Chronic underfunding of tertiary education has reduced Nigerian public universities into shameful outfits that are incapable of discharging their responsibilities of teaching, research and community service. The government of President Buhari must quickly raise education funding to 26% of the national budget as recommended by UNESCO.
The Punch Newspaper posted a report on its website on 23 July regarding a protest of admission seekers and their parents at the premises of the University of Lagos. The protest was against the new decision of national admissions board to distribute candidates across institutions, notwithstanding the candidate’s choice of institution. This new development underscores the depth of rot in the nation’s tertiary education system and its harshness on millions of students who are keen on getting educated, including their supportive parents.
The crisis of admission seeking in the country is caused by the limited capacity of teaching and learning facilities, as against the backdrop of a growing population of admission seekers. The number of youths who want to be thoroughly educated and useful to society is greater than the capacity of classrooms, laboratories, libraries, dormitories and other teaching materials that are essential to effective acquisition of knowledge. As ridiculous as this may sound, it is the stark reality of tertiary education in the country. And the nucleus of the whole crisis, in fact the cause of poor, overstretched facilities, is the chronic underfunding of education by successive governments at all levels. Irresponsible politicians have continued to misplace priority of governance, and have in the process made getting education a sort of phantasmagoric dream.
The conditions of learning and facilities of learning in Nigeria’s tertiary institution today cannot be compared with the quality of learning in the 1970s and 1980s. These periods are still referred to as the “glorious days of military dictatorship”. It featured heavily funded education by government, and pampered students who were practically fed by their government. The books in the libraries were not outdated, and dormitories as well as classrooms were not overcrowded. This past was obviously better than the prevailing conditions of today’s tertiary education system.
In my own school, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the dormitory rooms which housed four students per rooms in the 1980s are now occupied by twelve students officially (This statistic does not include the number of “squatters” who are officially not less than three). The famous Awolowo Hall cafeteria in OAU, which served as an outlet of affordable food and other goodies of military dictatorship, is now a reading room and popular venue for mass meetings. Many things have obviously changed since the name changed from University of Ife; this includes the deterioration in facilities and the attendant poor quality of learning. However, underlining the worrisome conditions of the country’s education system is the pathetic financial commitment of government to education.
S. Ademola Ajayi, in his mind-boggling paper titled “The Development of Free Primary Education Scheme in Western Nigeria, 1952-1966: An analysis”, revealed that “between 1954 and 1966, education attracted the largest share of the western region’s recurrent budget, having varied between 28.9% and 41.2% during the period”. In the 1958-59 financial year, Ajayi continues, “41.2% of the total recurrent budget was devoted to education alone”. In 21st century Nigeria, the budgetary spending of government has drastically dwindled, and fluctuates between a meagre 8-10% of total budget expenditures annually. It is important to note that UNESCO recommended that developing country like Nigeria should at least fund education with 26% of her budgetary allocation yearly.
Education, especially tertiary education, determines the possibility of scientific and technological growth of a country. A government that does not take the funding of education seriously is simply nonchalant towards the future and development of her country. Such government can be accused of consciously plunging its country into poverty and underdevelopment. Most contemporary politicians are guilty of this charge. The polity of capitalism in Nigeria has focused government’s budget on funding of the outrageous emolument and lavish lifestyles of political officeholders. This system has however created a multi-dimensional crisis in the tertiary education system in the country.
University authorities and other representatives of politicians in the education sector are always economical with the truth when it comes to revealing the real cause of the problem. Instead of attacking the deadly parasite of malaria with appropriate dosage of anti-malaria drugs, our education authorities and boards prefer mopping the patient’s hot body with wet towel. While reacting to the protest of parents against the new decision of admissions board to impose choice of schools on admission seekers, Dr. Benjamin Fabian, the board’s Head of Public Relations, argued that “We are only trying to ensure that candidates have better choice for admission this year, unlike what obtained in the past”.
Education administrators continuously cover-up the inefficiency of politicians to save their job, while they as a consequence hold innocent parent and hardworking students responsible for the failure of their government. One wonders whether lofty ideals such as “academic freedom”, “pursuit of truth” and “quest for excellence” etc. are still the cornerstone of academic engagements in the country.
The situation is worst with the tertiary institutions themselves. The job description of vice-chancellors now seem to include business administration. In the name of raising Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), authorities have had to devise devious methods of extorting poor Nigerians, through constant increase in fees, post UTME fees and result checker cards etc. In OAU for instance, a Post-UTME candidate must let go N7, 700 to be screened for the post-UTME exercise. Probably after the recent outcry of workers in the university over 64-months unpaid arrears of allowance, the university is seeking new means to boost IGR. This time around, the university authorities have directed that Direct Entry candidates must also sit for Post-UTME. This is no tougher standard. It is simply another business strategy to get money from unusual places.
The failure of government to properly fund education has shamefully turned tertiary institutions into hotbed of corruption, profligacy and other unthinkable immoralities. This has also hugely undermined the sanctity of tertiary institutions as nursery of ideas and irrepressible truth. In the same OAU, authorities do not conceive students or admission seekers as knowledge-seekers any longer, but as priceless commodities of profit.
A fresh student on campus today pay an average of N93, 000, while the university pre-degree programme has become a money-pump, where zealous admission seekers are cruelly extorted. What is most painful about these whole man inhumanity to man is that the fundamental impact of these modern taxation is not felt on the learning and living conditions of students; workers are not being paid their legitimate wages after working themselves out for the university. We may then ask where this money is.
Government has to take up completely the funding of education. The immoral taxation of already poor parents has proven to be a failed experiment, given the terrible quality of education in the country. The child with a quality education benefits his society than he benefits himself. Education administrators and politicians should stop describing education as a favour to the child; it is an investment in the future of the country. The present condition of Nigeria is painful, but thinking about the future with the crops of ill-educated, diffident youths all around is tormenting.
The current system of IGR pursuit in tertiary institutions today has given Vice-Chancellors, Rectors, and other principal officers of these institutions demeanor of tough men and draconic ruler, who tolerate no dissension and act like monsters towards human beings. The gentlemen and women at echelon of tertiary institutions today are the same human beings who enjoyed the benevolence of Awolowo and the glorious days of military dictatorship. If students embark on any legitimate protest against fee hike today, then you should be sure that activists who led it will be witch-hunted and expelled. We are taught not to question the system because education instructors are the privileged few who benefits from the terrible capitalist system of the country.
Everything is under threat, including freedom of conscience, thoughts and expression, if government leaves funding of education to undemocratic whims of education administrators. Tertiary institutions must be re-organised in such a way that the enormous powers of Vice-Chancellors, Rectors and other principal officers are effectively cut and put under check. There is nothing one can learn from a monster than timidity, then our society must not allow the greed and corruption of office-holders to render the academe useless. Government should painstakingly fund education with up to 26% of the budget; this means that huge spending on salaries and emolument of politicians should be used to insure the future of this country.
However, the system in the university system must be completely democratized to suit the demands of a democratic 21st century. Lecturers, non-academic staff, parents, representatives of government and students must be involved in the administration of schools, especially implementation of funds. With the emergence of President Buhari and the new drive of government to prosecute corruption, it is being suggested that universities, colleges of education and polytechnics are not left out; the books must be opened up for appropriate probing.
* Wole Olubanji is a final year student in the Department of Philosophy, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife and the Secretary of Democratic Socialist Movement, OAU Branch.
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