It’s over six month now, students and ’ hope of an amicable resolution of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities was again dashed as the union and the federal government failed to reach a compromise after their meeting last week. With the prevailing situation, stakeholders think that the tuition-free policy of federal universities should be revisited while other funding options should be adopted.
When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on strike on February 14, 2022, many expected the federal government to swing into action for a quick resolution and resumption of university academic activities.
The strike was least expected because the system was trying to cover lost grounds caused by the ASUU strike of 2020, which lasted for 10 months.
Now in its sixth month with no end in sight, the questions on the lips of many concerned citizens are: Why are both parties adamant; is the government interested in university education; do both parties consider the impact of the strike on students; is the government still capable and serious about funding education; what options are available to students?
ASUU embarked on strike to protest the federal government’s refusal to sign and implement the 2009 renegotiated agreement with the union and revitalization of public universities.
It said the 2009 renegotiated agreement contained a holistic package that includes the welfare of university staff, how the universities should be operated and the scheme of service, and others.
The union is also seeking the adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) in place of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) currently in use to pay members’ salaries.
With ASUU’s strike, other staff unions- Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SANNU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) followed and brought universities to complete closure.
Several meetings by the government’s team and the union usually ended in a stalemate, prolonging the strike. The last meeting with the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, which ended without a compromise further plunged students into despair. The union insisted that the government revoke the ‘no work, no pay’ policy and pay its members for the period they were on strike, but the government refused.
However, the other unions agreed to call off their strike after meeting with the minister.
In a recent press briefing, the minister stated that all contentious issues between the government and ASUU had been settled except the quest for members’ salaries for the period of the strike to be paid. He said President Muhammadu Buhari flatly rejected that demand.
Reacting to the government’s refusal, ASUU insisted that it would not call off the strike and the members will not teach students to make up for the six months they had been on strike if the Federal Government failed to pay for the period of the strike.
ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, said the union will start a new session (2022/2023).
From the 2020 ASUU strike to date, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has conducted the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) three times, meaning that three sets of youths are awaiting admission into universities.
While accusing the government of reneging on their agreement to fund universities properly, the union had explained that the government agreed to inject a total of N1.3 trillion into public universities, both state and federal, in six tranches, starting in 2013 after the union decried the deplorable state of the institutions.
It said, in 2013, the government was to release N200 billion and N220 billion each year for another five years.
‘After releasing the first tranche, the government stopped releasing the funds. In 2017, it, however, released N20 billion. In 2020, it promised to release N25 billion. ASUU rejected the offer, insisting on N110 billion, which is 50 per cent of the N220 billion that it demanded, but the government declined, citing paucity of funds.”
Since the frequent strikes are caused by poor funding and considering the government’s body language, stakeholders have continued to question the government’s ability to maintain universities effectively. Others have recommended the introduction of tuition and accommodation fees into federal universities.
However, attempts by universities to introduce fees or even review existing charges have been met with stiff opposition by students and even ASUU.
A university don once observed that parents’ primary and secondary education budget was higher than the budget for university education.
Most institutions have established business ventures, in addition to part-time and other programmes to generate revenue.
Others have launched endowment funds with the involvement of alumni associations and captains of industry.
Emphasising the need to introduce tuition fees, the immediate-past Vice-Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede stated that OAU with a student population of about 25,000, runs an annual personnel budget of approximately N10 billion.
According to him, this means N400,000 per student per session will double the personnel budget.
“It will be ridiculous to expect that all students must pay the same amount of fees. It may mean payments of between N200,000 and N600,000 per student per session, depending on the course,” he stated. “This is nowhere near the N900,000 to N3 million per session that students pay in most private universities today.”
He added that students would be charged based on the standard staff-student ratio and the number of lectures per course, with a fixed fee for each lecture.
He regretted that in his institution, students still pay N90, with N2,500 maintenance fees per session for accommodation, even in situations where the session extends beyond 12 months.
“The N90 is the same amount I paid as a student in the same university in the 1970s. The cost of the receipt issued for the payment is probably more than the amount paid, and it would have been more ‘economical’ for the university if offered free! “The charging of ‘fees’ is not supported by the federal government, but in OAU, undergraduate students pay ‘departmental charges’ of N5,000 per session for Arts, N10,000 for Sciences, Social Sciences, Technology and Law, and N15,000 for Medicine and other courses in the Health Sciences. These charges were fixed over 20 years ago, and the uproar that followed has ensured that it remained the same.”
For students that cannot afford the proposed fees, the don suggested that between 10 and 20 per cent of the fees collected should be set aside for partial or full scholarships to indigent students.
“While many may want to falsify and lower their status in order to qualify, two or three key criteria such as primary and secondary schools attended (fee-paying or non-fee-paying), loss of parents etc., would easily differentiate indigent students.”