TIME FOR UNIVERSITY AUTONOMY

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Lack of adequate resources has undermined our public institutions

A good number of Nigeria’s young people are enrolled to study in public universities owned by both the federal and state governments because they are relatively affordable. Although, some of these universities are not adequately equipped and could be considered mostly unfit for purpose in terms of possessing the right human resources and infrastructure to provide standard higher education, parents still send their wards to them because they are about the only choices they have, given limited resources. There is an urgent need for a more rational assessment of the issue of tuition and the surest way to addressing the challenge is to grant full autonomy to the federal universities.

We are aware that some of Nigeria’s political and business leaders had better and far more affordable university education in the past, and that they also enjoyed very good conditions during their studies. But we must also recognise the fact that Nigeria has sadly grown in population without making commensurate plans to either expand or develop the education sector. The country has simply continued to grow without taking into consideration the need to educate this population well. It is therefore difficult to provide free tertiary education under the current circumstance.

As we continue to argue on this page, the crisis in our educational sector is so frightening that nothing short of a well- thought-out strategy will do for any meaningful change to occur. Unfortunately, such a coherent strategy is lacking today. In an ambiguous statement the federal government said two years ago that the policy on non-payment of tuition fees in federal universities subsists, while at the same time saying that “various university councils and management should be able to fix what fees students should pay that is affordable and acceptable to the students”. Students in federal universities, according to the statement, could be made to pay “auxiliary fees but not in excess.”

In response to the demand for quality, the last two decades have witnessed the emergence of a vibrant but expensive private education at all levels, especially in the urban areas. These institutions offer relatively better quality, employ more qualified teachers and invest in facilities. But these come at a premium that is out of the reach of most parents. Yet the products of these elite schools will graduate into the same society where they are outnumbered by the less privileged products of our distressed public schools, a testimony to our inbuilt governance of inequality. In this process, we have inadvertently deepened the class antagonism that will haunt the future of our children.

Having considered the potential danger that stares us on the face, we are of the strong opinion that an urgent convocation of a national educational summit to find solutions to the troubles faced by our universities would not be out of place. We feel for instance that such summit could ask pertinent questions about what or how the various education funds in the country have been used by beneficiaries and their managing entities, as well as why the leakages in the financial resources of our universities have not been plugged to ensure maximum utilisation of the budgets approved for them.

We also think that at such summit, solutions like the introduction and implementation of student loans could be looked at and evaluated to support students’ financing for their education. In doing this, we must keep in mind that education is a fundamental driver of development in any society; and that if we fail to educate our young people adequately, we will continue to lag behind in an age driven by knowledge, innovation and creativity.