RE-ENGINEERING NIGERIA’S EDUCATION SECTOR (Part 2)
LEONARD KARSHIMA SHILGBA
In the first of this series, I addressed issues such as accreditation and management of tertiary education in Nigeria. I now turn my attention to funding of education and federal support to states for sub-tertiary education.
FUNDING HIGHER EDUCATION
The Oronsaye Committee report (2012) observed that the cost per session of training an “Arts student” was N450, 000 (four hundred and fifty thousand naira only), while it cost N525, 000 (five hundred and twenty-five thousand naira only) a session to train a “Science student” in a Nigerian university. The implication is that:
- For every 1000 “Science students” in a federal university, N525 million should come to it in tuition fees and related charges, federal grants or subsidies, while N450 million should be the amount for every 1000 “Arts students.” If our universities get less than this, then we are offering low-quality education.
- The All Progressives Congress (APC) has a policy of “free education,” beginning from first to ninth grade, and then later up to university level. Well, while I do not disapprove of this, I think there is not much clarity on it. Education can never be “free” because ignorance is expensive. Someone must pick up the bills: the government, the consumers, or some other organizations interested in promoting education in the country. Therefore, if it is verified that, for instance, it costs N 525,000 (five hundred and twenty-five thousand naira) per annum to train a science major in a federal university, and the government says that students should pay only N 50,000 (fifty thousand naira), for instance, then, government must provide a grant of N475, 000 (four hundred and seventy-five thousand naira) to the university as education grant or subsidy. Failing to do this would mean that government is offering “fraud education” and not “free education.” Genuine free education means a subsidy is paid on education per head to the universities that are service providers. Declaration of “free education” does not make the costs to just vanish away. When the Nigerian government fixes pump price of PMS at N 87 a liter, it pays “fuel subsidy” to fuel marketers for the difference in real costs. Why would the federal government not pay federal universities, polytechnics and other federal tertiary education institutions “education subsidies” for the difference between real costs and the decreed “charges” that are so ridiculously small? Does the federal government find it proper to give away hundreds of billions of naira to fuel marketers every year in the name of “fuel subsidies” while starving its federal tertiary education institutions of necessary funds and yet forbidding charging of requisite tuition fees? Here is the conundrum: The federal government instructs its institutions of tertiary education, “Thou must not charge fees.” But what does it offer in exchange? It offers amounts that are not enough to subscribe to necessary online resources, provide adequate library resources, support necessary technology in teaching, learning and research, provide adequate electricity for learning and research activities, guarantee reliable internet services and timely conference attendance (What happens now is a classic in micro-management, where a faculty member applies for grants for conference attendance through TETFUND, and it takes ages to process; by the time the application succeeds, the conference has come and gone). By my estimation, based on the Oronsaye committee report of 2012 (not even considering inflationary impact over the three-year differential), more than N 250 million should be attracted to a university physical science department with a student population of 500. This amount should defray an enhanced annual remuneration of ten full professors (at professor-student ratio of 1:50) at N10 million, with over N 100 million left for other necessary student-related, faculty-related and other expenditures! This would definitely attract high-quality professors to Nigerian universities, and consequently, good and resourceful students, and then improved grants both local and foreign.
The Buhari administration must request each of the federal universities and other institutions of higher education to furnish the following information: Number of students per program; costs per head per annum of training each of the students; deficiencies in learning and teaching resources and infrastructure; required number and quality of faculty for each program; and any relevant information. Based on the information, the federal government can determine how much of the cost it should bear and how much should go to the direct consumers (students).
As a first step towards upgrading federal universities to international standards, six federal universities should be selected and designated as Group One Federal Universities, one each from the six geo-political zones. The Oronsaye Committee recommended “first generation” universities for a similar exercise. I observe that this would exclude some geo-political regions, and considering our socio-political sensitivities, we must start with six universities, one each from the geo-political zones, upgrade any that fails to meet the standard benchmarks to be pre-determined for Group One Universities if none of the universities in a particular zone meets those benchmarks (In addition, benchmarks would be set for Group Two and Group Three Universities). The amount of federal grants and any student financial aid (that should be channeled through universities) should depend on the category a university falls in.
