Nigeria @58: Meeting the Country’s Education Demands for Global Competitiveness

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As Nigeria marked its 58th independence anniversary, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and other stakeholders are calling on the government to commit to the delivery of a competitive standard of education across the country. Funmi Ogundare reports

The quality of education in any country is one of the many keys to national development, however, it seems the country has not fared well in the sector considering the barrage of challenges confronting it.

Sadly the level, quality and standard of education in Nigeria has witnessed a geometric drop and this unfortunate trend has made it the leading country of origin of students from Africa migrating to other parts of the world in search of quality education.

The fall in standard has been attributed to various factors such as poor funding , low university admission capacity, bad governance , academic fraud, corruption and indiscipline, politicisation of education by government, among others.

For instance, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been at loggerheads with the federal government over the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement and outstanding issues in 2017 Memorandum of Action to arrive at a mutually agreed path towards repositioning the Nigerian university system for global reckoning and competitiveness.

As it is, the union is agitated and wants the government to take action in implementing all its agreement.

In September last year the union had met with the federal government in Abuja on the need to honour the 2009 agreement. The union had embarked on an indefinite strike in August, 2017, following government’s failure to implement the agreement reached with the union in November 2016.

At the meeting convened by Minister of Labour and Employment , Dr. Chris Ngige which had in attendance Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters Senator Ita Enang, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Mr. Bolaji Adebayo; and ASSU, led by its President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, the federal government seemed to bow to the union’s demands with a promise to release the sum of N220 billion not later than October 2017, to fund the revitalisation of federal universities across the country. At the meeting, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Action (MOA), were also signed by the union’s President, Professor Ogunyemi and Dr. Ngige on behalf of the federal government. The move, however, had prompted the union to suspend its strike.

Chris Ngige had said at the meeting that in line with the 2009 agreement government had with ASUU, it had pledged to release the sum of N220 billion not later than October 2017 to fund the revitalization of federal universities.

He noted that government had began paying the earned allowances of ASUU members and that the present administration had been holding meetings with ASUU on how to address the non-release of funds which ought to have commenced in 2014 under the immediate past administration. Other issues discussed include; how to set up the National Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO), Earn Academic Allowances (EAA), university staff schools and treasury single account with a view to finding how the system could accommodate funds for research grants that need to be independent from the government, issue of how the federal government could be involved in the running of state universities, as Ngige said a seven-man committee would be set up to work towards implementation of the proposals that had been endorsed by both sides.

According to him, “most of ASUU’s demands that were discussed during the meeting emanated from the 2009 agreement and the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding the university teachers had with the federal government, it is important that solutions were found to these pending problems since government is a continuum.”

Professor Ogunyemi said the union would not rest on its oars until the country’s university education system is transformed, adding that it was high time the country returned to the era of being an educational tourist destination for other African countries.

He thanked the labour minister and his education counterpart, as well as other stakeholders that were involved in the series of consultations that resulted in the milestone reached through the signed agreement.

Unfortunately, one year after the union signed the MOA with the government, the operational license of NUPEMCO is yet to be released after it had submitted acceptable application to PENCOM.

The Coordinator of ASUU, Lagos Zone, Professor Olusiji Sowande confirmed to journalists during a press briefing that , “In the MOA of 2017, government promised that a sum of N20 billion shall be released by the Minister of Finance , made up of N10 billion in September 2017 and N10 billion in October 2017 as a sign of its commitment to revitalization of public universities.

“As at the time of signing the MOA, the revitalisation fund owed by government was N220 billion. It was reported in the media that N20 has been released to ASUU. Let me make it clear that government has never released any money to our union.”

Sowande who is a professor of Ruminant Animal Production, Department of Animal Production and Health, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, argued that the manner in which the announcement was made, was intended to blackmail the union.

“Government releases are usually made to the benefiting universities. The purported release of N20 billion is coming after one year as against one month agreed in the MOA of 2017. Our expectation is that by now, government should have offset more than N220 bullion to the Nigerian public universities as contained in the 2013 MoU for upgrade of facilities and infrastructure development.”
He also called on the federal government to immediately reconstitute the current government renegotiation team to allow for a new leadership take-over for the immediate release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) payments.

