New Telegraph

Education At Crossroads: Stakeholders task Tinubu

Challenges As the eight-year tenure of President Muham- madu Buhari’s adminis- tration ended yesterday, major stakeholders have scored the nation’s education sector low, given the various challenges that rocked the sector under the im- mediate past administration.

A review of the system, shows a sector characterised and stagnated by persistent poor budgetary allocation, failed promises and incessant strikes, policy summersault, acute underfunding, high figure of out-of- school children, mass exodus of Nigerian students to overseas universities, brain drain (JAPA) by lecturers, proliferation of private universities, shortage of qualified teachers, low teachers’ remuneration and morale, the sector is at the crossroads.

The sector is also bogged down in the last eight years by insecurity resulting in persistent attacks unleashed on schools by bandits, Boko Haram insurgents leading to abduction and killing of many students and teachers; low ranking of Nigerian universities globally, dilapidated school structures, inadequate admission spaces in universities, among others.

This is as stakeholders attributed the seemingly failure to lack of political will on the part of the government to initiate a deliberate funding policy to fix the rot in the sector, which consistently has been the bane of education development.

Appraising the sector, they recalled that education under President Buhari was marred by closure of public universities due to prolonged strikes traced to government’s inability to set its priority right.

Findings, however, showed that the university system was shut down by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in 2018 for 39 days that extended to February 8, 2019; while in 2020 the union embarked on nine-month strike, and another strike on February 14, 2022 which lasted for eight months due to apparent refusal of the government to resolve the issues of the funding of the universities and implementation of IPPIS, as well as payment of the Revitalisation Funds for universities.

The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) shut down the system for several weeks and months in the last eight years; while the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) also embarked on strike on December 12, 2018, which was suspended on February 13, 2019; and another 65 days strike between April 6 and June 9, 2021, and another two-week strike in 2022, while COEASU shut the colleges for four weeks.

Some of the contentious issues leading to industrial disharmony bothered on improved pay/welfare for higher institution staff; introduction of the controversial Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS); refusal to adopt the University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS) developed by ASUU as alternative payment policy in the university system; as well as non-implementation of various Memoranda of Understanding (MoU), Memoranda of Action (MoA) and the 2009 Agreement with the various staff unions, among others demands.

Under the administration, a total of 112 universities (federal, state and private) were licensed, with 37 private universities approved in a swipe two weeks ago, while several polytechnics and colleges of education were converted to universities and approved to award degrees, a development that has been criticised by stakeholders.

The trend of the sectoral budget in the last eight years indicated that outgone administration failed to budget over 10 per cent of the budget to education throughout its eight years.

In 2023, out of the N21.83 trillion budgets, education had N1.79 trillion representing 8.8 per cent of the budget to education, being the highest in recent years; while in 2016 education sector got N369.66 billion, representing 7.9 per cent; in 2017 the sector got N550.5 billion, representing 7.4 per cent; and in 2018, a total of N605.8 billion, representing 7.04 per cent was voted for education.

In 2019, N620.05 billion representing 7.05 per cent was allotted to the sector; and in 2020 the sector got N671.07 billion, representing 6.7 per cent; while in 2021, N742.5 billion representing 5.68 per cent was allotted to the sector; and in 2022, the government voted N1.18 trillion, representing 7.2 per cent to the sector.

According to stakeholders, the trends of budgetary allocations to the sector, which is less than 10 per cent, is an indication that the nation’s education sector given the years of underfunding in the face of alarming challenges, has a long way to go.

Appraisal of Buhari’s administration Assessing the developmental trends in the sector under the last administration, a don and former Dean, School of Transport and Logistics, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof Gbadebo Odewumi, said the Buhari’s administration failed to post any sterling performance in the education sector.

To him, the last eight years had been a lacklustre of no creativity and innovation, but eight dreary years of drifting along, as all the indices of delivery were either stagnant or worse off.

The longest ASUU strike, he noted, symbolised the cluelessness of the immediate past administration.

The President of ASUP, Anderson Ezeibe, expressed discomfiture over the state of education under the President Buhari’s administration, saying the administration did not fare well, particularly in the area of education.