Recruitment of faculty for those universities should be done through credible faculty search committees that could use hiring consultants. Salaries of the faculty should be international rate and competitive. Furthermore, Group One Universities would be primary beneficiaries of the Diaspora Professorial Exchange (DPE). Facilities at the Group One universities should be expanded to take 50,000 students. Admission into programs of the universities would be highly prioritized on the basis of high performance on all qualifying examinations to be determined. Good performance on faculty evaluation by students, semester-by-semester, would be part of the determinants of job-security for faculty. Other federal universities should be included in the Group One universities category upon attainment of international accreditation and those pre-determined benchmarks, which would attract more federal grants. Consequently, there shall be reward for excellence, and therefore motivation to excel. This will definitely enhance quality. Eventually, many Nigerian students and their parents, who spend billions of dollars annually abroad on university education, shall keep the money at home as they are assured of the same or better quality of education in Nigeria. Those universities will also earn foreign exchange from foreign students that they will attract because of improved quality and international accreditation. There would be reduced pressure on the naira, forcing it to appreciate significantly against the US dollar just as Buhari has envisioned.
Recently, there have been calls for the discontinuance of the N100 billion-a-year federal foreign scholarships. Some argue that if each of the federal universities is given N2.5 billion from the amounts spent on foreign scholarships, there would still be some left-overs. I agree, but much more. In the twenty-first century, with more than 100 universities (federal, state and private), the federal government must not throw away money to foreign universities in the form of foreign scholarships. By choosing to spend such huge amounts on foreign scholarships, the federal government confesses that it has failed to provide the appropriate facilities, resources (human and material), and environment to guarantee quality education. I think that if those facilities, resources and environment are provided in Nigeria, we shall achieve the same objectives and attract the best faculty available on earth. Rather than send our students to the “top 25 universities of the world” we should strive to get some of our universities up such ranking. What did those top-ranked universities do right? What is the accreditation process in those universities like? How much is annual funding per student in those universities? What is faculty remuneration like in those universities? These and similar questions need to be answered by the federal and state governments that spend outlandish amounts on foreign scholarships.
I recommend a transparent scholarship scheme that is more responsive and adaptive to current realities. For instance, the scholarships should be categorized into:
C1: Merit-based offer, which depends on academic performance in the priority programs of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and shall be sustained by academic excellence. Minimum standards shall be determined by FME and reviewed periodically. Education subsidies (scholarships) shall be remitted directly to the program-host departments by FME upon verification.
C2: Work-based offer, which requires minimal student work-service during vacations in specific government departments, agencies, and ministries, and community services.
Student loans should be provided through the vehicle of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), under a new Nigerian Education Act, which I propose to formalize some of the ideas being proposed in this epistle, that will be worked on in order to provide a legislative cover for all the reforms in the education sector that will be introduced. Direct payment should be made to their duly accredited universities and other higher education institutions (only for accredited programs) upon completion of necessary paper work by the students. This shall assist indigent students to pay tuition fees that universities and other higher institutions in Nigeria may charge. Re-payment timelines and guidelines after graduation, and the application documents required (including biometric national identification card) shall be provided in the Education Act.
NOTE: The Federal Government should abolish foreign scholarships, which are reported to amount to about N 100 billion annually. Rather, this money should be used to improve facilities in federal tertiary education institutions, improve faculty remunerations and thereby attract high-quality scholars to our tertiary education institutions, and support students studying in them.
The vision of the Buhari government to build Skills Acquisition/Technical schools in all states of the federation could be leveraged upon to institutionalize first world standards in our society. With those Technical/Professional schools in place and well equipped with the right human resources and equipment, all technicians and artisans (Electricians, mechanics, plumbers, tile- layers, painters, carpenters, welders, air conditioning technicians, etc.,) that will ply their trade in Nigeria MUST attend an intensive “re-tooling” course to be certified, and thereafter attend regular refresher courses. No uncertified technician and artisan shall be allowed to practice in Nigeria. Informal apprenticeship without proper certification shall no longer be allowed. The Business Clusters that the incoming government wishes to establish across the country could be integrated into this concept.
