Our public universities need to think out of the box to find creative solutions to their funding crisis

The nation woke up recently to the decision by 38 public universities to jack up their tuition fees. According to the Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Deji Omole, the hike was necessitated by poor funding from the owners, the federal and state governments. Whatever may be the merit of this decision, we are concerned that it may obstruct the peace of the universities, whose students have already notified the authorities of their intention to oppose the proposal because it would shut out many of them who might not be able to afford the increment.

There is no doubt that the nation’s public universities are facing hard financial times. This is a corollary of government’s meagre attention to education, a fact attested to by its poor annual budgetary allocation to the sector. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommends that developing nations allocate 26 per cent of their annual budgets to education to enable them close the yawning gap in the sector’s development and to lay a solid foundation for their future growth, which would rely largely on the quality of their human resources.

Government, at all levels in our country, has performed abysmally on this front. In this year’s budget, for instance, the share for education in the federal government N7.3 trillion appropriation is a mere N448.01 billion, a miserly six per cent. But nothing demonstrates the perennial disdain for the sector than the allocation of a miserable N50 billion to capital development while a whopping N398.01 billion is allotted to recurrent expenditure. But reports on education from the 36 states of the federation are no better. The figures for 2016, for instance, showed that 33 of the 36 states allocated N653.53 billion, representing 10.7 per cent of their combined total budget estimates of N6.1 trillion to the sector.

These poor allocations fly in the face of government’s own realisation of the dire situation in the Nigerian universities. An enquiry commissioned by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2012 on the needs of these universities led the federal government to earmark N1.3 trtillion for special intervention in the Nigerian public universities over the next six years. Only N200billion has been released to date.

With low budgetary allocation to education, it is little wonder why tertiary institutions, particularly universities are broke with the attendant degeneration of their infrastructural facilities as well as lowering of standards of teaching and learning. The situation has led to perennial shut down and instability in the public institutions. Their global ranking has sunk so low that none of them is ranked among the top 800 in the world or among the top 10 in Africa.

Meanwhile, in spite of government’s stated commitment to education, widespread agitations for increased budgetary allocation to the sector has not persuaded it to take more substantive steps in that direction, notwithstanding its complimentary funding of tertiary education through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).

While we support the clamour for increased funding, we nonetheless think that given the dwindling resources of government, the tertiary institutions need to think out of the box and find more creative solutions to the problem. Elsewhere, universities have explored several ways of raising money to fund their operations. In this regard, ours need not reinvent the wheel. The common avenues include donations, endowments, professional chairs, gifts, grants and consultancy services. We note that many of our universities have embarked on these but their performance needs to be stepped up.

The total earning of Nigeria’s 89 universities was N340.6 billion in 2016. Clearly much more work has to be done to shore up internally generated revenue in order to wean the universities of their virtual total dependence on government funding. More importantly, our universities’ administrators also need to manage their resources prudently and transparently as part of the challenge in several cases has been misappropriation of funds kept in their care.

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Elsewhere, universities have explored several ways of raising money to fund their operations. In this regard, ours need not reinvent the wheel. The common avenues include donations, endowments, professional chairs, gifts, grants and consultancy services. We note that many of our universities have embarked on these but their performance needs to be stepped up