“In September 2017, government announced the commencement of forensic audit of the N30 billion released for EAA in 2013, with a promise to conclude the audit within six months, offset the balance of the EAA arrears for 2009 to 2012 and mainstream the EAA into annual budget starting with a supplementary budget in 2018, “he said

The coordinator regretted that the government seems to have forgotten about the earned allowances and that the forensic audit report is yet to be released, while calling for a provision of a platform for ASUU leaders to interface with governors on poor funding and proliferation of state universities.

“In the light of poor funding and proliferation of state universities and recognising the concurrence of education in the Nigerian constitution, the opportunity of interfacing and drawing the attention of state governors to the problems of underfunding and proliferation of state universities through the June 28, 2018 summit of the National Economic Council (NEC) and national council of states was technically scuttled.” He said this has brought a big setback for the memorandum of action.

The coordinator who also called for a speedy release of operational license of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) said there are doubts about the sincerity of PENCOM in granting the license.

“The promise of getting the license within two weeks of submission was not fulfilled. Instead, about two ago, an approval in Principle (AiP) was granted for the operation of NUPEMCO. The generality of our members would only be fulfilled with the issuance of operational license to NUPEMCO to operate as a Pension Fund Administrator (PFA).”

A lecturer in the Political Science department, University of Lagos, Dr. Dele Ashiru who emphasised on the commodification of education by the private universities in the country, noted that their philosophy is at variance with what obtains in the public universities.

He added that churning out first class in private universities is a way of advertising their institution so that many people can enrol and make money.

“That is why ASUU is insisting that relevant regulatory agencies should be circumspect in issuing university licenses to all comers. What we have seen is a situation where retirees, people on sabbatical and dismissed lecturers are warehoused in all of these private universities and they are churning out questionable first class.

“A university is not about classes of degrees. It is about the impactation of knowledge for the development of society, so if your focus is only to churn out first class to attract customers, then you are really not in the business of knowledge production and dissemination but purely commodification, ” he stressed

In his submission, a former Rector of Lagos State Polytechnic, Chief Olawumi Gasper
told THISDAY that for the country to attain the desired human capital development indices, education must be prioritised and made the foundation of national development.

He said government at all levels must commit to the delivery of a competitive standard of education across the country and that the political leadership of a visionary and selfless leader will ensure the repositioning of the sector.

“Competition must be introduced in public schools by instituting scholarship schemes for the exceptionally gifted and creative students. The scholarships should see such students through the senior secondary schools and beyond. There must be adequate funding with good management of resources (accountability, controls and transparency in the management of allocated resources in the education sector). Wastages that abound especially in recurrent spendings should be plugged and funds directed to equipping the laboratories/workshops, training facilities and improvement in the school infrastructure,” he stressed
Gasper who is also the pioneer Executive Secretary of Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASTVEB), affirmed that teaching curriculum must be reviewed and regularly updated especially in ICT and its applications to encourage innovations and for learning to be more practical and research based.
He also called form the professionalisation of the teaching profession and institution of continuous professional development with current and up-to-date materials and technology.
The former rector argued that character and Integrity deficit is currently a major unpleasant problem in the country and called for an adoption of an educational approach that will strengthen civic education and promote social values among the youths.
He opined that many courses and programmes in the universities that are not relevant to our national aspiration and development must be rationalised and streamlined.

“An example is every university in the country runs all available programmes in Agriculture and other related courses. Scarce resources therefore do not impact on meaningful research, teaching and community service. The huge skill gaps and skills deficit in all sectors, evidenced by influx of foreign workers, with low interest and poor enrollment of our youths and inability of our technical institutions to produce and meet the demand for competent skilled workers, calls for emphasis and increased investment in technical education.”
He stressed the need for NBTE to adopt recent demands by stakeholders in the TVET sub-sector to consider only graduates of universities/polytechnics, passionate about competence and skills training for enrollment into technical education institutions for the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude in entrepreneurship and vocational education.

“This is against the background of the unique Nigerian situation, with a high penchant by our youths and parents for university degrees. The new approach must be immediately considered, especially to match the high demand for competent and confident high quality technical skills by the real sector for infrastructure development, provision of services and economic growth. Government at all levels must prioritise entrepreneurship and vocational education in our strategic economic plans and work to integrate the current TVET pathway properly to meet industry standards and requirements with globally recognized certifications,” Gasper said.