Seun Awogbenle argues that government funding of public universities is no longer sustainable

Nigeria is a country of many contradictions, almost everywhere you turn there is something wrong. For a long time, it was this illogicality that underpinned our policies and our national life. What is disconcerting, however, is that even when there is consensus on what should be the way forward, there is either a lack of political will, courage, or the outright complicity of the class Politics.

Take for example the gasoline subsidy which is expected to be around 4 trillion naira which is almost Nigeria’s total income in 2021. The moment you consider the 3.8 trillion naira that is also expected to be spent on utility debt, it is easy to conclude that Nigeria spends if not all of its revenue on oil subsidies and debt servicing. This is even at a time when we all agree that the gas subsidy is no longer viable, but the government has continued to dither and can barely muster the courage needed at a time like this. this. Contradiction.

In addition to the gasoline subsidy, the government currently subsidizes, in part or in whole, agriculture, health and education. I have written extensively on education in the past, it is because I have a conscious awareness of what we can achieve, as a nation, if we can get basic education and higher education right, it is the most sustainable way to reduce poverty and create prosperity, but events like the ongoing ASUU strike, which is the 17th time since 1999, continue to cast a dark cloud over the relevance and sustainability of our higher education.

At the center of the strike debacle is the funding of higher education and the role of government. The main reason for this contradiction is that Nigeria currently spends more than four times on higher education than it spends on basic education. But despite this funding, it has remained insufficient and inefficient, so much so that between 90-95% of the budget allocated to higher education institutions is spent on staff costs, so there is almost nothing left for research and education. innovation that should be the raison d’être of higher education.

Nigeria is perhaps the only country where it costs more to get a basic education than to get a higher education; while in other parts of the world the emphasis is on free and compulsory basic education, as it is this level of education that provides students with literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills, which are the main purpose of learning. Higher education is not a right and probably should not be free, the challenge however is that the government over the years has decided to subsidize higher education in an attempt to cover up the failure of our basic education , post-basic and upper secondary to meet its objectives.

When you look at our higher education model, no one seems to benefit, neither the government nor the parents nor the students benefit from the current arrangement, because in fact what is the essence of free education, but who doesn’t have the quality that should prepare graduates for the future of professions?

To put the current challenge in the right context, there are at least three existential problems, the first is the bottle funding scheme for public higher institutions which has made higher institutions highly dependent on government. The other is our flawed model that prioritizes funding for higher education over basic education, and ultimately the political courage needed to implement the necessary reforms that are key to reinventing education funding. higher education in Nigeria.

Professor Tunde Rahmon Bello, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, has been widely referenced, for his categorization of sources of funding for universities, according to Bello, the top five sources of funding for a university include the fund ownership, endowments, research, and grants for innovation and investment and business. However, public universities in Nigeria draw their funding mainly from the fund of the owner, in this case the government. This created what I described earlier as a baby bottle funding arrangement, an overreliance and overreliance on government, while other sources of funding went untapped.

A simple fact that we all agree on is that government funding of public universities is no longer sustainable and is not in line with global practice in higher education funding. It’s the simple truth and the bitter reality, however uncomfortable that may seem. Our public universities must have a certain level of autonomy to govern themselves.

The question then would be, how can we reimagine the financing of higher education in Nigeria to the point that it can be sustainable and deliver the desired results? Fundamentally, the solution is not entirely self-contained or isolated from the larger challenge. My point is that we need to start by getting our post-basic and upper secondary education to the point where commodities can become valuable, that would mean we need to reform our education to the point where, every young person leaving school does not necessarily need of a university education as a minimum condition for accessing opportunities. This would have reduced the pressure on students, parents and even universities. I also think it would also create a greater sense of purpose for anyone who wants to attend college. Universities with full autonomy should be compelled to explore funding options such as endowments, research, innovation grants, investments, and ventures. I am convinced that if universities can be autonomous, they can be considerably autonomous. However, the government can reallocate some of the funding directly to students, through merit-based scholarships and state-guaranteed loans.

Going forward, one thing we must all recognize is that if we are to end the strike debacle and reinvent our higher education for the future of jobs, the current funding model for higher education in Nigeria must change.

Seun Awogbenle, [email protected]

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