‘There must be other funding strategies for varsity education’
For almost three months, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike protesting poor funding of universities and government’s failure to honour agreements reached with the union on the revitalisation of public universities. What do you think is the way out?
It is apparent that funding of universities in this country is extremely poor.
However, against the background of the nation’s per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is $1970, ranking it as 137 (2017, World Bank) in the world, Nigeria is therefore a poor country and so cannot fully fund tertiary education. There must be other funding strategies.
The strike by university teachers should draw attention to government shortcomings, which are probably not deliberate, but the strike should not be so prolonged as to jeopardise the training and graduation of the students.
To address the funding challenges in tertiary institutions, there have been propositions by stakeholders for university administrators to embrace the Public Private Partnership (PPP) option. What is your take on this?
In advanced nations of the world, a substantial amount of funding comes from universities partnering with the private sector to drive the increased fund availability.
Since the country is not financially capable of full funding, some form of private-public-partnership will be required.
The private contribution can come from well endowed Nigerians as well as companies that are doing well. In many Ivy League universities in the United States, the major funding is from individuals and corporations.
In addition, these universities have very active and professional endowment units, run as business outfits of the institutions. For instance, interest from investment in Harvard University, which is about $39,2 billion (about N18 trillion). So we need increased PPP presence.
We, in this country are not positively philanthropic. The big businessman spends millions for their kids weddings or birthdays and other grandiose but not very useful activities.
Even some big corporations like the breweries and mobile companies spend large amounts on music festivals. They should be encouraged to put this money in education by endowing professorial chairs, give scholarships, donate faculty buildings, as done recently at the Lagos State University (LASU).
The universities should develop active and aggressive endowment units to drive for these funds and complement the inadequate subvention by government.
Some concerned individuals have advocated the introduction of tuition in federal institutions as viable option to address inadequate funding of the subsector. Do you think the proposition is in order?
The payment of tuition in our federal institutions is probably long overdue. Government subvention is inadequate and cannot be enough to fund the institutions.
Universities should be allowed to charge fees but not exceeding some amount and this can be gradually reviewed over time.
The amount generated can go a long way in improving the quality of teaching that the students acquire, for instance with better facilities such as adequate lecture space, multimedia and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) support for teaching and learning as well as adequate materials for practical classes.
What is your take on the establishment of an Education Bank to cater for indigent students?
It is obvious that many parents cannot afford the funds required to cater adequately for the education of their wards.
The earned wages in real terms, for majority of parents is abysmal. Many responsible parents are desirous of adequate education for their wards but cannot afford it.
This is excluding the irresponsible ones that are not ready to or are keen to do so but indulge in just producing too many children that they cannot cater for. There used to be the Students Loans Scheme, decades ago.
This can be resuscitated and headed by competent, patriotic and knowledgeable individuals. Such schemes exist in many countries, including the United Kingdom and the U.S.
The scheme can be linked to banks or government can create a special bank for this purpose such as those for SMEs and Bank of Industry among others.
How to pay back? The loan can be tracked or bar coded and attached to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate for monitoring.
However, like in some of the nations, it is based on the earnings/ salary of the recipient after graduation to determine, the duration of pay back.
I am, sure that many genuine students will welcome this as it gives them some peace of mind to concentrate on their studies as well as act as motivation. It may be suggested, that the fees do not exceed N250, 000 per annum, about N1m for an average four- year course.
A lot of qualified applicants are yearly denied access to university education due to lack of infrastructure, teaching and learning aids. What do you think can be done to boost the chances of teeming Nigerian youth yearning for tertiary education?
This has always been a contentious issue. It is estimated that only about 20% of qualified applicants are admitted into universities yearly.
The need to increase access is desirable but must be controlled; it cannot be by the National Assembly advocating the creation of 80+ tertiary institutions. The process has to be gradual.
For example, the older and bigger universities must be encouraged to expand by increasing infrastructure and lecture spaces. In addition, more campuses can be established under the midwifery of these big colleges.
For example, the University of Lagos wanted to acquire the now derelict Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi, as a City Campus to accommodate Finance and Business faculty and so provide access especially to those living or working on the island, but did not materialise.
Secondly, the big and well established Colleges of Technology or of Education such as Yaba College of Technology, Kaduna Polytechnic, Adeyemi College of Education can be converted to Universities of Technology / Education and made to expand, being well established, they will therefore attract more students.
Lastly, creation of new universities should be a gradual process, starting with one or two in each geographical zone and see how they evolve, as pointer to how to proceed further.
For some controversial views, the country should study some provisions in some Scandinavian countries and UK, where some people are encouraged to go into vocational institutes. They go through programmed formal academic lectures with a high dose of technical exposure.
These will form the backbone of technologists that are required for industry such as oil and gas, manufacturing and emerging trend such as ICT and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Other formalisation of jobs through certification, such as fashion design, motor and air-conditioning technologists can be put through formalised training and made them more knowledgeable, rather than the current ‘trial and error’ mechanics.
If these people realise that they can earn more than graduates, then they will embrace the courses.
What is your position on plans by the National Assembly to establish 80 additional tertiary institutions across the country
This is neither workable nor viable and will be a waste of human and financial resources. At the moment, there is a dearth of qualified (PhD holders) lecturers in majority of the universities in the country. There are many lecturers that teach in two or three universities concurrently. Any attempt to establish several new institutions should be well thought out and not just be a basis for political gains.
Another contentious issue in the sector is that of university autonomy, is it really realistic?
This issue has been on for decades now. The most probable viable option for universities to develop is the issue of autonomy. However it is hoped that it won’t be like various government privatisation projects, which were ruined, by politicisation and acquisition by inept individuals. If there is a very rigid structure in place, it should be well delivered.
For example there must be competent people who are heads of such institutions either as vice chancellors, registrars or chairman of council. The autonomy will include fixing appropriate fees, subject to cap by government, revenue generation through consultancy and endowments as well as proper accountability for fund generation and disbursement
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