Funding Education as Policy Issue

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE       kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

In the last few weeks the progressive movement in Nigeria has been mourning two of their own that happened to be academics in their life times – Abubakar Momoh, a professor of Political Science and Funmi Adewumi, a professor of labour relations.

As they are wont to do at a time like this, the comrades and colleagues of these fighters for human progress have been using the sad moment for sober reflections on the cause the departed passionately pursued while they were alive. Memorials meetings have been held. For instance, in one of the memorial gatherings in honour of Professor Momoh in Lagos last Wednesday, the theme that was explored was “Nigeria in Crisis: Rethinking Economic Policies and Posing Alternative Developmental and Political Options,” with Professor Toye Olorode as the guest speaker.

Radical lawyer Femi Falana, who chaired the occasion, threw a challenge to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the perennial question of funding education. He asked the union to take a greater interest in the enforcement of existing laws on education tax fund. After all, the enactment of laws is a product of the struggles for democratisation of access to education in the country. It is, therefore, fitting to the memories of these progressive academics that reflections on funding education (among other issues) are provoked at this time.

Funding education has remained a policy debacle not for lack of attempts at solving the problem. To be fair to successive governments since the days of the military regimes, laws have been made to back up the drive for resources to fund education. The regrettable experience has been that the best of these efforts have simply not proved to be good enough. As far back as 1993, Education Tax Act came into existence. The Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act of 2011 repealed the 2003 and 2004 laws on education tax. In the light of the chronic underfunding of tertiary education, the impact of the Fund should be judiciously assessed. Efforts should be stepped up to ensure the enforcement of the laws as well as the prudent disbursement of the resources made available as a result of the work of the Fund.

The Tertiary Education Trust Fund imposes a tax of two per cent on “assessable profits” of all companies registered in Nigeria. On the Fund’s Board of Trustees are representatives of the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. It is important that the “stakeholders” should take more interest in the policy outcomes of the implementation. There should be insistence on accountability and transparency. For example, for decades teachers’ unions in the higher institutions have fought gallant battles to draw public attention to the steady collapse of public education due to underfunding. The nation has witnessed maximally paralysing strikes. Hours have been spent on committee meetings with representatives of government.

Now, the Fund is to tackle underfunding in tertiary education. Among the areas the Fund is expected to focus upon are infrastructure and equipment, staff training, research and publication as well in the overall development of the institutions

But the reality is that the entire education sector is poorly funded. The indubitable fact is that the decay in the education sector is a social problem. It requires a social solution. And that is essentially the spirit of the various laws backing education tax funds. Unfortunately, there are still members of the elite within and outside government playing the ostrich with the matter of funding education. They perceive quality education as a commodity. And like other commodities, education is increasingly subject to the pernicious regime of market forces. Those who can afford it simply “solve” the problem by playing in the burgeoning education market. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of parents cannot afford to play in this market of quality education at home and abroad because of poverty. One of the destructive consequences of the trend in the education sector is inexorably the widening inequality in the society. The members of the elite cannot, of course, pretend to be oblivious of this vicious cycle and its calamitous implications for the future.

Doubtless, funding education is a policy issue globally. That is why from the east to west governments design socially creative policies to solve the problem of funding education instead of relying on private business strategies to solve the problem.

More than a decade ago, a slogan emerged in the United States that no child would be “left behind” in the race for education. Perhaps it is worthwhile reminding our policymakers and other enthusiasts of the education market in Nigeria about an observation made in the American context a decade ago. The observation was made by Alan Greenspan as he reflected on “Education and Income Inequality” in his memoirs entitled “Age of Turbulence.” Greenspan writes: “Another education imperative goes beyond fostering market forces in schools. I recognize that left to their own devices, market incentives will not reach the education of those children “left behind” (to borrow a term from current U.S. education legislation).

The cost of educational egalitarianism is doubtless high and may be difficult to justify in terms of economic efficiency and short-term productivity. Some students can achieve a given level of education far more easily, and therefore at far less cost, than others. Yet there is danger to a democratic society in leaving some children out of sync with its institutions. Such neglect contributes to exaggerated income concentration, and could conceivably be far more costly to the sustaining of capitalism and globalization in the long run. The value judgments involved in making such choices reach beyond the imperatives of the marketplace”. Now just as you cannot be more Catholic than the Pope, so also can you possibly not be more capitalist than Greenspan who for many years was the Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Bank.

Funding of education should be central to any productive policy discussion in resolving the crisis of the Nigerian political economy. It is not enough for policymakers at all levels to wring their hands and plead budgetary constraints. In the last year American presidential election, while seeking the Democratic ticket Bernie Sanders audaciously proffered his own socialist alternative to funding of education, which still remains a big problem in the richest in the world. The American youths who have a future to aspire to embraced Sanders’ message of progress with vigour.

The problem of funding manifests at all levels of education. Teachers in primary schools are protesting placing the funding and management of that level of education in the hands of local governments. The teachers have no confidence in the quality of governance at the local government level. The primary school teachers would prefer the state governments to fund basic education. Meanwhile, secondary teachers are not satisfied with funding and management of schools in most states. All these developments suggest a more progressive approach of solving the problem: that is making budgetary allocation to education a priority as well as gear up the mobilisation of education funds. It is an elementary proposition that a progressive approach to solving the problem of underfunding education is making the sector a budgetary priority.

The poor funding of education should have an eminent position in the agenda for the public sphere discussion.