Following the recent suspension of the 8-months strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), it has become imperative to bring forward a lasting solution to end the recurring industrial strike actions in the Nigeria tertiary education sector.
Since 1990, ASUU has embarked on 16 strike actions over issue of unfulfilled agreements by the federal government of Nigeria. The embattled ASUU has repeatedly pressed home their demands with the same strategy without little or no result. Thus, it is the agitation of the education stakeholders that ASUU should chart a different route to hold the government to ransom in fulfilling its commitments.
On October 14 2022, students and parents breathed a sigh of relief after the strike, which started on February 14, was suspended. But stakeholders are worried that another strike may occur in a nearer future if ASUU demands are not met as agreed upon by the government in meeting with the Speaker of the Nigeria House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who waded in on the matter after all negotiations failed.
How can these issues, centered on welfare, salary package and payment platform be resolved once and for all? The answer is to make Universities autonomous by generating its own income and overseeing its own affairs. However, not without a structure in place to phase out this current dependence on the federal government.
It would be unfair to compare Nigeria’s education system with the developed countries because our economies are far apart in strength. However, if we truly hope to have a robust education sector, we must follow the footsteps of countries running smooth and successful education systems with little or no government interference or support.
Many Public Universities in the UK are funded by a combination of central government funding, and tuition fees charged to students (or their sponsors). The arrangements are slightly different in each of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In England, students typically pay a higher portion of the cost of the learning through their tuition fees, with the government making up the difference. However, in reality, the majority of students fund their studies using a government-backed loan, which they repay through the tax system once they have finished their course and are earning a certain amount per year.
From the academic year 2006/07, a new system of tuition fees was introduced in England. These variable tuition fees of up to £3,000 (₦1,309,933) per year are paid up-front as previously, but new student loans are available that may only be used to pay for tuition fees, and must be repaid after graduation, in addition to the existing loan.
In Nigeria, apart from state universities charging tuition fees, federal universities should also charge fee, generate other income and pay for itself.
The autonomy of universities is when the government removes its tentacles from higher education and focus on improving the economy and governance rather than divert funds to institutions that can generate their revenues. If the economy is good, purchasing power of parents will increase and artisans can live above average without university education.
Where public universities are not allowed to generate 100% their income, we will have many deadweight institutions taking up funds that could have been use for other vital areas of the economy. When management and staff of universities start to strategize on income stream and begin to be accountable, our institution will grow their infrastructure, academic-output and start to produce less mediocre results in the society.
These cannot be achieved immediately. It is a gradual adjustment in funding structure on the part of the government and the parents. Undoubtedly, this will mean increasing school fees and seeking funding from alumni, endowments, research patents sales and operating businesses within the school. In addition, schools will only be able to do this based on the value they offer to parents, communities, alumni bodies, companies and the economy.
The predicted outcome will be less mediocre people struggling to gain admission into universities as only those who actually have business to be in tertiary institutions will seek admission, and others can find their places in vocational institutions and other technical centres where they will get skills that will translate to increase in potential workers to boost the economy.
Universities autonomy would end ASUU having sole power to halt academic activities and disrupt the calendar. Also, public universities will eventually match up to their private counterparts in terms of research, education delivery, and ranking higher among top institution in the world.