Senate Committee on Finance, University Revenue, and ASUU – By Abdelghaffar Amoka PhD

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*Photo: Amoka*

The day 5 of the interactive session of the Senate Committee on Finance with revenue generation agencies was on the news a few days ago. Subsequently, the video trended on social media with several questions and accusations directed at the university lecturers.

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In the video, the chairman of the house committee on finance in his reaction to the ASUU Strike said: how do we explain to the whole world that a university that generates an average of 15 to 16bn naira per year and the 16bn is being spent and aside from that FG will still go ahead and pay their salaries, recurrent, and capital expenditures of those institutions and at the end of the day the lecturers will go on strike.

He further said it is high time the federal government stop the funding of universities to the extent of salary and recurrent. He added that the students should start asking: how do institutions spend the monies they generated?

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He succeeded in creating an impression with the statement: “N16bn is generated in the university, universities are well funded 100% by FG, lecturers are on strike, students should start asking how their money is spent”. This is the problem. We sit in our comfort zones and make allegations. Do the students pay fees to their lecturers? The Senator could have just invited some of the Vice Chancellors to explain what they do with the supposed generated revenue.

A look at a payment slip for a 200level computer engineering student in one of the public universities shows that he paid N2,000 for medical services, N900 for library, N3,000 for ICT fee, N1,000 for NET library N5,000 for Municipal services, N1,000 for sport, N2,000 as examination fees, N4,500 for faculty charges, N1,500 as registration fee, N1,250 for SWEP, N500 for the student union, and N500 for the religious association. These amount to N23,150 for a session.

The question then is, is the money provided for recurrent expenditures enough to run the University? Did the government make provision for these services that the students were asked to pay for? What is IGR? Are charges for services part of IGR since the only thing that is not a service charge as shown in students’ payment slips is the N1,500 tagged as a registration fee?

Not sure if the amount made available for recurrent for any federal university is up to N150m per annum, but the electricity bill of the large universities, per month, can be as high as N60m when students are on campus. That means the one-year recurrent from FG can barely pay the electricity bills for 2 months. So, how are the universities surviving the high electricity bill? UNILAG was in 2022 reported to have spent over a billion naira on electricity for a particular year (Nigerian Tribune, 14 January 2022). The recurrent can’t pay that. Was the money used to settle the electricity bills of UNILAG, for example, from the accrued student fees?

There is every likelihood that some of the management of public universities may mismanage the little fees paid by the students that is not even enough. Meanwhile, the principal officers of the university are the VC (an academic), the Bursar (non-academic), and the registrar (non-academic). So, we must learn to differentiate between ASUU as a union and the university principal officers as the management. ASUU as a union does not manage the finances of the university.

There are mechanisms to ensure that the university funds are properly managed. The Council chaired by an appointee of the president is meant to ensure that the university and the funds are properly managed. Then, a presidential visitation panel is supposed to be sent every 5 years to check the excesses of the management and the council. This is a panel that the government hardly sends to the universities. If sent, the recommendations of the panel are hardly implemented by the government.

After years of struggle, it took the 2020 ASUU strike to force this government to send the panels to all the federal universities in 2021. Then, after over a year of the visitation and reports submitted, the white paper of the reports is still not released by the government. ASUU is putting pressure on them and they insist that they will release it at their own time. The political will to fight corruption is not there despite ASUU’s struggle. So, who do you blame for corruption in public universities? ASUU or FG?

The fees paid by the students are not really revenue but specific charges to take care of some services in support of the funds from FG. It will be in the interest of the nation for a public officer to seek the right information before dishing out misinformation in an attempt to blackmail a soft target. The Senator said it’s high time the government stopped funding public universities. He possibly forgot that it is not every Nigerian that is receiving huge salaries and allowances like them despite not generating anything.

Dear Mr. Senator, a university is a human capital development institution that produced you and me. It is not a revenue generation institution. They are called public universities because they derive their funding from public funds. We need to get serious, including the legislators, to get things right. As an elected representative of the people, how much do you think an average student can pay for a university to generate the amount that is enough to fund itself? How much can the members of your constituency afford?

You can say that everybody must not get a university degree. I will only take you serious if your kids did not attend university for a degree because they don’t need it. You can’t take your kids abroad for education and tell the rest of us that we don’t need it. You may also say they can take a loan if they want to be educated. If a Nigerian takes a loan of N2m+ with interest for a 4-year degree course and later got a teaching job of N45,000 per month after graduation, how long will it take him to pay back the loan? Are you truly helping to educate him or putting him in bondage for the best of his life?

We sit in our comfort zones and preach neoliberalism that is failing developed countries. We sit at our advantaged positions and advocate the importation of policies from developed countries without looking at our peculiarities and ways to domesticate those policies. As legislators, if you truly know the people you are representing, you should help to look for a sustainable funding system for public universities, taking the peculiarities of the country and its people into consideration. You should be helping to create an enabling environment for job creation. If people know that with a diploma, they can get a job that will give them a contented life, some people won’t give a damn about a university degree. But we have not developed such a system.

We love to give surface treatment to our challenges while the root keeps growing. We once had a country where scholars and students from everywhere come to study and work. Today nobody patronizes our system and we are rather the ones going to other countries to study and work. Studying abroad has now become a thing of class. Not very long ago, we had teachers from the UK, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, the United States, the West Indies, and elsewhere that were happily pursuing their dreams in Nigeria. How did we lose this virtue?

Our universities were among the best in Africa and the Commonwealth. UI, along with OAU, ABU, UNN, and UNILAG had the best brains in their respective fields. They had one of the best science and research laboratories in Africa. An ABU staff-in-training that was at Oxford in the 70s for his PhD was said to have boasted while at Oxford of his laboratory in ABU and was looking forward to his return to the lab after the PhD. How did we get to where we are today? Rather than join the gangs of blackmailers, the legislators need to help the country drive the process to produce answers to our challenges in education. They should bring together the stakeholders to work out a sustainable education system to regain the lost glory.

One option for the funding crisis is to evaluate the cost of running the universities, considering their capacity. Divide the cost per student and that will make the tuition fee for a session for the respective university. Then, there should be a stakeholders meeting that includes parents and student representatives where there will be a consensus on the percentage the government will subsidize for the cost per head. The subsidy is captured in the budget every year and is paid to the universities. The students pay the balance as appropriate and the university has full financial autonomy and will be responsible to pay the staff and run itself. TETFund will still be serving its intervention purpose but not to fund new universities. That is the model used in most countries, especially in Africa, with tuition fees subsidy.

But the likely problem with this model here is that, with the poverty of sincerity that keeps coming up in every government, they will either pad the subsidy or another government will come and say there is no money for education subsidy and that the agreement was not signed in their dispensation. They are quick to take credit for completed projects that were started by past governments but are reluctant to accept an agreement signed by the same past governments.

In conclusion, Mr. Senator should help ASUU to beg FG to release the white paper of the visitation panel report for all the federal universities. It should contain the answers to his questions on how the monies collected from the students were spent. He should also ensure that the legislators play their oversight function by ensuring that presidential visitation panels are sent to the public universities as at when due for proper monitoring of the operation of the universities.

If FG has the political will and is ready to assist ASUU in its struggle for the survival of public universities, corruption in public universities can be reduced to the barest minimum.

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