The authorities must do more to stem the brain drain

Since the brain drain from Nigerian universities began in the late 1980s, there has been a progressive decline in numbers and quality of academic staff in our university system. At first, many of the best brains left the universities to join the media and the private sector while some went abroad to take up teaching and research jobs in foreign universities, including on the continent. That this exodus seems to have heightened is why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is crying out now. Worst hit are the public universities which also witness an internal migration by many of their best lecturers who move to the better paying private universities in the country. The latest wave of migrations is tied to the ‘Japa’ syndrome as brilliant young minds, driven by hunger and the arrogant stance of government at all levels, move abroad. 

Glaring evidence of the impact is in the abysmal quality of our graduates. Most are functional illiterates. The more debilitating impact is socioeconomic. Now that most of the medical personnel are relocating in droves, many of our hospitals are lacking in critical personnel. Besides, the foreign exchange cost of elite Nigerian children studying abroad is a significant part of the drain from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). More disturbing is that our children being educated in foreign universities at great cost are not heading home after their studies. They are staying out to add value to advanced economies. The question now is, how do we address the problem?  

During the 48th convocation of the University of Benin last Saturday, President Bola Tinubu pledged that his administration would work towards full university autonomy. While that may be one of the solutions, ASUU is also part of the problem. A former lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife who is currently a Senior Fellow for African Studies at the American Council on Foreign Relations, Ebenezer Obadare recently posed some questions: “How can ASUU insist on ‘autonomy’ and at the same time maintain that the federal government pick up the tab for the running of the universities? Why should university faculty spread across 36 states be paid the same salaries even though they teach different things and live and work in different social circumstances? And why should a single union be the one to negotiate on their behalf?”      

Adoption of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) by the federal government has been a contentious issue. We agree with ASUU that there is nothing wrong with a university lecturer trading his knowledge in two or three universities and getting rewarded in the process as it is done in many countries. The challenge of course is that ASUU wants the federal government to use its own software which suggests that they are hiding something. Meanwhile, most of our lecturers that teach and get paid in different universities usually abandon their primary responsibility and do not want to pay taxes on all their earnings. That cannot be an acceptable practice.  

Going forward requires 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. A less anti-intellectual attitude by government, a conscious involvement of universities in governance and public policy and development endeavours will help. Beyond granting autonomy, the president must understand that we need a pragmatic solution to the problem of tertiary education in Nigeria so that we can stop the brightest and best of our academics from leaving our country for greener pastures abroad.     

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