31 January 2013

Nigeria: FG Urged to Release Report On Varsities

There is heightened call for the federal government to release the white paper on the report of the Committee on Needs Assessment for Nigerian universities.

Many Nigerians have been endeared to the report because it is the only documented evidence of the rot in Nigeria's tertiary education sub-sector, particularly the universities. As loud as the uproar about the decay of infrastructural facilities and learning resources in the universities has been, no group not even the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) could lay claim to having actual statistics on the level of damage.

It is the report, a joint collaboration of the federal government (executive and legislature) and perhaps for the first time ASUU, that revealed exactly why Nigeria has failed to make it to the list of the top 100 universities in Africa and the top 5,000 in the world.

Exactly how much has gone wrong in the university system? The report revealed that many universities rely on under-qualified staff: out of the total of 37,504 lecturers in the universities only about 75 per cent of them are engaged on a full time basis. Only 43 per cent of them have PhDs. It is so bad some universities have as few as five professors. A university like the Kano State University of Science and Technology can only boast of one professor after 11 years of establishment.

As for facilities and learning resources, no university with the exception of the Nigerian Defence Academy, can accommodate more than 50 percent of its students and there has been a steady decline in the quality of physical infrastructure - lecture theatres, laboratories, hostel blocks and residential quarters.

So, the expectations of Nigerians after the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa'i, presented the report before the National Economic Council on November 9 was that government would take emergency steps to gradually address the peculiar needs of the universities.

And, even though the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) rejected the report for not being included in the committee, civil society organizations want the white paper published soonest.

After a strategic session on tertiary education in Nigeria which was held in Abuja on January 17, a larger part of the communique focused on the universities needs assessment report.

The stakeholders which included journalists, university dons, students, anti-corruption agencies, lawyers, and civil society groups noted that the report was a "clear indication of the massive rot" in tertiary institutions, and that stakeholders must actively get involved in holding the Nigerian government accountable in finding lasting solutions to the findings of the report.

Specifically the group reiterated many of the recommendations of the report: interventionist agencies like Tertiary Education Trust Fund should remain as such and not become a substitute for government funding at all levels; universities should be granted full autonomy and industrial and students unions should operate without interference from management and appointment of heads of tertiary institutions must be "de-politicised and designation of such heads as political appointments be reversed immediately."

They also recommended that integrity and accountability systems must be strengthened in universities and acts of corruption punished.

But civil society is placing specific demands on government with regards to the report. It is asking the federal government to fully implement the report and timelines for its implementation should be released.

Civil society also wants the report to be adopted as a roadmap document for the transformation of the "fortunes of the sector" and called on all stakeholders to hold government accountable on its responses to the report and engage the report for the purposes of advocacy.

And finally, that government should honour the terms of agreement it entered with stakeholder unions to avoid incessant strikes.

Herein lies the fear of many Nigerians. ASUU and the federal government appeared to have reached a truce when the needs assessment committee was given its assignment. The former President of ASUU, Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, was a member. At the time, the minister was bold enough to say that an end had come to strikes by the union.

How long would the peace reign and when would the union start to lose patience waiting for the white paper? Remain to be seen.

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