ASUU strike: It’s time to reframe the problem


Enough of the ASUU strike, it’s time for the university union to change course and take other approaches to achieve the desired goal.

By Michael Onuoha

As far back as I can remember, the ASUU went on strike over issues of funding, wages, etc. Nigeria Nsukka. We had just resumed for a new academic session and to welcome students back (as usual), some business-oriented students had put on a show featuring the US-based musical group, Delegation. Then snap – the strike came.

For early risers on campus like me, this was a blow. It was a blow to the show organizers who had to deal with their losses, as the delegation’s music group was on the ground but performed in an empty hall – many students had not yet returned before the strike and therefore stayed at home when the strike began. Those of us on campus thought we could wait, but this strike went on for more than two months straight. Since then, the ASUU strike has stayed with us.

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Currently, the university system is in the throes of another ASUU strike, with students left with the end of the stick, as always. But one wonders how a lasting strike can be in the hands of the ASUU. For many observers, the ASUU strikes have become not only commonplace but ineffective. ASUU is getting to the point of being seen as the constant aggressor, even though they keep telling us that the fight is in the best interests of our children. Why “force” the government to sign agreements that it already knows it has no intention of respecting! In the current case, the government may pander to the wishes of the ASUU for reasons of electoral expediency, as 2023 is fast approaching, rather than any intention to honor the agreement.

The questions now are: How long can the Federal Government and ASUU continue to play cat and mouse at the expense of the future of Nigerian students? What can be done to ensure that this trend does not continue so that the Nigerian university system lives up to its potential as a citadel of excellence? The answer lies in the government looking closely at some of the issues that give rise to frequent ASUU strikes.

One of the main reasons for the ASUU strike is funding. Historically, the Nigerian university system was built on the principle of social service. As such, little or no fees are charged to students. Until the advent of private universities, the idea of ​​paying for college education seemed anathema. Unfortunately, the government has not been forthcoming on the issue of adequate funding for universities, preferring to treat the issue as secondary.

Insufficient funding of universities has led to huge rot in the system where quality has dropped dramatically, brilliant lecturers are leaving in droves to universities overseas and poor physical development is becoming the norm.

The time has come to re-examine the position on the non-payment of appropriate tuition fees for university education. If the government cannot fund the system, then another source of funding must be put in place. As unpopular as it may seem, it is high time universities were allowed to charge proportionate fees to students in order to meet their financial needs and provide the superior academic service they so desperately need. Social service should not be synonymous with a mediocre and rotten educational system.

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To be honest, a university education is not for everyone, however desirable it may be. In this scenario, the government should then set up a loan program so that those who want to go to university but do not have the resources can tap into the loan program to go to university and start paying back when they start working after graduation. Repayment can take up to 20 to 30 years, with a very favorable interest rate. This is the system that works in some developed countries like the United States. In 2020, more than 45 million Americans had federal student loans totaling $1.5 trillion. Apart from this, the US government provides more than 75% of financial aid to students in public and private universities. Thus, no citizen wishing to pursue university studies is unable to achieve this objective for lack of funds.

I believe the idea that college education isn’t for everyone was one of the reasons behind the 6-3-3-4 education system, so kids who couldn’t go to university for reasons of money or lack of interest may turn away from it in professional studies and establish themselves firmly in the desired fields. But the Nigerian factor did not allow this system to work. The 6-3-3-4 system needs an urgent overhaul to achieve the desired goals.

READ ALSO: Blame the government, not ASUU for decaying universities

It is also necessary to take a critical look at the current state of university autonomy in the country. The government’s reluctance not to intervene in university affairs harms the university system. Despite the agreement reached between ASUU and the federal government in January 2009 on university autonomy, the government still pays lip service to it.

As Thomas Estermann, Director of Governance, Funding and Public Policy Development at the European University Association (EUA), stated in the April 2017 edition of Europe-based University World News, “ Autonomy and academic freedom are essential to the proper functioning of universities and are essential pillars of the future sustainability of our institutions.

Above all, they are essential to guarantee the right research conditions that lead to scientific progress, for the benefit of society as a whole”. He further postulated that “this autonomy is not a goal to be pursued in itself, but a fundamental prerequisite for universities to be able to develop strategic profiles, operate in a competitive environment and fulfill their very important societal duties. “.

If so, then why is the story different in our climate? The excuse is that “whoever pays the bagpiper dictates the melody”. But that’s a lie. In the United States, public universities are funded by the government, but this does not take away from the autonomy of the institutions. The money used to fund universities does not belong to individuals in government but to the people.

The advantages of universities operating in an environment of autonomy are numerous. Professor Jo Ritzen, former president of Maastricht University and former Dutch education minister, hit the nail on the head when he said in a published article that “university autonomy, especially academic approach, personnel, internal decision-making and financial practices, together with adequate funding, have the potential to enable universities to produce graduates with better skills and to improve both the quality and quantity of research output, and in turn, improving graduate skills and university research output contributes to labor productivity and economic innovation.

Increasing university autonomy should be a priority for Nigerian policymakers.

I recommend that ASUU change its approach to issues and recognize that what they need most is academic autonomy, which includes financial autonomy. So far, the union has appeared in public opinion as people answering to the demands of their own stomachs, because the payment of their wages and allowances, rightly or wrongly, still figures prominently among their demands. As egg leaders, they must recognize the importance of self-reliance for the development of the university system in Nigeria and push for it with a single purpose rather than embarking on frequent strikes which ultimately will give nothing but hollow, unheld chords. . They should start to reframe the problem.

Part of reframing the issue is seeking legislation to grant universities the much-desired autonomy (or whatever is essential to turn universities around). The ASUU should move the fight to the National Assembly, for this legislation to happen. As part of this effort, it will be necessary for ASUU to adopt a campaign approach – engaging well-established marketing communications and public affairs firms to execute well-researched public relations and advertising campaigns to influence the public opinion and manage optics. Universally agreements with incumbent governments are subject to change and even abrogation by subsequent governments, but when backed by law it becomes difficult to reject them except by rogue governments such as we have in our country.

Enough of the ASUU strike, it’s time for the university union to change course and take other approaches to achieve the desired goal.

  • Mr. Onuoha is a public affairs commentator based in Lagos.
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