For several years now, the public tertiary education space in Nigeria has been afflicted by a rash of industrial actions arising from the displeasure of academics and other stakeholders in the system over the inability of government to honour collective bargaining agreements and give a jolt of life to the sector.
The latest experience of this disruption in the academic calendar of public tertiary institutions began in February when the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU resumed its warning strike action that it had earlier suspended.
Put I perspective, the latest action by ASUU has been seen in most quarters as one that was seriously avoidable given that the academics and the government had reached a compromise of sorts after the last bout of strike which had resulted in an agreement that many hoped would have been the beginning of a conclusive resolution of the recurring disputes. What was then needed was to implement the outcome of that compromise which the academics now insist has not been done. And for the better part of seven weeks, the institutions have in the immediate, remained cold rooms for study purposes.
Beyond the immediate, the net outcome of this rash of strike actions then has been the stultification of academic activities and massive frustration for students and parents.
Beyond these also are the collateral damages that have come into the mix. They include the challenge of securing enduring quality for the system in a world where tertiary education is evidently a universal engagement where global best practices are the norm. There is also the issue of the continuing migration of many students who ordinarily should be receiving their tertiary education in-country but who have been forced by factors, including the instability in the educational calendar, to seek admission and study opportunities outside the country.
There is also the sheer range of economic losses that the country suffers on account of the large numbers of Nigerians that are forced to go abroad to study. As CBN records would readily confirm, this is a major source of pressure on the nations foreign exchange position as the volume of dollars being sought by the Nigerians studying abroad continues to soar.
Even more worrisome is the fact that government tends to be lackadaisical, unconcerned and indifferent about taking prompt and serious action to address the entire situation. When the strike first broke in the current dispensation, the attitude of government officials was to feign ignorance of the action. When they finally stepped in to presumably address it, the focus has been on trying to intellectually shoot down the positions being canvassed by the striking lecturers as if this is a lecture room debate. There is no sense of urgency; no show of empathy, compassion and consideration for hurting students, distraught parents and a continually hemorrhaging nation.
In the past there have been several suggestions, including one that public office holders be forced to compulsorily educate their children and wards within the countrys public tertiary educational system. While this has been shot down at the National Assembly the fact remains that there is still a large dose of indifference of public sector personnel to the plight of Nigerians who work in and are supposed to derive benefits from the system.
On their part, lecturers and students have been criticised for not being realistic in their opposition to raising fees in the system as a way of increasing funding. But even this point is neither here nor there as specific proposals and cushioning effects in this regard first have to be put on the table by those promoting them. For example, rather than simply ask students and their parents to just go and find any fees that are presumably denominated as market-efficient rates, can proper steps be taken to ensure that even as those adjustments are being proposed, there are also corollary proposals to address the question of a revamped Students Loans Board that would undertake to ensure that those who bring evidence of an inability to pay the revamped fees get to secure low interest loans to fund their studies.
This newspaper reminds government that it is its responsibility to get the system to work and therefore calls for everything to be done within the next two weeks towards ensuring that the schools are opened once again for full and uninterrupted studies.