The union leader said the administration failed to address the drift in the education sector, while at the basic education level, the issue of out-of-school children has remained a huge challenge despite programmes such as the school feeding programme, which supposed to address the issue.

Ezeibe, however, lamented that public primary and secondary schools are in a poor shape with dilapidated infrastructure and dearth of facilities, saying “it is yet to be seen if the new retirement age and salary structure, as well as the new commission for secondary schools will become long lasting solutions to the dwindling fortunes of public primary and secondary education.

” At the tertiary education level, the union recalled that the administration was blighted by recurring occurrences of industrial disputes with staff unions in the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education disrupting the system with protracted strikes.

“These trade disputes resulted in the disruption of the academic calendar, and yet the key issues leading to the disputes remain unresolved.

Poor funding and poor conditions of service in public tertiary institutions remain issues of serious concern in the system,” he added.

Also, a retired don and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan (UI), Prof Ademola Dasylva, however, bemoaned the less than 26 per cent of the budget to education as benchmarked by UNESCO, saying this would have provided the required motivation, incentives and requisite infrastructure to adequately drive the education sector, stressing the no government has attained this since 1999.

Aside the poor funding of the sector, he also picked holes in the quality of personnel manning the education sector and the institutions, who he said, were not always appointed strictly on merit and competence.

Buhari’s administration, he said grossly underperformed by allocating below 10 per cent of the budget to education in its eight years, adding that education had never been the priority of the past government.

He said: “With the President Buhari’s administration, the education sector has never had it this low in morale, or its administration this tragically rudderless in the history of the country.

The worst hit are the public universities, The attack was premeditated, and the subsequent ruin was deliberate.

Dasylva, who also berated the Buhari’s administration for setting aside the report of the Late Emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs Committee on the Federal Government-ASUU face-off, expressed worry that the excellent job did by the committee was not visited.

That report, Dasylva noted, was capable of resolving the age-long imbroglio between ASUU and the Federal Government, but accused the Ministers of Education; Labour and Employment for bungling the report that could have permanently restored normalcy and a semblance of global best practices to the system.

The retired don, who lamented that it was impossible to isolate the education sector in a manner that was done under Buhari’s administration, also raised the alarm that the faulty foundation or sub-structure has adversely affected every other sector of the national economy.

He, therefore, insisted that the discourse on education must be taken holistically, even as he described the current situation as “a scary systemic dysfunction arising from the 22 years of squandered opportunities due to neglect of the sector.

Dasylva traced the appalling state of the education sector from primary to tertiary level to politicisation of establishment of government universities, and proliferation of private universities.

To SSANU, the Buhari’s administration clearly failed in the education sector, particularly in the university sub-sector.

According to the Vice President (South-West) of the association, Mr.

Abdussobor Salaam, the failure was manifested in the spate of industrial actions and unrests that characterised the sector in the past eight years due to neglect by the government.

Agenda for Tinubu To rescue the nation’s education from its rot, stakeholders tasked the new administration-led by President Bola Tinubu to frontally address the problem of out-of-school children, which United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) put at over 20 million, the highest in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

The government should embark on massive investment and funding of education; and focus on the issue of incessant strikes in universities; brain drain, global ranking of Nigerian universities; early-childhood education; girl- child education; provision of school facilities and structures; improved welfare of staff members; improved learning environment and development of ICT, shortage of qualified teachers in schools, among others, should he addressed.

On his part, Odewumi reiterated that in the area of budget allocation, President Tinubu must first address the issue of how to increase the overall revenue and funding for education.

Also, on the issue of ASUU, which he noted, had become critical in the system, he said the Federal Government should work out an acceptable template with unions on student’s loan as promised by the President during his electioneering campaigns.

He, however, spoke of the need for sustainability of the financial and legal framework, stressing that “it is a good idea that needs to be well- thought through for acceptance by ASUU and students, and it must be well-packaged to avoid massive “non- repayment culture” that derailed such programme in the past.

” Odewumi, who did not request outright moratorium on establishment of private universities, insisted that there should be a slowing down to allow academic resources to catch up with the number of such universities approved.

There must be a closer and more rigorous supervision by the National Universities Commission (NUC) in order to ensure that as the nation is opening up access, it must not slack on quality.

