EDUCATION UNDERFUNDING: URGENT NEED FOR A FIGHT BACK
EDUCATION UNDERFUNDING: URGENT NEED FOR A FIGHT BACK
By Keye Ewebiyi
The pro-rich government of President Goodluck Jonathan has presented the 2012 budget to the National Assembly. As usual, a meagre sum of N499 billion representing 10 percent of the total budget was allocated to the education sector. While this is a slight improvement on the 2011 budgetary allocation to the sector, it is not enough to address the multi-faceted problems confronting the sector. Besides, it is still a far cry from the UNESCO recommended 26% budgetary allocation.
Public education is still bedevilled with a lot of problems ranging from inadequate infrastructural facilities, mismanagement, brain-drain, mass examination failure, and incessant strike actions among others. In 2011, the university system was shut down twice by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the non-implementation of the 2009 FG/ASUU agreement. Going by all educational indices, all is certainly not well with our educational system. According to the 2012 ranking of universities conducted by webometrics (a research organization), no Nigerian university made the best twenty in Africa.
Despite the central and crucial place of Nigeria in Africa, University of Benin came 22nd position in Africa when other universities from less resource-rich countries found their way into the top twenty. Out of the 1,540,250 candidates that wrote the May/June 2011 West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE), only 472,906 representing 30.7 % were successful by obtaining 5 credits or more including English and Mathematics. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2011 Report, Nigeria has an illiteracy rate of 28 percent and claims 142nd position on the world literacy ranking.
Rather than providing adequate funds to arrest these problems, the Jonathan-led administration budgeted an outrageous N193billion to the National Assembly and the Presidency (N150billion and N43billion respectively) to cater for the needs of less than 500 people. This exceeds the N181.5billion provided for the 31 federal government-owned universities. While the President and other public officers feed fat on the nation’s treasury, the university system is starved of fund and students are left to continue to cope with the unpalatable condition on university campuses across the country.
Despite the insufficiency of this allocation, a significant percentage will end up in the pockets of public officers and school administrators. A good example is the case of the Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, Prof. Emmanuel Nwanze who claimed that he spent N60.4 million on convocation ceremony in October 2008. The Okebukola-led UNIBEN visitation panel had discovered that Prof. Nwanze spent N48 million on overseas trip; N11.5m on renovation of his official residence within the campus.
Already, the 2012 education budget contains a lot of leakages and wastages. Across all the educational agencies and institutions, bloated estimates were made for the purchase of office stationeries and furniture, computer software and consumables, magazines and periodicals; bloated estimates for rehabilitation works and maintenance services, electricity, telephone and internet access charges; and recurrence of projects already awarded and financed in the previous budget with huge sums provided for their completion in the new budget across all agencies. Also, budgetary allocations were made for the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme, UNESCO (Paris) and the nine newly established federal universities but no breakdown was given as to how the fund budgeted would be expended.
The mismanagement of funds meant for educational development has resulted into infrastructural decay and academic failures across all educational institutions. This underlines the need for Budget Monitoring Committee comprising elected representatives of congregation, senate, Staff and Students’ Union to be constituted in all campuses to help in enforcing financial discipline and ensuring budget performance.
SEASON OF FEE HIKES
With the underfunding of the sector, more attacks on students’ rights to affordable and quality education are to be expected. In fact the attack has already begun. Late last year, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)-led Lagos State Government introduced a 725% increase in fees in Lagos State University with students having to pay between N193,750 and N348,750 depending on their course of study as against the old fee of N25,000.
Just recently too, the ACN-led Ekiti State Government introduced a 100% hike in the fees payable by the students of Ekiti State University (EKSU, formerly University of Ado-Ekiti – UNAD). This new fee regime as advertised by the university will have students paying between N93, 000 and N191, 500 depending on the course of study as against the N50, 000 being paid as fees in 2010. A similar anti-poor educational policy is being pursued by another ACN-led government in Ogun State with the scrapping of the state’s university of education, Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED) – the first and only university of education in Nigeria.
All this underlines the fact that the ruling class is not interested in educating the people as both the ruling and opposition parties subscribe to anti-poor policies of educational commercialization and privatization. In actual fact, children of the poor masses who cannot afford these fees will be forced to drop-out of school due to their inability to pay the new fees as they cannot also afford those charged in private universities. With the scrapping of TASUED, available spaces in the university system would diminish and the numbers of admission seekers will skyrocket.
To begin the process of reversing the decay in the education sector, government must immediately implement the agreement it reached with ASUU. As a result of the discussions between both parties during the last ASUU strike, the ASUU President, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie revealed that government had communicated to them its position via a letter dated January 24, 2012.
With regards to funding, he said, “government reaffirmed its commitment to the revitalization of Nigerian universities through budgetary and non-budgetary sources of funds. Government will immediately stimulate the process with the sum of N100billion and will build this up to a yearly N400billion in the next 3 years. Also to be captured by the special intervention is a progressive increase of annual budgetary allocation to 26 percent between 2009 and 2020”. Government must be compelled to implement this agreement to the letter out of the first step towards revamping the ailing sector.
A MASS CAMPAIGN IS NEEDED
This require a program of action that includes symposia, rallies and lecture boycotts that can be developed on local campuses, schools and communities and linked up to a national day of action. Sadly, the leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) are pro-government and unprepared to challenge the anti-poor education policy of the ruling class. During the general strike against fuel subsidy removal in January, NANS leaders played a very despicable role by backing the government.
Therefore, while agitating for NANS to take up the task of leading the campaign against education underfunding, activists must be prepared to take the full responsibility of building a fight back from below through leafleting, symposia and rallies and agitation for local Students’ Unions to support this campaign. The main unions representing teachers and education workers have to be drawn into this kind of campaign by open appeals to them for joint actions.
This also has to be linked with calling for a total reorganization of NANS or its replacement by a new national Students’ body of genuine activists who are ready to struggle together with students for provision of free and public education at all levels.