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Marketising the Academe Vs Public Good

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The World Over, education is identified as a spark-plug for development engineering. Accordingly, most developing countries place high premium on human capital production on their development agenda. The quantum and quality of existing manpower is one of the critical indicators of the health of the economy. Little wonder that UNESCO uses literacy rate, teacher-student ratio, quality of teachers and level of funding as crucial determinants to measure the quality of education. It is against this background that Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) advocates free, universal and compulsory education in developing countries, visualizing education as a fundamental right and a public good. The United Nations also recommends that developing countries should invest a minimum threshold of 26% of the budgets in education.

In Nigeria, tertiary education is a huge Government enterprise that has witnessed a progressive evolution of Government's complete and dynamic intervention and active participation. The federal Government of Nigeria has adopted education as an instrument par excellence for effecting nation development. However, education has had a grim finance squeeze, occasioned by politics of under-funding exacerbated by internal misallocation and budgetary bleeding.

What has become a critically conspicuous Nigerian factor is that there is so much movement without motion. For example the federal government admitted spending N521 billion on power supply for the past eight years, yet not even one state of the federation (Abuja inclusive) could guarantee 12 hours of uninterrupted power supply a day. This is the same scenario that pervades the educational system. Sadly, funding has not kept pace with the exponential expansion of the system. For example, the Federal Government invested 11.13% in 1999, 5.90% in 2002, which falls far below the UN recommended minimum threshold of 26%. Nigeria's GDP Spending on education is about the lowest in Africa. It is disheartening that Nigeria, which is the intellectual laboratory of Africa, could spend only 0.76% so little on education. Other less endowed nations invest more of their GDP in education (Angola 4.9%; Ghana 4.4%; Kenya 6.5%; South Africa 7.9%, Malawi 5.4% and Tanzania 3.4%).

For the past two decades or so, the Nigerian educational system has been undergoing a profound crisis. The familiar areas of crisis in the system cover a broad spectrum of problems and conflicts involving men, measures and resources. The educational system is bogged down by inadequate funding for teaching and research. The pathologies of “brain drain”, academic wastage, decaying infrastructure, inadequate teaching, industrial strife, declining productivity and budgetary bleeding have accelerated the progressive decay of the system. Whereas the finger of expansion continued unabated, funding and the provision of other crucial educational inputs did not keep pace with the exponential expansion of the system.

A noticeable impact of poor funding on the academe is the flight of the best brains of the country to greener pastures at least to buttress their innate potential for self-actualization. The brain drain syndrome is a huge loss to Nigeria, especially realizing that the education of the high calibre manpower was subsidized by the Federal Government. The academe is also characterized by dilapidated infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, high teacher-pupil ratio and academic wastage, as manifested in the form of the high incidence of failure, repetition and outright dropout. There is public outcry about the declining quality of the product of our educational system. The poor quality is reflected in the very low productivity and job performance of graduates which is not matched with the amount certification. The credential gap poses a challenge for quality.

Funding determines the quality of educational inputs such as research, personnel emolument, quality of infrastructure such as libraries and laboratories etc. The prevailing obsolescence, low morale and rot in the educational system are due largely to inadequate funding. Amidst shrinking revenues in a mono-cultural economy coupled with the competing demands of other key sector of the economy, it was obvious that government alone could not bear the huge cost burden of education, hence the popularization of partial privatization of the tertiary education sub-sector. This policy thrust is gradually taking root in Nigeria.

The introduction of “academic capitalism” is in tandem with the neo-liberal view of marketization of higher education, which the World Bank and the IMF have been promoting since 2000. The advocacy was for private individuals to own educational institutions, which will be managed according to market capitalism. This neo-liberal tendency sees the owners of institutions as private investors while the students/clients are customers. Ex-President Obasanjo has benefited immensely from the marketization of the academe. At last he is now a proud proprietor of Bells University of Technology. There is no doubt that with the prevailing poverty and the worsening economic crisis in the Country, the application market capitalism in the delivery of tertiary education will certainly sentence many Nigerian Children from the low income bracket to perpetual illiteracy or acquire low quality education in public universities with its attendant labour market challenges.

Arguably, the carrygo syndrome, which has been entrenched in the political system has infiltrated into university governance. Any government whether civil or military that comes to power pounces on education promising support. That is why “the determinants of the direction of education, allocation of resources, control the content and environment of learning are purely political. The politicization of education against the wisdom of educational planning economics has resulted in massive uncoordinated expansion of the educational system. Politicians at Abuja now impose University administrators without recourse to the Senate – which is statutorily empowered to elect Vice Chancellors. Politics has eroded university autonomy and academic freedom, making the ivory tower looks like an annex of Government House. These are the most fundamental issues that should constitute the nitty-gritty of the educational reforms.

The proposed merging, upgrading and collapsing of Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and Universities is another policy that is hard to justify, and if implemented will do violence to the educational system.. First, the National Policy on Education (2008) expressly states the objectives of these levels of education. Therefore the merger proposal lacks merit and has no theoretical basis. Universities are loci of research and production of high caliber manpower, but Polytechnics and Colleges of educations are designed to provide specialized intermediate manpower for critical sectors of the economy. In the defunct Soviet Union, the industrialization drive was championed by the Polytechnics; thus the economic history will not be complete without recourse to the Polytechnization of the defunct Soviet Union.

