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The Guardian Nigeria

Sunday 14 February 2016
Daily Newsletter:

Business acumen by helmsmen, increased funding key to staving varsities’ troubles

  • By ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI on October 22, 2015 5:15 am

Protesting students of University of Lagos
Protesting students of University of Lagos

The serenity, tranquil ambience and the general feel of an ideal university campus in some climes, would fill a non-graduate with a groundswell of emotions, which may ultimately lead him/her to soliloquy, ‘how I wish I have the opportunity to be educated in this kind of environment.’

Apart from serving as knowledge mills where professionals that would play key roles in bringing about social, economic and technological development of the society are produced, university campuses in most parts of the world also mirror the kind of environment that their host societies strive to recreate on a larger scale.

Added to this, for a citadel of learning to discharge its functions adequately and generally be fit for purpose, it must, beyond being spick and span, play host to qualified manpower, deserved appurtenances that enhance knowledge acquisition among others.

Most Nigerian universities are off the mark when it comes to providing clement environment for the business of teaching and learning as well as sustaining students on campus with minimum comfort, while a semester lasts. This perhaps explains why students of some of these schools are perennially at loggerheads with their administrators.

In the past six months or thereabouts, students of some of the affected institutions have vented to spleen in one way or the other over the inability of the school administrators to effectively discharge certain aspect of their mandate.

Avalanche of protests

Considering its pedigree and posture, not many would have thought that the University of Lagos (UNILAG), which prides itself as “the university of first choice and the nation’s pride,” would be found in the league of universities plagued by domestic troubles, and which allegedly treats the wellbeing of its on-campus students with kid gloves.

Barely one month ago, aggrieved students of the institution rose at an unholy hour to protest bedbug and mosquito invasion of their hostel.

President of the school’s Student Union Government (SUG), Abayomi Martin, during the protest expressed worries over the school authorities’ penchant to treat matters concerning students with kid gloves, accusing the management of slow response to serious issues of concern.

“We want this management to be proactive in responding to the demands of the students. The authorities must not always wait for a crisis or protest to erupt before they react.

Martin who claimed that that the bedbug invasion had been raised with the authorities before the protest broke out (but nothing was done), added, “There is a limit to which students can bear and I feel what they were protesting against is not out of place, because they paid for it.”

“We want them to burn all the old mattresses, fumigate the hostels, do away with all the fittings, and then bring in new mattresses,” said Martin, who expressed dissatisfaction with earlier efforts of the school along this line.

The protest in UNILAG came shortly after a female student of the institution, Oluchi Anekwe, died in circumstances that would have been better handled, after being electrocuted by a high-tension wire that was left unattended to on campus.

On Monday March 30, more than 1, 000 students of the University of Abuja, barricaded the road leading to the Senate Building of the institution to protest lack of power and water supply at the permanent campus of the university.

They said the protest became necessary after authorities of the school failed to provide power and water at the campus for three months. The students, who said they go for days without having their bath, had then vowed to keep on protesting until their demands were met.

“We are tired of staying without water and light. We wear squeezed clothes to the classes and we do not want such situation to continue,’’ one of them had cried.

It was the turn of students of the University of Ibadan to protest scarcity of water and electricity on May 25. In the wake of the protest, authorities of the school closed it down for two weeks, after giving students just hours to vacate the campus.

Before resorting to the protest, the students endured lengthy spells of water and electricity shortages, conditions, which were made dire by the nationwide fuel scarcity of that period.

The same scenario nearly played out at the University of Nigeria (UN), Nsukka Campus, in June this year. But authorities of the institution on Tuesday June 2nd, after sensing danger, swiftly announced a two-week closure.

The abrupt closure, which was to avert a riot planned by the students to air their grouse about the lack of electricity and water in the institution, was termed “mid-semester break.”

It was the turn of students of Kogi State University, Anyingba, to protest lack of power supply to their hostels for six months. That, they did on Sunday, October 11. The protesting students said they resorted to the protest after several complaints to the school authorities fell on deaf ears.

The students, who blocked the Anyigba-Ajaokuta-Lokoja road, called on the state government and authorities of the school to explore ways of restoring power supply to the institution.

