pay salaries of our colleagues in particular universities only for them to establish new ones to which the commonwealth is dedicated.
Have we forgotten so soon that it was ASUU’s struggle that led to the reduction, not cessation, in what was known a couple of years back as brain drain- when the best intellectuals produced by our academy found the home so unhomely that they had to join intellectual caravans heading for the diaspora? Thus the greater questions to ponder are these- exactly what is our idea of a university? Exactly what type of a university do we desire? Is our idea of a university that of a group of buildings gathered around a library or a “mill” whose main products are machinists, artisans or cabinet-makers? In other words, do we hold the opinion that the philosophy which undergirds the establishment of universities is strictly utilitarian and one which is dedicated exclusively to training in skill or are universities conceived in the womb of time to be the furnace from which the powers of the mind would be ceaselessly promoted? The powers of the mind I reference here are to, in line with Ernest Wilkins and Henry C. Morrison, “the three types of power necessary to a proper adjustment of the individual to modern society”. These, according to Levine, are independent thinking, aesthetic appreciation, and moral understanding; the power of the mind I call attention to is that which creatively ponders nature, the laboratory of the Almighty, and derives inspiration for the production of new knowledge.
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