In the run-up to the 2015 British election, Carl Lygo, Vice-Chancellor of BPP University, a private university based in London dedicated to the study of business and the professions published an essay titled “Why does university cost so much?” In the essay, he wrote that funds generated through the rise in tuition fees have not been used to enhance the student experience.
As expected, his comments provoked controversy among public-funded institutions with Universities UK writing an open letter in the Times newspaper warning that lowering tuition fees to £6,000, as proposed by Labour, would “damage the economy, affect the quality of students’ education, and set back work on widening access to higher education.” As we all know, Labour lost that election.
Like it is in the UK and elsewhere, so it is in Nigeria. Nothing is as controversial and often followed by heated reactions in tertiary institutions like the introduction of tuition fees. It didn’t start today and it will not end today, until perhaps if it is finally introduced. It is akin to the withdrawal of petroleum subsidy where emotions often run wild.
While briefing newsmen on activities lined up to mark the 30th convocation ceremony, and the 40th anniversary of the University of Port Harcourt, its Vice Chancellor, Professor Joseph Ajienka, warned that except public universities are allowed to increase school fees, they may soon collapse due to poor funding.
According to him, the present scenario where the university system continues to strain under the weight of underfunding from statutory sources, and indifference from society at large no longer makes sense. He asserted that universities in Nigeria today were bogged down by a combination of factors that place additional operational burden on their operators, especially the vice chancellors, who are on the frontline.
[ad id=”135″]Critically needed funding, he pointed out, was dwindling by the day, in the face of failing oil prices, while the average cost of running each university is correspondingly escalating by the day. He envisaged a situation in which public universities are likely to collapse on account of inadequate funding, while some Nigerians parents are willing to pay outrageous schools fees for their children in universities abroad.
The vice chancellor said it remains inexplicable that some Nigerians were prepared to pay huge sums to sustain quality education in other countries, and yet treat the ones here with utter contempt. These Nigerians would be the first to kick against the introduction of some form of charges at the tertiary level of education in Nigeria.
“The truth is that statutory federal allocations alone can no longer be relied upon to run the universities as little or nothing is left to embark on meaningful research and infrastructural development after payment of salaries. As I have always maintained, the plain truth is that we can no longer shy away from giving serious consideration to the issue of introducing some form of school fees (or charges) in the Nigerian university system, if we hope to dig it out of the deep morass into which years of unrealistic tuition-free education has placed it.”
Before him, other VCs and the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Federal Universities had also called for the introduction of tuition fees in federal universities to support funding of the universities. They decried the resistance to introduce tuition in some universities by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and Students’ Union Government.
Beyond the tuition issue, I strongly believe it is high time we take a long hard look at the state of our public varsities. Have you visited one lately? You’ll be shocked. Lecture halls are often filled far beyond installed capacity with students’ literally hanging on windows to take lectures in the 21st century!
Over the years, Nigerian universities have not been spared the degradation that other segments of the society have suffered. From Ivory Towers and institutions of higher learning, they had turned into decrepit cesspits that churn out graduates that cannot compete with their contemporaries in Africa, much less others outside the continent.
This was what compelled Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, Emeritus professor of Econometrics and Demography, to lament that: “In the past, Nigeria’s educational system was the toast of all in the continent of Africa as it boasted one of the oldest, biggest and most comprehensive University Education System. In the 1970s, people of different nationalities moved en masse to acquire qualitative education in Nigeria. But after many years, the story became different as Nigerian public universities later became breeding grounds for cultists even as incessant strike actions and all other vices took over the schools.”
[ad id=”147″]The situation is far worse than when the eminent prof made the remark more than five years ago. We feel it most in the area of academic staff as the elite professors and lecturers of the 1960s to the 1990s passed on or found better teaching environments overseas, they were, and are being replaced with ill-educated, ill-trained and ill-exposed lecturers, some of who had no business imparting knowledge to others.
With the plethora of problems confronting our varsities, increasing tuition fees alone will not solve them. There are structural problems that run deeper than poor funding which need to be addressed even with lean funds. Take the issue of commitment for instance; how many of our lecturers are committed to their profession? I met with a group of student leaders recently and they practically passed a vote of no confidence on ASUU members – and their lecturers – saying they have no iota of respect for some of them. If you ask the lecturers they’d make the same remarks about the students.
My humble opinion in the face of dwindling resources is for our varsities to be creative. Aside the quality of its academic faculty, the new trend among universities that are forward looking is to appoint provosts or presidents with the right skill set to look at alternative sources of funding. But because of the way our varsities are structured, it may be difficult to go this route, but they can find a creative way to have such a figure.
It is becoming quite apparent now that running a university is not a tea party; it requires marketing, financial, fund-raising and administrative skills, far beyond the needed academic skills. A good mix of managerial skills backed with the right qualifications is what is required in difficult periods like this, not just an academic without the foggiest clue of how to manage people and resources. I can bet my last naira that you can give some VCs all the money in the world and they will still fail in the area of prudent management.
Why are our VCs sitting still and begging the government when Nigeria auspiciously boasts several retired captains of industry who have run blue chip corporations and possess the right academic credentials, exposure and managerial skill set to turn around public and private universities if given the opportunity to do so.
Let’s take the banking sector for example. Because of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) rules, most bank CEOs retire at an early age, yet they still possess the intellect, energy, business acumen and other attributes needed to transform academic institutions. The Tony Elumelu’s, Jim Ovia’s, Aig Imokuede’s of this clime would be challenged if they’re called upon to assist in transforming our collapsing public universities into world-class institutions. You can see this through private ventures they’ve been engaged in since they left their respective banks.
[ad id=”169″]I’m aware most of our VCs face enormous challenges with different undertones, including politics, when it comes to taking some critical decisions, but if they surround themselves with senates that are visionary they would be able to have the best that can start the process of elevating their schools to global standards despite the current challenges.
Appointing the right persons to run their universities is one of the primary reasons American institutions thrive and dominate most university league tables, oftentimes accounting for more than 50 per cent of the top 100 universities in the world.