It is no longer news that one of the clauses in the ASUU/FGN agreement is about federal assistance to state universities. While this is laudable and has been acceded to by the authorities, there are several insinuations against it in some quarters.
Firstly, in some quarters the view is being held that it infringes on the federal structure of governance in the country. Although it may seem to negate state autonomy, our peculiarities as a nation do not stop us from rendering assistance to state universities. After all, these state universities have been contributing to a mass of critical man power needs of the country as well as offering opportunities in livelihood to the populace. Several graduates of state universities are in the federal service and doing well at their duty postings as well as contributing to various spheres of live of the nation. Again, we are too young as a nation to dilly-dally with complete financial autonomy of the states from the federal apparatus.
Developed countries where there is partial or complete autonomy of states have several well established federal funding and granting systems that still enables universities outside the federal structure to benefit and stay vibrant and at the cutting edge of research. In our own case we only have TETFUND that has a clearly over bloated financial responsibility. It must not be forgotten that it took those developed countries several hundreds of years to be where they are today, with some of their state universities having endowments running into billions of dollars. Therefore, federal assistance to state universities in Nigeria must be continued and made a budgetary item.
Secondly, there is the argument that it would lead to further proliferation of state universities as those states without a university would want to join the rat race in order to corner additional federal grants. Whether it is for fear of being short-changed in federal grants, the truth is that with the burgeoning population, more youths need university education. For instance, last year, the then Minister of Education asserted that ,of the about one and a half million candidates that sat for the UTME/JAMB examination, only about 500 hundred thousand would be offered admission nationwide, thereby leaving out about a million out in the cold to further waste away. This means Nigeria needs more universities to cater for the growing population. This implies that the more the universities, the better and indeed the sources of funding including federal grants.
Thirdly, some have asserted that those state universities were established based on the financial buoyancy of the affected states and so should be their entire responsibility to fund them. While universities are long term projects and investment in the people with little or no returns in the foreseeable future, it is instructive that funding streams are usually diversified and not restricted to a point source. Hence, asking or insisting for federal assistance to state universities is a worthy effort and a wise investment on the part of the federal government.
A story goes of a proprietor who insisted that his VC was cursing him by informing him that he should not expect returns from his recently established university over the next thirty years. Thus university business is a long-term investment that is often capital-intensive where federal assistance and might cannot be ignored. Fourthly, antagonists of federal assistance to state universities are of the view that the federal system has far too many responsibilities to shoulder and should not be badgered with what is clearly the responsibility of the states.
While it is acceptable that the federal structure has enormous responsibilities, it is unacceptable that it cannot have a definite support system for the state universities without impinging on their autonomy. World energy demands are increasing daily and so has the price of oil remained above budgetary benchmarks, thereby translating to substantive foreign earnings to the country. What happens to the excess revenue? Lately, there were insinuations of missing funds running into billions of dollars which was a subject of altercation between the CBN, NNPC and the Presidency. If indeed those amounts actually went missing, how useful they would have been as a funding option for federal and state universities.
There is an alleged and perceived feeling of profligacy in spending at the federal level. Take the controversial national assembly emoluments, pension and oil subsidy scams amongst others, for instance as signs of wastefulness. All these are pointers to the fact that the resources are at the disposal of the federal arrangement and are in fact being wasted instead of being channelled to good cause such assistance to state universities. Therefore, federal might is capable of supporting state universities and the modalities need to be properly worked out. Fifth, there is the palpable fear that given the high level of corruption and impunity in the country, federal grants to state universities would be diverted to other uses or at worst put into private pockets. It is in foreseeing this anomaly that the ASUU included the constitution of a budget monitoring committee (BMC) in all universities to which state universities are members. Believably, a BMC would check such excesses as well as the oversight of the respective houses of assembly and even the governor’s office as well.
Although last year, the NUC echoed its fears that some ASUU chairmen are also members of governing councils of their universities and might have contributed in running down universities, it is instructive enough that most universities have an effective system of checks and balances that ensures prudent and judicious use of funds, to which state universities are not exclusive. Some may express their reservations that anti-corruption agencies hardly have cases of financial misdemeanour from universities, but again this shows the level of transparency in these citadels of learning.
In conclusion, we have to be ardent about state universities’ funding so that they are not threatened into extinction. We all come from States and stand to benefit through opportunities and collaborations.
Emmanuel Tyokumbur Department of Zoology, University of Ibadan. 07041466464 (Text only)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters