University administrators should make life easier, not harder, for students

Nigeria’s tertiary education has steadily deteriorated over the past two decades. One only needs to engage some of our university graduates to discern the level of decay. This perhaps explains why these graduates, especially those with first degrees, are now required to undergo more rigorous and compulsory retraining and examinations before they could be admitted for higher degree courses in several universities abroad. While government, at all levels, can be held responsible for this situation, members of the strike-obsessed Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have also put the blame on the lack of accountability by university administrators.  

In recent years, the federal government has set up visitation panels to investigate allegations that border on abuse of due process and mismanagement of scarce resources by many of the vice chancellors. The concern is that nothing much has changed, essentially because no action has been taken regarding the reports. According to the Federal University of Technology Minna’s ASUU Chairman, Gbolahan Bolarin, if the managers of these institutions were prudent, most of our universities would not be in their current state. One of the reasons ASUU went on one of the most debilitating strikes in 2020, he argued, was the failure to release the White Paper on the visitation panels to federal universities and inter-university centres in the country.  

President Muhammadu Buhari once ordered the stoppage of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) special intervention funds across the country due to abuses after which he set up another visitation panel. Unfortunately, just as it happened with many of such probe panels earlier established by the outgoing administration, the White Paper on the 2021 presidential visitation panel’s reports from 88 institutions is still being awaited. But even though the half-hearted attitude of government at various levels towards education in terms of inadequate funding is well known, there is also a certain lack of creativity in the new breed of vice chancellors. Most of these administrators on the campuses are more of contractors and politicians than decent academic leaders and managers of scarce resources.  

Indeed, corruption and impunity in the university system have adversely affected the governance of federal tertiary institutions and the quality of education received by students. In a recent report, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) claimed that sundry allegations of corruption in federal universities – from unfair allocation of grades, contract inflation, truncation of staff’s salary on the payroll to employment of unqualified staff and sexual harassment are now rampant.  

Meanwhile, since the suspension of the last industrial action by ASUU, nothing remarkable has happened on the campuses. Besides the fact that some of the agreements reached are yet to be implemented, the state of most campuses is still a growing concern. From reports, most of the structures housing the different faculties and departments in these institutions are unkempt, and ill-maintained. Many of the hostels where the young men and women are sheltered are unfit for human habitation. In most of the campuses, the toilets are not working and where they do, water is not available. The rooms are overcrowded. The lecturers’ quarters in many of these campuses are deteriorating due to utter neglect.  

The terms of reference of the last panels established to audit the public universities, federal polytechnics, and Colleges of education, include looking at the financial management of the institutions, the quality of their leadership, standards, and quality assurance, as well as the assessment of the conditions of physical infrastructure. The reports have since been submitted to President Buhari. As usual, nothing has been heard about the recommendations. But the immediate challenge is the lack of transparency and accountability in the management by the people in charge of our tertiary institutions.  

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