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Stakeholders set agenda for education in 2018

SECTORAL AGENDA: Ahead of the Year 2018, which commenced yesterday, stakeholders in the nation’s education sector have set agenda for the system, hoping they would address the multifarious challenges facing us as a country

As the nation begins the journey into 2018, major players in the education sector, who are already apprehensive over the unfavourable developments in the system, have set agenda for the sector’s revitalisation.

These stakeholders, which include the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Senior Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (SSANU); Education Rights Concern (ERC) and other members of the academia, have called on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to rise up to the challenges of rescuing the sector from its imminent collapse.

Citing the poor allocation to the sector in the proposed 2018, which is currently before the National Assembly, among other numerous unresolved challenges confronting the system, hold the view that as the fulcrum for national development, education deserves priority in the order of things.

Some of the issues listed by these stakeholders, which they claim are deserving of the attention of government at all levels, include incessant workers’ strikes, paucity of funds, dearth of instructional materials, decayed infrastructure, shortage of qualified teachers, and poor teachers’ remuneration and welfare, among others.

According to them, the ongoing indefinite nationwide strike embarked upon by the non-teaching staff unions of universities, comprising the Senior Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff of Universities (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), who are protesting the alleged disparity in the disbursement of the earned allowance to all the staff unions in Nigerian universities, should be addressed without further delay. Following the strike, which entered its second month this week, administrative and other allied activities across Nigerian universities had been paralysed with many universities abruptly shutting down.

Lamenting the low budgetary allocation to the education sector, they criticized the Federal Government for paying a lip service to the ailing sector, which they said would be worse for it this year, if nothing substantial was done to improve funding into the system. They said the proposal of N605.8 billion, representing only about 7 per cent of the total budget of N8.6 trillion fiscal budget to education, is too meager to take the sector out of the wood.

Going by the trend of the budgetary allocations in the last nine years, the government in 2010 voted N293,427,655,563 (7.19%); 2011- N393,810,171,775 (9.32%); 2012 – N468,385,037,983 (9.86%); 2013 – N499,761,707,838 (10.15%); 2014-N494,783,130,261 (10.54%); 2015- N484,263,784,654 (10.78%); 2016 – N480,278,214,639 (7.92%); 2017 – N550,597,184,148 (7.40%); and 2018 – N605,800,080,038 (7.04%).

Beyond budget, another critical area stakeholders want the government to touch in the year is the release and rescue of some lecturers of the University of Maiduguri, who were kidnapped several months ago.

They called on state governors to provide matching grants to access the several billions of Naira, which have continued to lying fallow with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), while Nigerian public primary and secondary schools have continued in their scandalous state of disrepair. This situation has propelled poor parents to patronise mushroom private schools that are mis-educating innocent Nigerian children. Today, many states are owing teachers several months of salary arrears, ranging from three to 11, and without any concerted move to address the issue.

“The criminal neglect of public insti tutions has also crept into provision of tertiary education especially the universities. This is most evident in budgetary allocation. In the last three years, for example, allocations to education has slid from about eight per cent to seven per cent. New tertiary institutions were whimsically established without any idea of how they will be funded or what to do with the older ones,” they said.

For instance, with the sector suffering under the present administration, the National President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, noted that what had been proposed as budget for education for 2018 is no clear departure from what we have witnessed within the last three years.

He queried: “When will Nigerian government see education as a right for its citizens and not as a privilege as guaranteed by Section 18 of the Constitution; when will education become the cornerstone of our national development; that is, when are we going to decide to make education the centre of our advancements in health, infrastructure, agriculture, arts, social life, among others; and when will the country match action with policy plans; that is, when are we going to stop intellectual gyration alone and match action with words?” The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) has also hinted that the nation’s education sector in 2018, will be a colossal disappointment given the meager 7 per cent allocation to the sector.

Speaking through its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abdulsobur Abdulsalam, the union blamed the government for showing a clear lack of direction and insincerity to move the sector forward.

“As far as public universities are concerned, we have witnessed a spate of industrial actions which would have been avoided if government had acted responsibly. As we speak, our union and two others are on strike for reasons which would have been avoided,” SSANU said.

It accused the government of approving the establishment of more private universities, while public universities were being neglected obviously deliberately, for the purpose of promoting private universities owned by the same people who destroyed the public universities.

In the budget proposal presented by President Buhari, of the N605.8 billion total education budget, N435.1 billion is for recurrent expenditure, N61.73 billion for capital expenditure and N109.06 billion for the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Meanwhile, stakeholders have expressed dismay over what they described as floppy allocation where recurrent expenditure far outweighs capital expenditure, saying what development is being expected from such awkward allocation.

“If proposed funding to education is not increased in the 2018 appropriation bill, many on-going capital projects in public tertiary institutions, except TETFUND projects, will remain abandoned while important teaching infrastructure requiring urgent repairs or upgrade would remain in their deplorable state,” Hassan said.

Towards this end, he pointed out that what this would suggest is that new waves of fee hikes should be expected as universities, polytechnics and colleges would now descend on students and their poor working class parents to make up for funding shortfalls. The resultant effects of this, which he hinted would be negative on the sector, would be further crises which would disrupt academic calendar in the schools to the detriment of students.

A don at the University of Ibadan (UI) and a Professor of African literature and Oral literature at the Department of English at the premier university, Ademola Dasylva, bemoaned the poor state of the education sector, saying paucity of funding is the most critical challenge of the sector.

Dasylva, who expressed worry over the quantum of the yearly budget that really goes into the system, called on the government to implement the 2009 Agreement reached with the workers’ unions to ensure stability in the sector in 2018. He queried: “Ask the government how much of 2017 budget was implemented? The responses you get will not be the same, even from core political office holders. Most of them do not know.

The more you look the less you see. Every year, huge sum of money is allocated to service the status quo, especially for same number of cars for National Assembly and House of Representatives members.

Again, huge sums of money annually allocated to purchasing computers for the President’s office, and other core offices running into billions of naira at the expense of more important things and critical sectors like education, health, food and security. This is really appalling.”

The stakeholders, who scored the sector very low in 2017, blamed the successive administrations for the age-long neglect and inadequate funding of the sector, saying the education sector might not fare well in the year given the current body language of the government to the development of the sector.

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