The decision to stop universities from sending part of their money to government is hugely welcome
At the root of the crisis of tertiary education in Nigeria is the lack of an articulated policy on funding. The weak financial conditions of most of the government-owned universities and polytechnics 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 aid research. It is therefore unconscionable that at a period we should be thinking of how to resolve the perpetual financial crisis in these academic institutions so that their graduates can compete globally in the knowledge world, there were plans to extort them in the name of revenue generation.
It is just as well that the federal government has rescinded the proposal to deduct 40 per cent of their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Represented by the Minister of Education, Tahir Mamman, at the University of Ibadan, President Bola Tinubu last Friday said the timing was not right. "The 40 per cent IGR automatic deduction policy stands cancelled. This is not the best time for such a policy since our universities are struggling," he said. But the issue goes beyond timing. It is wrong, provocative, indefensible and should never at any time be implemented.
For the tertiary education sector to attract quality academic and non-academic staff, provide necessary teaching aids, and ensure conducive learning environment for students, it requires a lot of financial resources from both the public and private sectors. That will not be achieved by turning universities and polytechnics into avenues for raising money to fund the indulgence of politicians.
A recent letter titled 'Implementation of 40% automatic deduction from internally generated revenue of partially funded federal government institutions' said it would begin the deduction with effect from November 2023. But according to the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, the Finance Act 2020 being touted by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, merely specified that 40 per cent could only be sent to the federal government if there was a surplus. In the case of universities, they argued, there was no surplus but a lack of funding. We agree that the law being touted does not support the federal government position on the issue. Neither does common sense.
When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended their strike earlier in the year, we canvassed that critical stakeholders should begin finding solutions to the menace of poor funding that continues to damage public education in Nigeria. Asking universities for money cannot be part of such efforts. As we have repeatedly stated on this page, we understand what ASUU is fighting for, even when we disagree with their method. The hurried academic calendars which usually follow these all-too-frequent strikes allow for very little attention to serious studies while under-funding the education sector has had collateral damaging effects, such that our universities have now become grotesque carcasses of their former selves.
The latest gambit is therefore nothing but bad faith on the part of the federal government. "As a union, we are in a meeting to take the decision. They are not supposed to deduct anything from anyone. The university is not generating revenue, this means you want to give students loans and you want to go back to the universities to collect it as 40% IGR," said ASUU president, Emmanuel Osodeke. "These are universities that are not properly funded. Parents are complaining that they can't pay the current fees, yet you want to collect 40 per cent of the little universities earn."
At a period when we need to address the challenge of inadequate funding for our tertiary institutions, asking them to refund 40 per cent of their IGR is a reckless proposition. The federal government must perish the idea totally.