Re-engineering varsity education

Re-engineering varsity education

Funding of universities and academic freedom were some of the constituents of the 2009 agreement initiated when erstwhile Education Minister Oby Ezekwesili empanelled a negotiation team that interfaced with ASUU.

Ebere Wabara

In 2009, the federal government, as usual, entered into another bout of agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). As you read this, that dishonoured pact is still a bone of contention. What is it that makes government to renege on promises it enters into with very clear eyes?

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Funding of universities, basic salary, autonomy and academic freedom remain the critical issues and were some of the constituents of the pyrrhic 2009 agreement, which was initiated as far back as December 2006 when the erstwhile Education Minister Dr. Oby Ezekwesili empanelled a negotiation team that interfaced with ASUU representatives. It is pertinent to point out that it took two unnecessary warning strikes—between May 18 and 30, 2009 and June 2009—to get the pact reluctantly ratified by government!

A recent study has revealed that students spend more time outside than inside lecture rooms and laboratories. In other words, perilous activities underscore school closure and the inevitable disruption of academic calendar.

The strike weapon is not only employed by ASUU. Other categories of teachers from primary school level to the universities adopt it, too. The general rot, especially at the foundational stage, is responsible for the present low literacy attainments.

Apparently worried by the deepening decay in our educational system, opulent parents and affluent guardians have taken refuge under the burgeoning private schools which charge exorbitantly but offer qualitative and time-bound scholarship–unlike some public institutions that run epileptic and substandard programmes.

While ASUU’s industrial action approach as a last weapon to realizing its objectives may be faulted, government’s bellicosity and haughtiness towards the union have not helped the resolution of the intermittent conflicts. Given the fact that the country operates shreds of uncoordinated educational policies, it is not surprising that the citadels produce low-quality graduates.

One crisis after another has put the whole process of teaching and learning in a shambles. And if care is not taken, the substructure of the entire educational system may collapse shortly. It is not enough to demonize ASUU without addressing the salient issues raised: poor educational funding, victimization of lecturers, unfulfilled agreements entered into with the government, utter neglect of private universities (not much of a problem, really) and absence of functional infrastructure for effective teaching and learning.

Government cannot be busy indulging in financial recklessness while a premium sector is decomposing. ASUU demands and other social infrastructural challenges are the points that need to be tackled—not outright condemnation of ASUU or civil society. Its strategies could fall short of expectation, but not the grounds of strike. Commentators should not get emotive in the eventuality of an industrial action because when the academic disruption begins students go home and are exposed to all manner of dangers, which could have been avoided.

In the past, Nigerian universities ran almost the same schedule in terms of calendar. Everyone knew and followed the calendar zealously. There were no dislocations occasioned by work stoppages of any kind. Currently, nobody can be authoritative when a programmed would be completed as a four-year degree pursuit can last as much as seven years or even more, all depending on the managerial ability of the faculty and students’ willingness to cooperate.

Another report not long ago had it that graduates of Nigerian universities between 1983 and this year who go abroad for postgraduate programmes are subjected to qualifying and comprehensive academic tests to ascertain their eligibility.

Our country’s leadership should take the blame for the humiliation. Even when schools are in session, there is no seriousness anymore on the part of everyone. If it is not cultism, it is sexual harassment, kidnapping, explosions or divided loyalty on the part of lecturers who delight in recycling outdated hand-outs and general marketing and of course the main drawbacks–government’s policy debility and industrial actions by all sorts of academic and non-academic unions.

Throughout the first semester of the 1992/93 academic year, access to laboratories and libraries, among other recesses, was made impossible nationwide because the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) members were on the warpath with the federal government.

READ ALSO: NASU, SSANU, NAAT suspend strike

The less seriousness in this sector’s industrial action is that once one of the unions pulls a deal with the government, the others suddenly begin their own agitations citing another union’s precedent. This is indicative of the level of rot in the system: pandering to demands for equal rights.

It is pretty obvious at the moment that solutions and panaceas must go beyond crisis management initiatives to grapple with medium-term infrastructural problems and policy inconsistency symbolized by the decay of physical facilities, and that fundamental (structural) rethinking and new approaches to educational management and financing are now required.

Indeed, for the educational sector to flourish, we should, collectively, through legislation, confront issues such as autonomy, funding, curricula, cultism, strikes, closures, unionism, governmental participation, involvement of non-governmental organizations and other sectors of the economy, drug addiction, exam fraud, and the critical infra- structural decomposition. These are the basic elements militating against the development of a sound educational system in the country today. The current scenario is gradually assuming a psychotic level, especially with the raving misconceptions of ASUU’s demands that have made most critics of the union amnesic and almost demented!

ASUU should embark on self-monitoring to check its members’ discrepancies like sexual malpractices, making a merchandise of irrelevant lecture handouts and examination fraud by way of aiding and abetting slothful students egged on by irresponsible parents and guardians. As for government, there is need for it to keep to its words and also ensure policy stability especially in the educational sector. Sabotage in various formats should also be addressed by the ASUU leadership.

Enduring advocacies and goals are better than fleeting objectives that fade away like a trance–either for an individual or a group. A solution should be found to government’s policy debility which has characterized the educational sector. That is the only way to foreclose recurrent ASUU industrial actions— not the currency of government’s recalcitrance on pledge redemption.

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