Unlike what happened at the University of Nigeria in the East, down South, authorities of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) were caught pants down by the students who protested the parlous condition of facilities in the hostels, especially toilets in the female hostel, as well as the lack of water and electricity.

They pointedly accused the outgoing vice chancellor Prof. James Epoke of not taking the welfare of students seriously.

Consequent upon the Monday October 12 protest, authorities of institution shut it down under the pretext of a “two-week mid-semester break,” via a press statement signed by the registrar of the university, Moses Abang.

An unchanging scenario

With the foregoing scenario, it is easy, and in fact apt to conclude that the deplorable state of varsities in the country’s is a testament of the scan attention paid the tertiary education sub-sector by administrations in the last three decades on thereabouts, within which many national priorities that have the key to unlocking our hidden potentials as a nation were treated with disdain.

Like other nations of the world, Nigeria, among other things needs universities to train the very class of technocrats and indeed the needed management workforce that would not just lay a solid foundation for her national development, but also go ahead to erect the very structures that would make national development sustainable.

When in 2013, the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities presented its report to the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Executive Council (FEC), the FEC’s attention was drawn to the fact that “students cannot get accommodation, (and) where they get, they are packed like sardines in a tiny room.”

Among other glaring inadequacies, the report added that students have “no light (electricity) and water in hostels, classrooms and laboratories.”

Having scenarios like the ones above constantly playing out barely two years after the report was presented to government is suggestive of the fact that little or nothing has been done to remedy the situation. Immense criticisms have also gone to vice chancellors for lack of ingenuity in the handling of some knotty situations that end up boomeranging.

Some stakeholders are of the view that sound policy actions, rededication to duty by the varsities’ helmsmen and active interface with the studentry have the capacity to put paid to these embarrassing happenings. Others are of the opinion that university administrators must be persons that have what it takes to apply scarce resources efficiently and prudentially.

Improved funding, a cure-all tablet

Speaking on what it takes to provide basic needs for public universities, Vice Chancellor, UNILAG, Prof. Rahamon Adisa Bello said, “It cost so much to ensure that we have all these services. You have to really tie what it takes to provide and maintain those basic needs with the available resources. UNILAG has great reputation and that is why we are able to get resources on our own to be able to do many of these things. Many of the universities don’t get that.

“In most cases, government pays our salaries, but other services are left for us to find ways of taking care of. Money allotted to overhead and other things are grossly inadequate. That is why on the issue of maintaining hostels, the money the students pay is so meagre when compared to what is being used to maintain the hostels, and that is why we have to seek for more money from other sources to augment this. To manage public institutions in Nigeria is tasking. You have to balance and ensure you continue to move on until things are properly put in place and then you can get more resources and be able to do the right things,” the vice chancellor stated.

On ways of nipping the incessant protests in the bud, he said, “Proper funding of institutions is the way out, that is if we intend to catch up with our counterparts outside the country. Our mode of funding has to change, as it is not only enough to pay salaries of worker. Let us find a way to relate what is coming in to the universities (resource) to what we do with the students.

Asked whether exposing vice chancellors to some basic knowledge of business education would not be a step in the right direction, he stated, “Note that it is not a certificate that makes a successful person. It is not compulsory that one must study mass communication to be good in journalism. It is the passion and experience that matters. UNILAG is one of the best universities in Nigeria in terms of internally generated revenue (IGR) and yet the money is not adequate.

“Go to universities abroad that we are all proud of, they make money through research and endowments. This is what we are trying to replicate here. Alumni are the ones that really make university stay, and that is what we are trying to run. It may take sometimes before this comes into place. So, whether it is a business expert that comes to run the place or not, it doesn’t make any difference. One thing is sure; a university administrator must understand the university system else he may run into more problems. I cannot say for now whether or not is good to be trained in business education but the fact is that the system has a way of finding its own level.”
Business education, a plus for varsity administrators

Professor of Political Economy and management expert, Pat Utomi, thinks differently from Bello. In fact, he is of the opinion that clearly, university administrators need background knowledge in business education to be able to overcome series of shortages in government funding, and be able to sustain the university system.

