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Politicians and public universities

By Editorial Board
24 September 2019   |   3:55 am
Against the backdrop of the worsening state of public universities, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the other day, accused politicians of intentionally destroying public...

Against the backdrop of the worsening state of public universities, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the other day, accused politicians of intentionally destroying public universities through their policies, as evident in the decadent state of affairs in the institutions, a development this newspaper laments regularly.

That political leaders are no longer interested in funding public universities as they should, has not been in doubt.  But the curious denouement has been that some of the leaders have been establishing their own universities in and out of office in this country of anything is possible. The private universities being supported by our politically exposed people are now generally believed to be better equipped and made more conducive to learning while the public ones are left in a parlous state.

This situation has reached such an alarming stage to the extent that students in public varsities live and study in squalid environment this newspaper drew attention to barely a week ago. There is no evidence that the state of utilities in the institutions will receive official attention soon.

The ASUU national president, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, who made the accusation during a press briefing after ASUU’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, lamented that the politicians did not want to fix the public universities because that action would diminish the presence of private universities in the country.

He explained that the union had decided, during the meeting, to reject the re-establishment of the National Education Bank for fear that they want to give out the money to students in private universities where some political leaders have had substantial investment.

“We don’t want psychiatric cases to proliferate our universities. We are already seeing a trend that our students are committing suicide,” Ogunyemi bemoaned, adding that when the phenomenon of imposing loans on the students is added, the fear of payment would begin to generate more anxiety.

The ASUU leader noted that the academic staff union would prefer scholarship to assist children of the poor to the dubious revival of the Education Bank, which would have been ideal in a decent society.

The alarm raised by ASUU is weighty and should not be brushed aside. There will be no future for the country if tertiary education, the engine room for research and economic development is killed. Political leaders need to renew their minds about funding education at all levels if they want this country to be part of the modern society that digital technologies disrupt every day. It is only through research that human progress can be recorded. And only tertiary institutions carry out such research for development.

No doubt, there is crisis in our educational system, which should be a source of worry to all stakeholders including ASUU that has raised the alarm on an issue that affects the most populous black nation on earth. Things have deteriorated so badly. The public schools system is in a shambles.

Is it not strange, for instance, that in this age of digital technology, government is unwilling to prioritise education for national development? Why is it that none of the 36 states of the federation has paid serious attention to robust funding of education in the country? Why can’t we find even one example of a world-class state university, even among the ones set up by some visionary leaders during the second republic that collapsed to a military intervention in December 1983? Quality education is responsible for the rapid transformation of the leading East Asian nations, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan and Singapore. Our leaders know too well as this newspaper has always noted that the Scandinavian countries are ahead of their peers economically because of the edge they have in qualitative education. The name of the game changer is not miracle: it is robust funding through budgetary allocation to education.

If we can’t educate our children in the current competitive world, then we are doomed. For instance, reports that over ten million children are out of school portends danger for the country.

Education ought to be the greatest investment for the future, even if nothing else is done. But to leave this critical sector to the whims and caprices of selfish politicians is a disservice to the nation. This newspaper has repeatedly noted that from 2015 till date the budgetary allocation to education has never exceeded the seven (7) per cent threshold reached under the previous administration.

This is in contradistinction to what other serious countries are doing; countries that try to stay or nudge their education budget above the UNESCO 26 per cent threshold. Nigeria, unfortunately, is far from the double-digit zone. What is worse, even the poor allocation to the existing public universities is not being properly managed.

The poor funding of the universities ramifies in poor quality of instructors and students. Poor and decrepit infrastructural facilities, including lecture halls, laboratories, etc, are taking their toll on the quality of instruction and learning. Consequently, many of the products of the institutions are unable to contribute positively to economic development because of dearth of employable skills.

This is why ASUU should not be derided in this alarm raised on the state of education in Nigeria. Meanwhile, authorities at federal and state levels should have some introspection on the reproach of having to secure admission for their children’s tertiary education even in some West African countries where education quality cannot be guaranteed.

A robust response to the ASUU challenge should be the prioritisation of education in the next budget proposals. Let there be exemplary state governments funding education in this federation. There should be federalism brand ambassadors in the education sector. Politicians should note that only good education can bring about solution to various challenges we face at the moment including poverty, insecurity and corruption.