To resolve the financial crisis in the university system, there is need for alternative sources of funding

After months of painful idleness, discomfort and waste, there are indications that the three-month old strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would soon be called off. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige was optimistic last week after the negotiating team had reached some satisfactory agreements. The parties, made up of Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, Chairman of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar 111 of Sokoto, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Sampson Ayokunle as well as the ministers of Labour, Finance and Education. Also at the session were leaders of ASUU and other stakeholders.

The intervention was perhaps triggered by ASUU’s three months extension of its earlier three-month-long strike. The glooming prospects that the campuses would remain closed for another 12 weeks had provoked protests among students across the country. In some states, students resorted to blocking major roads and highways leading to gridlocks, with others vowing that they would disrupt the political processes leading to the 2023 general election. Their actions were further fuelled by the federal government swift response to the threat by the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) which averted the suspension of domestic flights in the country. 

Meanwhile, the crisis between ASUU and the federal government has been on for several decades. These range from a few days warning strikes to full-scale industrial actions, lasting more than a semester. The current “roll-over” strike, like previous ones, was triggered by the government’s inability to meet the 2020 renegotiated agreement. The demands are for improved working conditions in the university system: funding for the revitalisation of public universities, payment of academic earned allowances, the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as against government’s IPPIS, among others. But even if the federal government decides to address these immediate demands and the universities resume, the problem will soon resurface. Yet,education is too important to be administered in fits and starts. We need a sustainable solution, especially on the issue of funding. 

To resolve the perpetual financial crisis in the university system so that our graduates can compete globally in the knowledge world, we must examine alternative sources of funding. For instance, as we have suggested several times on this page, financial assistance for poor but bright students could come in form of scholarships and bursaries, but the idea of tuition-free tertiary education for all is no longer realistic. For the sector to attract quality academic and non-academic staff, provide necessary teaching aids, and ensure conducive learning environment for students, some people must bear the cost.  

In most countries where education is taken seriously, universities explore several ways of raising funds for their operations, without any attempt to reinvent the wheel. The common avenues include donations, endowments, professional chairs, gifts, grants, and consultancy services. While some of our universities may be embarking on these measures, they need to scale up their performance. More importantly, the administrators of these universities also need to manage their resources prudently and transparently. A situation in which wives of vice chancellors are behaving like spouses of politicians, travelling abroad at public expense for dubious programmes, is both irresponsible and unconscionable.    

  Overall, we understand what ASUU is fighting for, even when we disagree with their method. The state of many Nigerian university campuses today is rather pathetic. Their weak financial conditions are exacerbated by the current crippling economic crisis afflicting the nation. Yet, besides personnel costs, funds are required to rehabilitate dilapidated facilities, purchase consumables and research capability. But dealing with the challenge of thin liquidity requires more than seasonal strikes by both the academic and non-academic staff while the federal government and authorities in the 36 statesmust also understand the primacy of constant dialogue. It is particularly important for them to take funding of universities more seriously while working to ensure Industrial peace in the educational sector.  

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