A PROFESSOR, Jide Osuntokun, has advised the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to take the federal and state governments to court over university autonomy.
Osuntokun, who is currently the pro-chancellor of Ekiti State University, made the call in a piece titled ‘Higher Education And The Future of Nigeria’.
He canvassed a different strategy in addressing the ‘historic’ lingering ASUU strike.
According to him, it is ‘madness’ to expect a different outcome from the government every year the university staff union embarks on strike.
Osuntokun advised ASUU to fight for the university autonomy that the law has granted them.
“What ASUU should now be fighting for is university autonomy, which the law has, in fact, granted. ASUU should take governments, both federal and state, to court over university autonomy,” he said.
“Once university autonomy is granted, each university should cost what it will take to educate students across all disciplines in the universities in a differentiated school fees and come up with the economic cost. The government should then grant annually whatever it says it can afford while parents of students would have to come up with the remainder of the cost.”
He further stressed that the federal, state and local governments should provide educational scholarships to support indigent students.
According to him, churches, mosques, NGOs, corporate bodies and individuals would also support knowing that whatever assistance they provide will be tax deductible for those of them who pay taxes.
Osuntokun noted that university autonomy will pave way for differentiated payments of fees and salaries by each university.
“Each university will develop unique characters rather than the homogenised national, or is it federal character, that we currently have. For example, the universities of Lagos, Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello, Bayero, Obafemi Awolowo, Port Harcourt and Nsukka, because of their reputation and location, may be able to generate revenues that will make them pay their staff better salaries than the current poor national remuneration.”
He enjoined government at all levels to stop interfering in university administration.
“Some state governors that are not providing adequate funding for state universities are in the habit of announcing over the radio that their universities must not charge more than N50,000 per student per year when the actual cost of their programmes range from N500,000 to N1,000,000.
“The Federal Government also imposes arbitrary ceiling on fees for accommodation and tuition leading to poverty of accommodation and tuition not fit for human beings with the result that foreign students no longer come to Nigerian universities while young Nigerians flock to universities in neighbouring countries of Niger, Benin, Togo and Ghana, some of which are specifically established for Nigerians and, in some cases, by Nigerian business men and women,” he observed.
Osuntokun also accused the government of approving new set of universities instead of funding the existing ones.
“A government that cannot fund existing universities finds it easy to announce new universities of “medicine” “transportation“ ”Navy,’’ “Airforce,” “Police” and “Army” etc. One former President during an after-dinner speech announced the establishment of eleven new universities with a grant of one billion take off budget.”
He added that the cost of higher education can be moderated if, instead of establishing new universities, the current ones are expanded.
In the same vein, Osuntokun advised the striking lecturers to charge the Federal Government to court and raise revenue to fix the country’s education.
“Universities, after gaining back their autonomy, can approach both Nigerian banks and the African Development Bank and the World Bank for loans and grants to improve their physical, laboratory, teaching and research infrastructures. If their programmes are well packaged, foreign governments’ grants will find their ways into the universities rather than into the bottomless pockets of the corrupt bureaucracy of government,” he added
ASUU embarked on a warning strike on February 14 stating that the Federal Government did not implement a signed agreement.
The union shut down academic activities for six months before announcing a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike on August 29.
ASUU is demanding the implementation of an agreement the Federal Government signed with it in 2009.
Among other demands, are: Deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), payment of outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), release of an agreed sum of money for revitalising public universities (federal and state), addressing proliferation and governance issues in state universities, settling promotion arrears, releasing withheld salaries of academics, payment of outstanding third-party deductions.