The federal government hands out dos and don’ts to university authorities in a move to save tertiary education in the country
The meeting looked like a lecture and the tutor was Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, professor and the minister of education. The students were also professors and vice chancellors, VCs, of universities in Nigeria. Rufa’i read out highlights of a government white paper on university administration to the VCs on Friday February 10 in the conference room of her office. The minister did not mince words when she told the gathering that the federal government expects university authorities to turn a new leaf and halt the rot in their institutions or face sanctions.
The minister based her view on the report of a visitation panel inaugurated last year February to undertake a review of the state of federal tertiary institutions in the country and advise government on how to reposition them. The terms of reference of the panel included a review of the relationship between the management, staff and students, examination of the management of finances, assessment of infrastructure and quality of teaching and instruction facilities.
A white paper on the report was approved by President Goodluck Jonathan recently, and university authorities are expected to start implementing the recommendations immediately. The objective, according to Rufa’i, is to improve the “quality of governance” that exists in the nation’s ivory towers.
The white paper noted the practice in many universities to exceed their admission capacities, award frivolous honorary degrees and divert from their core mandate in the name of increasing their internally generated revenue, IGR. The government said this practice must stop, and universities must stick to recommended admission quota and award honorary degrees to only deserving persons.
To stem brain drain in the universities, the authorities have also been instructed to employ First Class graduates of their institutions as graduate assistants as it was the practice. According to Rufa’i, the practice would also inject “fresh minds” into the system and encourage smooth succession plan in the universities.
A committee of top ministry officials and the National Universities Commission, NUC, has been set up to ensure compliance with the government white paper. The universities have also been mandated to submit monthly governance report for their universities.
To ensure efficiency in university administration, a number of recommendations have also been made. For instance, the practice where VCs appoint special aides like politicians was condemned as a duplication of the duties of schedule officers of the university, and that it puts unnecessary burden on the wage bills. The universities were asked to “respect the approved scheme of service” for federal universities.
Lack of transparency in the university administration has been one of the sore points in the relationship between management and both the academic and non-academic staff. It is in view of this that the paper recommends the immediate establishment of procurement units in federal universities in line with the 2007 Procurement Act, and the maximum deployment of ICT in the conduct and delivery of academic programmes as well as in staff documentation and processing of emoluments. This, according to the paper, would encourage transparency and make the universities globally competitive.
The VCs are also expected to check the overbearing attitude of some council members who feed on the lean resources of the universities. The report of the visitation panel indicated that many Governing Council members of universities, who are usually appointed by government from outside the university, have abused their privilege. Some council members were found to have borrowed money belonging to the universities.
Thus, the government has asked VCs to report any overbearing council member to the ministry of education, and also ensure that funds not required for immediate use are deposited in government securities or interest earning accounts.
But the government appears to be playing the ostrich by pushing to the institutions the responsibility to increase staff strength in terms of quality and quantity, and provide qualitative facilities for teaching and learning. It is not stating how it will address its obligation in this regard.
Although the United Nations recommends a benchmark of 26 per cent of a country’s budget for education, in Nigeria it has progressively fallen below 10 per cent. The burden of funding has been shifted to the universities, a development that many believe is largely responsible for the current rot in the system.
The government has failed to address the issue of funding in the white paper. Instead it advised university management to strive to increase their IGR levels and “explore various sources of intervention from public and private sector to update their facilities and upscale capacity building programmes for their staff.”