I profusely share the view of Prof. Ben Nwabueze who posited some time ago that Nigeria has had an overdose of educational reforms. The 6-3-3-4 system was introduced ostensibly to provide learners with the requisite techno-vocational orientation, as against the generalist, liberal and bookish system we inherited from the colonial masters. The 6-3-3-4 system has failed not because there is something wrong with it but because government is paying lip service to educational development.

There are two key indicators used to know how well a university system is faring. These are growth competitiveness index (GCI) and public institution index (PII) The World Economic Forum (2004) In growth competitiveness, Nigeria ranks 12 in Sub-Saharan Africa, SSA, and 87 in the world. In terms of public institutions index, Nigeria ranks 20 in SSA and 98 in the world. Growth Competitive Indicators (GCI) uses hard data and survey data for ranking educational institutions. On the other hand, the Public Institution Index, PII is a composite of the contracts and laws sub index and corruption sub index. Ostensibly, Nigeria ranks below such less endowed countries as Cameroon, Namibia Ghana and Senegal. The general perception is that Nigerian Universities are not well positioned to contribute effectively to productivity, growth and the national economy. The situation is worsened by the fact that Nigeria has not defined her position in the emerging knowledge economy.

Nigeria spends a paltry 0.1 % on research and development, yet political power holders pay lip-service to development. Besides, the Federal Universities spend only 1.3% of their budgets on research. The implication is that technological breakthrough or development for that matter cannot happen without engaging in basic, applied research. Research could be better funded by the private sector; as such research results may be commercialized for profit maximization. Research constitutes a veritable catalyst for economic advancement.

Adesina (1990) remarked that enrolment in tertiary institutions has burst the ceiling, far outstripping available but obsolete facilities. There is also a huge demand-supply gap in tertiary education. For example in the 1979/1980 academic session, 114,397 candidates applied for places in Nigerian Universities but only 17,729 representing 15.5% was admitted, with a huge unsatisfied demand of 84.5%. In the 2001/2002 academic year, 842,072 applied to the University through the University Matriculation Examinations, but only 95,199 students representing 11.3% was admitted leaving behind a colossal demand-supply gap of 88.7%.This phenomenon has created ample opportunity for individuals in the private sector to establish private institutions run strictly on the principles of market capitalism.

The educational system needs major surgical operations because of the cumulative decay; it is not counter-productive to administer counterfeit drugs to a patience that has terminally illness. The first step to take in executing genuine educational reforms is for all us to agree that there is a problem. Second, we have to declare a state of educational emergency even if we have to close down the system for 12 calendar months. This will be followed by an all-inclusive Education Summit where fundamental decisions pertaining to funding, management, infrastructure, teacher welfare university autonomy and other knotty issues will be discussed. What the Nigerian educational system needs now is neither marketization nor academic capitalism but adequate fund bereft of politics. The cautious application of this prescription will restore the fast fading glory of education in Nigeria.

The major challenge facing the Nigerian educational system is, and has always been under-funding. The IMF and the World Bank have granted funding privileges to basic education to the detriment of tertiary education. Given the rising index of poverty in Nigeria as in other developing countries, the marketization ideology will certainly make education inaccessible to the masses, only the rich can guarantee the education of their children. The bizarre proposition and advocacy that unity schools should be operated along the lines of market capitalism is as unpopular as it is unpatriotic. The fact that we need reforms does not mean that we should blindly implement policies that will have grave consequences for posterity. It is sad that Obasanjo who wore the toga of a reformer could impose harsh, punitive and unbearable conditions on the people even in the education sector.

While it may be argued that the advantages of marketizing the academe may be enormous, the model obviously negates the fundamental tenets of the Nigerian educational system. It is difficult to believe that the phenomenon of marketization of the academe will be sustainable. The problem with the Nigerian educational system is chronic under-funding of the educational system and over-rewarding of the political class. A situation whereby a Local Government Councilor is given more financial rewards than a university Professor shows that all is not well with the system. The implication is that if public education is not subsidized, the it at least for the sake of the poor, while at the same time encouraging private initiatives. What the Nigerian educational system needs now is neither marketization nor academic capitalism but adequate funding and de-politicization of education. The system has to guarantee university autonomy, restore academic freedom, reform the curricular to increase its relevance and provide adequate infrastructure to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of education service delivery in our tertiary institutions.

Recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU embarked on a 7-day warning strike. This was followed by another bout of warning strike by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU). It has become imperative for the federal government to resolve the issue of implementation of previous collective contract between the Universities and the Government. It is in the interest of the Nigerian nation to settle these critical issues or risk a looming danger of shutting down the educational system to the peril of the low socio-economic bracket, the rural poor and down trodden. President Jonathan should be pro-active in engaging the ivory tower to save the educational system from imminent collapse.

The situation on ground now is that the leaders of this nation have killed public education. They have stolen the commonwealth to establish private Universities and Colleges, where elitist education is administered at the sufferance of the masses. In doing so, they give their children quality education to maintain the status-quo. That way, they maintain the hiatus between the rich and the poor in politics, industry and all spheres of life. This in itself constitutes educational terrorism of the populace. When we redesign a new Nigeria, the educational system shall be a priority and the fast fading glory of the educational system shall be restored. OUR LEADERS SHOULD NOT MARKETIZE THE ACADEME.

Idumange John
Is Gubernatorial Aspirant in Bayelsa State

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Articles by Idumange John