According to him, government funding is not going to be adequate anytime soon thus the need for university administrators to obtain knowledge business education and diversify entrepreneurial opportunities in the university system.

He said, “A couple of years ago, when Manzali Jibril was the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), he invited me to give a workshop on this issue for vice chancellors. Indeed vice chancellors need to be increasingly entrepreneurial for the university system to be sustainable.

“Government funding is not going to be adequate, so administrators must find ways of sustaining their institutions. And if we are going to grow out of the challenges that we face today, entrepreneurship is essential as it guarantees wealth creation.”

Utomi who is also the Founder/Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Values in Leadership, advised university administrators to get trained in business education and management so as to attain the level of proficiency needed to explore entrepreneurial options.

“They (vice chancellors) must get what they give to people, that is training. They must get training in the field of business education. Some of the vice chancellors may be good at teaching biochemistry or whatever their specialties are, but they may not be as good in administration. We find that repeatedly,” Utomi noted.

He continued, “We also need to find career track administrators to become vice chancellors. In America, they do it. The kind of people who become presidents of universities often times are not the most brilliant academics. They are the ones who have run careers in university administration so to speak. They may be academics, but they are essentially administrators in the university system,” he said.

Corroborating Utomi’s view, the Director, Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila, stressed that university administrators must learn to operate in an effective and efficient way so as to deliver clear achievable results within a short space of time.

Kila, who described education as a peculiar kind of business thus the need to acquire industry-specific skills added, “School administrators are there to manage people, quality and revenue. So, I have no doubt that school administrators will benefit from having knowledge of, or background in the business education and management. It is, however, crucial to understand that school management is a unique kind of management, hence the need to drive school administrators towards specific management programmes that contain clear element of education management.”

The Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development, urged tertiary institutions managers to explore ways of reducing their dependency on government for funds, by using their facilities and manpower to develop valuable projects and enterprises that can add value to their communities. “This they can do by engaging in a lot of activities from agriculture to industry, research and services,” he stated.

Former investment banker, Nathaniel Abara, who sees education as “very serious business,” says, to achieve results, “those who run educational establishments, including university administrators, ought to be vast in the rudiments of business.”

He added that “the way government establishments, faith-based organisations, non-governmental organisations or private sector entities go about the business of education, and the mix of the wealth it creates, would ultimately be defined by the vision, mission and driving values that are appropriate to the provider. The bottom line could be profits, human capital and social value creation and positive environmental impact, depending on their positioning.

“However, for us to run schools successfully as businesses, we need to change and broaden the prevailing mindset, which tends to restrict business to market sector vocations,” he said.

Still speaking on the prominence of business education and how it would benefit the nation at large, he said, “A brief historical excursion would help. In the early 1980’s in the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher pursued the concept of delivering public goods and services as business through her government’s policy of privatisation and commercialisation.

“Later, based on research at Harvard University, modern business practices were incorporated directly in the running of governments. President Bill Clinton took bold steps in advancing legislative interventions compelling United States government agencies to adopt performance management and reporting as a standard practice. This initiative of running government business as serious business partly explains why America recorded its longest period of economic prosperity in history under the Clinton presidency.

In Nigeria, he continued, “The first privatisation of government business also took place from 1984. Later, some foundation elements of performance-focused reforms were introduced in government from 2003 in the form of the national, state and local economic empowerment and development strategy documents of the Obasanjo era.

“The Goodluck Jonathan administration took this a step further in the transformation agenda, through the various negotiated performance contracts it executed with its ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals to deliver specific results at appointed dates.

“We enjoin the Muhammadu Buhari-led government to consolidate and take these measures further through a performance management bill, which will seek to bind the various organs of government to deliver concrete dividends to citizens each fiscal year of the medium term framework.”

Abara further advised, “Business education for university and other institutional administrators should align with these unfolding developments.”

In addition, business education programmes he suggested should cover the emerging information and knowledge revolution, human capital requirements of the 21st century, public goods and private benefits of higher education, demand and supply sides of the national and global industry analysis.