On teacher education and welfare, the don said teachers at all levels should be exposed to upgrade training especially in ICT to meet today’s digital needs in order to boost pedagogue and delivery.

The don reiterated the call for the re-introduction of the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme, saying: “This will also enhance the level of pre-university preparations of the admission seekers, and provide a productive waiting time for applicants less than 16 years that cannot be admitted for being underage ASUP President, Ezeibe said the union expects the new government to evolve sustainable models of providing adequate funding for education at all levels so as to restore stability in the sector, even as the union challenged President Tinubu-led administration should conclude the “stalled collective bargaining processes,” which is expected to address several issues, including poor staff remuneration.

The union leader expressed worry that academic staff are fleeing the sector in droves due to poor working conditions, while IPPIS and TSA regimes have made it cumbersome to recruit competent staff.

However, Prof Dasylva, who said President Tinubu have more than a Herculean task before him, stated that given his pedigree, foresightedness, administrative sagacity and a penchant for selecting competent team to work with, he might yet prove his uncommon mettle.

“If the new government must succeed, it needs to prioritise and to do all within its power to adequately fund the education sector at all levels; engage education experts and professionals to man the sector; put in place relevant structures and policies for effectiveness, efficiency and quality outcomes at all levels,” he noted.

He said the education sector need an urgent attention for a retrieval and proper restoration, even as the don spoke of the urgent need to tackle the spate of insecurity challenges confronting the country, with its attendant challenges on education.

To reposition the sector for effective delivery, the retired don called on the new government to ensure that all the cylinders are firing optimally at the same time by neutralising the so-called the cabal in Aso Rock; engaging the appropriate skilled professionals to explore the possibility of debt relief or debt forgiveness in order to accelerate development in the all sectors including education; releasing without delay the unpaid eight-months withheld ASUU members’ salaries of ASUU.

Thus, he tasked the new government on implementation of the late Emeritus Professor Briggs Report to improve the teaching, learning and research environment, as well as boost the morale of lecturers for productivity and global relevance and competitiveness; as well as to end corruption in the system and nationally, which is the greatest challenge.

SSANU on its part, noted that President Tinubu-led Federal Government inherited a baggage of discontent and disaffection of the union over its treatment of workers in the university system, saying the major cause of the persistent unrests is due largely to the government’s disrespect for “Collective Bargaining Agreements” signed with the union.

“As at today, there is an extremely low level of confidence and trust in the government as a result of the reneging on agreements duly and freely entered into with the union.

That there appears to be peace in the university system, it is only a peace of the graveyard because there is a latent anger and deep-seated discomfort among the staff,” he said.

The union, therefore, insisted that the priority of the government should be to rebuild trust and confidence in the government, first by revisiting the Collective Bargaining Agreements signed with the union and the practical and realistic arrangements on the implementation.

Since government, Salaam stressed, is a continuum, President Tinubu would do well by immediately ensuring the actualisation of the agreements on the general funding of the university system; conclusion of the re-negotiation of the 2009 FG- SSANU agreements, which he noted, was stalled by the Buhari administration; payment of backlog of Earned Allowances; discontinue the IPPIS policy that has become a cesspool of corruption fleecing the union members; full payment of National Minimum Wage approved in 2019 to all staff including university registrars and bursars, among other myriad issues.

SSANU also suggested that the President Tinubu-led Federal Government should initiate an Educational Summit that would consider and come up with an actionable agenda for the education sector, adding that the summit should not be a mere talk shop, but a practical and realistic approach towards resolving all the challenges facing the sector.

SSANU said: “As a union, SSANU frowns at the proliferation of universities, when the available universities are not well funded.

We maintain that rather than establishing more universities, the government must pay adequate attention to the existing universities through proper funding.

“The government must deliberately ensure that workers in the university system are well trained, work in a conducive environment and are well- remunerated to stem the tide of brain drain.

We are not faced with the dearth of skilled manpower to man the universities.

The seeming contempt of the government towards the staff has led many professionals in the Nigerian university space to seek solace in other countries.

“The government, therefore, must be deliberate and not reactive in addressing the issues in order to bring sanity and stability to the system.

 

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