The best global practices for university management demand that a university generates funds for its academic, administrative and developmental projects. Although university education systems differ from one country to the other, there is a consensus on what a good university resembles. Autonomy is one of the features that characterize a good university. It is critical to understand that universities can only be autonomous when financially independent. There is a direct correlation between a university’s autonomy and its quality of research and teaching. The annual matriculation of thousands of students and avalanche of graduates by universities are not indications of achievement. Across the globe, the universities that do incredibly well in teaching and research and revenue generation do not embark on robust enrollment of students; rather they employ strategies that position their universities on the path of achieving set-goals. Besides, it is a universal fix that university education is not a necessity and it is not for everyone. In fact, one’s impact on self and society is not determined by a university degree. However, the glamour and glitter attributed to university education have thrown a number of countries into unemployment and other socio-economic crises, especially in the global south. No wonder those in advanced countries are less enthusiastic to acquire university degrees.
In Turkey, only the best of the best are admitted into public universities. Other than passing university entrance examination, one is required to pass ALES- a Turkish equivalence of GMAT and GRE with 8 out of 10 points to be admitted into a public university. Those who score lower points either go to private universities and pay more, or go on to do good things in life. Besides, a university degree is not the end of life. In fact, it does not guarantee a good life. The Turkish model is designed as such because the architects of the system understand that those who exhibit academic excellence are expected to attend the university at little or no cost, but not just every high school (secondary school) graduate. That is simply because the government cannot afford to equip every high school graduate with a university degree. The government will dare not tread such path, as it could be a poor economic decision- it rather provides post-high school entrepreneurship loans for high school leavers to start-up with. Now, this is a more realistic developmental approach.
In Nigeria, students pay stipends as university tuition fees and universities are fully funded by the federal government. Capacity building, training of lecturers and scholarships, conferences and infrastructural development are all funded by Tertiary Education Trust Fund- a government agency saddled with the responsibility of funding and development of projects in tertiary institutions. Salaries and other allowances were paid directly from accountant-general’s office through a payment platform called GIFMIS. However, the government has decided to forcefully integrate universities into the very unpopular IPPIS to curb financial irregularities. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has continuously resisted joining IPPIS for reasons such as its inability to capture duty allowances, lecturers’ sabbatical, visiting lecturing and underpayments due numerous cuts etc. Universities have their genuine reasons to be aggrieved. However, there is a better way to resolve their grievances with the government. The simple alternative is to be autonomous and generate revenue!
Public universities in Nigeria are far from autonomous. A few months ago, in a bid to generate revenue, University of Maiduguri raised its dormitory fees. The issue went viral, and different blocs of the country, including the senate, challenged the decision. Both the universities and government have contributed to the unnecessary age-old conflict. Federal government should simply stop funding universities- let them generate money and be self-reliant. Increment in tuition fees or dormitory fees should be a prerogative of the university. University education should not be cheap. However, it can be cheap if or when poorly delivered. Consistent research is required to keep lecturers afloat in the sea of scholarship. Research requires massive funding. Nigeria with its growing population and high rate of unemployment needs high quality research to pave way for economic prosperity and development. However, in the absence of university autonomy, adequate funding of existing universities would have been a solution, and not the creation of new ones. Unfortunately, successive governments saw creation of universities as development. I always wonder if funds invested into the creation of 4th generation universities and those created lately would have had more impact on host states if properly invested on social developmental. For example, in Dutse and Gusau, inadequate basic education system and lack of food security are by far more pressing issues.
Over the years, the government in its lack of wisdom has continued to create new universities. It is clear that the creation of universities has been politicized. Ethnicity, population, political affiliation and religion have become bases for university creation. Creation of new universities should not be seen as development. What is of greater importance is the quality of education delivered in our universities and not the number of universities we have. In Nigeria, creation of universities should not be anywhere on the hierarchy of priorities- because there are issues of greater significance. For example, developing technical apprenticeship and artisanship and creating a pilot agency to design policies that will organize the ever-informal sector and usher conducive atmosphere for artisans to thrive will have more impact on the economy and the people. I have stated in the first paragraph that university degree is not a necessity and it is not for everyone. However, if the government does not feel so, it can create the ‘student loan system’ similar to that of the United Kingdom. Everyone can access loan to fund his or her education, and pay over a period of years after graduation. That way, government can be responsible for the ‘student loan scheme’ and universities can raise tuition fees, dormitory fees and any other fees to fund training of lecturers; pay duty allowances; capture visiting lecturing and those on sabbatical and do at will what they have been deprived of by IPPIS. However, this can only be accomplished when or if universities and the federal government come to a consensus.
Both the federal government and the universities have roles to play. The state must, in some way, relinquish its control over universities for them to become autonomous. Universities need to be competently managed to be self-reliant. Some sort of reorientation needs to take place to address the ‘everyone must go to university’ culture. And I hope that government will realize that improving existing universities is more important than building new ones. In fact, we do not need new universities. The struggle of Nigerian universities should not be reduced to payments or underpayments, but for full autonomy. On IPPIS, if it has come to stay, so be it. Universities must find ways to generate revenue and be self-sufficient.
Hamman A. Bashir- an academic and public commentator.