Nigeria News

Re-thinking University Financing

There is no gainsaying that education is in crisis. It has been for at least the last 25 years or more. This crisis permeates all levels of our educational architecture. Standing in the position of an employer of labour, during interview sessions, I have often been saddened by the poor educational abilities of many of our younger compatriots
 
 
Whilst the world is embracing new paradigms in education such as the Problem Based Creative Learning (PBCL) approach, that seeks to unlock and harness the innate creative and innovative capabilities of children and young adults, we are faced with the task of overcoming decaying infrastructure, research starved lecturers, outdated curricula and uninspired students.
 
When I provide leadership and mentoring talks to students, I usually start with an apology. I always feel compelled to apologise for the fact that children at Primary and Secondary School level, by and large, are consigned to schools that clearly do not dignify the idea of providing education.
 
As for Universities, they largely fare no better. For instance, most Universities built in the 1980s and beyond cannot compare with the older universities such as UI, OAU, UNILAG, UNN or UNIBEN. The reason is simple: after these first set of Universities, it would appear the planners of University education thereafter, envisaged a mass production system, without appropriate regard to internationally benchmarked standards for university education.
 
The current strike by ASUU is now entering its 6th month. In other words, an entire academic year is in danger of going up in a puff of wind. We have not begun to quantify the untold damage this unfortunate fact would have on the students who have to endure regular interruptions in the middle of an educational cycle. Yet to be quantified too, is the incalculable damage to our economy, when we cannot produce men and women who can think, analyse, innovate and provide creative solutions and add value to our economy.
 
What all this brings to my mind is a fundamental re-think in university funding. Gleaning the demands, as it were of ASUU, it is clear money is central. The lecturers want more money in their pockets and more money in the universities. On the government side, the challenge is that these demands, legitimate as they, can’t be met to the degree expected by ASUU. Bear in mind that this strike is one of many such strikes of the past that students have had to endure.
 
The net effect is that the Nigerian student spends on average, twice as much time studying for the same degree programs, than students in other parts of the world. Little wonder, that a British glam magazine – Tattler recently reported that Nigerians spend over N75b annually on secondary and post secondary education abroad.
 
In such circumstances, our university administrators need to look away from government for the solutions to funding education at all levels. I daresay that the net effect of government intervention in education has largely been destructive, apart from the flashes of brilliance that saw to the emergence of the Unity Schools and the post independence universities. Education at all levels should primarily be a community owned initiative – whichever way that community is defined. Community ownership is the best safeguard against bureaucratic and in some cases, willful neglect.
 
Having said that, our University administrators need to develop a new worldview of fundraising that taps into a world of resources that are willing and at the least amenable to the idea that funding education should be a non-government concern. I choose the words non-government to embrace the panoply of initiatives that are driven by understanding, passion and above all, a sense of ownership.
 
Reading a report of the African and African American Studies (AAAS) program and the Grand Valley State University on funding university education in Africa, I was impressed by some of the solutions on the table. I would quickly add that no doubt, American universities, which formed the backdrop in this report, have a different history from Nigerian universities.
 
Nevertheless, much can be learned from this report going forward. Whilst, we may not be able to correct the systemic dysfunction of our universities overnight, we can at least start to identify some solutions that can bear fruit albeit not for another 20 years or more.
For a start, a new skill needs to develop around the idea of institutional advancement. This idea situates the university within its dynamic milieu from which it must draw strength, inspiration and longevity. University administrators must begin to familiarise themselves with the procedures, techniques and resources necessary to attract funding that would build or maintain infrastructure, hire quality academic staff and provide for robust research across a myriad of disciplines.
 
There are partnerships waiting to be forged with the Rockefeller, Mac Arthur, Carnegie, Ford and many other well endowed foundations that have made philanthropy for education a way of life.
A robust strategy targeting the alumni of our universities is critical. Many of the new Oil and Gas millionaires for instance, rather than private jets, can be persuaded to adopt the legacy mindedness of their American and European wealthy. American universities with an aggressive approach to advancing their institutional interests have endowments running into the billions of dollars.
 
The output is clearly evident in the American economy – Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google etc. Surely, many of the new Nigerian billionaires attended our local universities. Rather than wait for the occasional honorary doctorate degree, Universities need to adopt a long-term strategy of institutional advancement that taps into many sources of financial goodwill.
 
It’s an urgent matter of re-directing spending away from self aggrandising consumerist items to value creating, legacy minded projects. It will require a paradigm shift in the minds of university administrators. Whilst, we must make every effort to end the current impasse between government and ASUU, it is time too to re-think the funding of our universities, for time is not on our side.

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