R1: All public and private construction or building projects involving technicians and artisans in Nigeria shall require keeping of a project roster which must contain the names and certification numbers of those professionals that worked on them.
R2: A well prepared Nigerian technical and art skills base shall lead to more shared prosperity as contractors and construction companies in Nigeria and beyond shall make the skills pool a recruiting ground. This would attract more foreign direct investment and reduce capital flight which takes the form of remunerations to expat staff.
R3: Certification of all technicians in Nigeria shall facilitate maintenance of data for easy and verifiable tax collection, which shall boost federal, state and local revenues.
MANAGEMENT OF UNITY SCHOOLS
In 2006, the federal government attempted a reform in the management of the 102 federal secondary schools called “Unity schools”. There was resistance to the Public-Private Partnership proposal that included placing the management of those schools under School Management Organizations (SMOs). Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a chieftain of the APC today, also led the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) to oppose this reform. Nine years later, I think the Buhari administration should re-consider the proposal. Indeed, the FME should not be involved in managing secondary education. If the Ezekwesili-instigated proposal is still too bitter to swallow, then the schools should be handed over to host state governments to manage, while the federal government offers grants in cash and kind. The constitutional role of the FME does not include managing secondary schools; that should be the call of state governments, while the FME concentrates on formulating a National Policy on Education; collecting and collating data for purposes of education planning and financing; maintaining a uniform standard of education throughout the country; controlling the quality of education in the country through the supervisory role of the Inspectorate Services Department of the Ministry; harmonizing education policies and procedures of all the states of the federation through the instrumentality of the National Council on Education; effecting co-operation in educational matters on an international scale; and developing curricula and syllabuses at the national level in conjunction with other bodies (Fafunwa, 2002).
When it comes to pre-primary, primary and secondary education in Nigeria, the FME must concentrate only on playing a supporting role to states and local governments. In fact, with regard to primary, adult and vocational education both federal and state governments must focus on playing only a supporting role to the local governments that must receive and manage their allocations from the federation account, and be made by the state governments to perform their responsibilities as contained in the Fourth Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution:
Paragraph (2) (a): The functions of a local government council shall include participation of such council in the Government of a State as respects the following matters—the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education;
The key word in managing education at any level is planning. The FME must support the relevant state ministries with human and material resources to carry out: Teacher quality and quantity audit (through state ministries of education); (subject) curriculum audit (through state ministries of education); school infrastructure audit (through state ministries of works with the engagement of quantity surveyors, architects, and building and environmental experts); learning and teaching resources (books, teaching aids and technologies, laboratory equipment, etc.,) audit (through state ministries of education and relevant technical and science education service providers); and finances (avenues for generating funds and attracting external support) audit (through state and federal inland revenue services, state ministries of finance and volunteer financial experts).
Furthermore, the federal government should work to remove bureaucratic bottle necks that frustrate receiving ready education assistance from abroad, and port-clearing hurdles, which hinder timely clearance of education materials at Nigeria’s ports.
The incoming government’s plan to engage Nigerian education experts in the Diaspora to assist in primary and secondary schools in a One month-a-year education assistance program is commendable, and should be adapted to the audit exercises I have proposed. Besides, the program should be leveraged upon to train the trainers in education industry in Nigeria to improve the quality of our teachers in primary and secondary schools, who will be exposed to up-to-date teaching methodologies and technology in teaching and learning, planning and preparation of lessons and assessment, and classroom management techniques, etc. The home-based (trained) trainers will in turn train other teachers in our schools on a regular basis.
The Federal government should offer support grants to states that meet certain benchmarks such as investment in primary and secondary education as a percentage of annual budget, with special emphasis on special needs and technical/science education; student performance on standardized national examinations; improvement in teachers’ welfare (including regular payment of teachers’ salaries) and work environment; proper student learning environment, etc. Adequate performance monitoring mechanisms must be devised by the FME to determine the type and amount of intervention from the federal government that a state deserves.