BEYOND THE PERENNIAL ASUU STRIKES

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It’s time to reposition tertiary education in the country

After nine months which effectively approximate the loss of a whole academic session, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last week called off its strike. Given the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, there is no certainty as to when the students will actually resume classes. Sadly, our public universities have not designed methods for e-learning as it is in most countries across the world. It is one of the tragedies of our educational system for which we call on the authorities to begin to fashion solution. Beyond that, there is also an urgent need for appropriate lessons to the incessant closures of our public universities.

However, to deal with the challenges in the sector, we must begin with a comprehensive capacity audit of the academic staff. Research capacity should also be strengthened and the criteria for academic promotion made more rigorous in our institutions of higher learning. Above all, the reward system and the eligibility criteria for leadership of the trade and academic unions should be reviewed to favour serious academics. Those who want trade union platforms as springboard to political visibility should be subtly distanced from such platforms. It is also important that more attention be paid to the exchange of ideas for the development of the system than resolving trade disputes.

Meanwhile, the challenge of the educational sector is far bigger. Only a return to those neglected details that make for a credible educational system can rescue the nation from the current sorry pass. A serious reform must start from primary school education that should be made to function within a well-articulated and enforceable policy framework. The entry and exit into education management at this level should be regulated and standardised across the country. But the tertiary level is where most of the challenges are. The governing boards of our universities and polytechnics should be populated with people whose relevant exposure will add value to the system. The federal government only needs to pay attention to the mistaken assumption that an appointment into the governing board of any institution is an opportunity to confer political patronage.

Despite calling of the latest strike, the challenge with ASUU remains. While there is no way we can develop our country until efforts are made to revitalise key sectors like education, most of the disputes are always occasioned by broken promises and unfulfilled agreements. Therefore, going forward requires other critical stakeholders in the education sector joining in the efforts to find a lasting solution to what has become a perplexing national challenge. But in doing this, the federal government must take the initiative so that we can collectively come up with ways to reposition tertiary education in our country.

Meanwhile, to the extent that commercialisation of academic grades and poorly written handouts, delayed dissertation, award of questionable degrees and all manner of unwholesome practices have combined to ruin university education in Nigeria, ASUU must also accept that it is complicit in the problem. Unfortunately, these are issues which seem to be of little or no concern to the lecturers and that perhaps explains why the once-vibrant union that set the agenda for national discourse in its heyday is now strike-obsessed and largely irrelevant.

Given the incessant disruption on the campuses, it is little surprise that public universities in Nigeria have continued to go down the ladder of academic ranking, even among their peers in Africa. Yet, as we have repeatedly argued on this page on this recurring problem, whatever the issues are, it is important for the federal government and ASUU to find common grounds because what these strikes have done is to damage whatever remains of the credibility of tertiary education in Nigeria.