Incessant industrial actions by employees of public universities in Nigeria as a result of poor funding and breach of agreements by the Federal Government (FG) have continued to be a terrible clog in the wheels of the nation’s tertiary education sector as a result of their adverse effects on students, parents, economy and in fact our entire social life. I vividly recall that, as a student of University of Ibadan, Nigerian students, including myself, had to spend nine months at home as a result of ASUU’s protests against the Federal Government’s economic policy tagged Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd) between 1988 / 1989. Needless to say that every university student in Nigeria then had extra year even without failing a single course. What a waste of national human resources and manpower!
Since tertiary education is an essential feature of our national life just as it is in any other country, we ought to have gotten a permanent solution to this problem of frequent interruptions in in our educational system. Most of the students in our tertiary institutions now were not yet born in 1988 when we had the industrial unrest under reference. If we are a serious country, a permanent solution should have been found to the problem. To have allowed it to persist and become virtually perennial is not only unfortunate but most despicable. Unfortunately, it is even getting worse and we have become the laughing stock of other countries.
It was reported that between 1999 and 2022, Nigeria has recorded not fewer than 16 ASUU strikes (africanexplaine.com) a total of 47 months shutdown. This is simply due to lack of capacity to meet the demand of ASUU by government. The FG lacks capacity because education is almost free in Nigeria, having been heavily subsidized.
In recent times, the strikes are compelled by the refusal of the FG to implement the various Memoranda of Understanding and Memoranda of Action signed with ASUU since 2009. A critical evaluation of ASUU’s demands even shows that if the conditions are met, it’s going to provide a temporary solution to the problems.
In my own thinking, it is better to find a permanent solution NOW; otherwise, history will continue to repeat itself. Government should do whatever is required to transform our citadels of learning to centers of both academic and research excellence.
A critical review of the bone of contention for the current strike indicates funding problems and in order to solve these problems, I will suggest a tertiary education funding reform which will revolutionize our education system and save the nation from the embarrassment of incessant strikes and their attendant adverse effects. This will require the followings ten steps:
Establishment of a National Student Loan Board whose mandate will be to provide student loan to anybody who has an admission offer from JAMB to study in any public tertiary institution in Nigeria.
Approval of the interest-free loan will be automatic for any Nigerian who has been offered admission by JAMB. Disbursement will only be made after the applicant has met the entire requirements for admission to the university and has provided his or her BVN.
Once the conditions (JAMB, BVN and University admission requirements) are met, the Board cannot deny the student an opportunity of the desired loan.
The tuition fees for federal universities will now be increased from the present N35, 000 per semester to N150, 000 per semester. This will amount to N300, 000 per session.
Apart from the above, each student will be paid N150,000 cash per annum to cover accommodation, feeding and books.
Averagely, each student will have a loan of N450, 000 per session and N1. 8 million for a four year course. Only the N150, 000 for feeding and accommodation will be paid directly to the student while all other funds will be paid directly to the university system.
Students who have capacity to pay the new fees may not apply for student loans.
Students whose GPA or CGPA falls below 3rd class may be denied further funding and will still have to pay the loan.
No federal character should be used to determine loan application.
All processing steps from application to funding will be computerized. Repayment will also be computerized. The loan will be interest-free throughout the academic years and the first 12 months after graduation. After 3 years of graduation, it will be paid at 5% compound interest rate.
As of 2019, student population in Nigeria universities was put at 1,855,000 and those in public universities stood at approximately 1,200,000. Given this figure, Nigeria will require (1,200,000 X 900,000) yearly. This will be about N1.0 trillion annually. Given the fact that each federal institution will now fund their capital projects, salaries, research and development efforts from the school fees payment, this will not be too much of a burden.
In the 2022 budget, N1.29 trillion was budgeted for the entire education sector. This is 7.9% of the entire budget of the country for the year. If the budget allocation is increased to 9.5% or even 10%, it should accommodate the reform being proposed conveniently.
We should also remember that in the 2022, TETFUND alone has a budget of N400 billion. Apart from these, University of Benin has a budget of N17.8 billion, Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Jos both budgeted N12.5 billion. These are just three out of 48 federal universities and 54 state universities in Nigeria. These are outside the N13.2 billion budget of National University Commission (NUC) in 2022.
Funding this should not be a problem because development partners of Nigeria can also assist in the funding task if they see the seriousness of our government and all stakeholders in the tertiary education sector.
Prior to the introduction of biometric identification of Nigerians as crystallized by BVN and NIN measures, repayment of student loans could have been an issue. However, with these new measures, loan beneficiaries will be given up to 12 months after graduation to start repayment. This will be deducted over 20 years in small installments through the BVN or NIN system.
Student loan ID will be linked and synchronized with traveling passport issuance. Those who default for over 2 years will be denied issuance of travelling passport and those who have sizeable amount of loan will be denied opportunity to hold a political position or appointment. A copy or adoption of USA student’s loan laws and regulations can be helpful at this level.
The perceived advantages of this reform cannot be over emphasized. Some of these are enumerated below:
It will put a stop to perennial ASUU strike.
It will promote smooth running of academic sessions or calendars.
It will strengthen our territory education.
It will create opportunity for all students to attain their full academic potentials irrespective of the parent’s financial status.
It will reduce financial stress on parents.
It will empower students with fund for feeding and accommodation while in school.
The students will be less dependent on anybody.
It will create and strengthen the concept of credit system, monitoring and compliance in the economy. The effect of credit in investment and building of economy will then be developed.
In this era of e-commerce, artificial intelligence, digital and knowledge-based economy, Nigeria cannot afford to keep our youths at home or uneducated. They are the propellers and engine rooms of the evolving economy. They generate more than 85% of diaspora inflow. According to Tribune, May 16th, 2022 amount of inflow from diaspora remittance in 2021 was $19.2 billion. If and only if our youths are educated to go abroad and remit home, the contribution to national economy can increase by 400% or more. What will call brain drain today can be converted to foreign exchange which will serve as catalyst to the growth of our economy.