As the face -off between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) lingers, the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, in this interview, exonerates government from blame over the decay in universities. Excerpts of interview:
What is the problem with the implementation of the FG/ASUU agreement?
“When there is negotiation, it is easy to implement the salary structure first under the budget, others issues will wait. The question of improving the university system, you can’t do it immediately you have a budget for it, so, you can’t accuse government of implementing salary structure first. “Then they talked about injecting funds into the system.
What government has done is to undertake what is called Needs Assessment. TETFund has about N600million for each public university every year for capacity building and capital development, but we are not seeing much improvement in university system. “So, government is saying, ‘let us see from each of the universities what their needs are; each of these numbers of students in this programme, what are the faculty basic needs and requirements of subjects?’ Now we have the Needs Assessment report, it’s a process that passed through the Federal Executive Council.
*Prof. Julius Okojie
*Prof. Julius Okojie
Then, government went to NEC (National Economic Council) because the state universities are not directly funded by Federal Government, so they wanted to get the governors to buy into it and, in fact, at that meeting, it was decided that primary education, secondary education, NCE and HND programmes will also undergo assessment.
That’s the part we have traded and government is saying N100 billion will be made available to start the project with the needs of each university identified from that report and that, subsequent years, we will make more money available and government is saying it alone doesn’t fund these things because there are other funding from Central Bank, PTDF, TET Fund, NCCE, NUC, etc. World Bank is even our development partner. Government is saying if we bring all these together, it will amount to something. It is not a question of releasing the money to universities, you must tie it to a project, and that is ongoing.
“They talked about infrastructure. On this, government is saying these are public facilities; and that if it wants to sell them, the unions and the university can form a property development agency and compete, so that they can get fund. We cannot form it for them as NUPENCOM is already in place into which government pays N200m through TET Fund, N50m through NUC and universities make contributions.
Because we couldn’t meet the N1bn requirement, we went to the AGF to give us a waiver so that instead of N1bn, government will now pay N600m. We are processing that through PENCOM. And we are not driving it; there are members of board of trustees.
So how can you say government has not done something in that regard? “The issue of age retirement has been concluded while other issues that have not been concluded are on-going; government is making progress and the AGF gave them (ASUU) a bit by bit response on where we have reached on those issues because you can’t revamp the university system in one year.
On allowances, government needed figures to pay. When we paid the first salary of ASUU and the non- teaching staff in 2009, because the figures were given, we tried to pay to individuals; we had N359m in excess which was lodged in bank. Government is also saying ‘let us do the staff and students audit so that we know the staff and students ratio’; but ASUU is saying there is one lecturer to 400 students.
The problem they have with the NUC is that we are infringing on the right of the Senate and we told them we have two Acts; one Act talks about the target of NUC and the other talks about the national minimum academic standard and the establishment of higher education. Under the second Act, NUC can decide to withdraw“a degree that has been awarded if we have reasons to do it and they are asking us, ‘how come we have stepped down the high degrees?’
But for some of them in the university system, to be in good standing, you must have 1.5 CGPA; anything less than that means that you are not in good standing. A student in final year that has less than 1.5 CGPA, what are you going to do with him? So we say let there be early admission so that this student can take a programme that will earn him a minimum of third class honour. Is there anything wrong with that? “Unfortunately, they run the system, they are in the Council, they are in Senate; they are HODs. I don’t see where anybody has gone wrong.
“They wanted autonomy, they have autonomy, they also choose those who will be in Council, you find in some universities the chairmen of ASUU are members of the Council. So who are we blaming for what is happening in the system? We send money to universities every year, if it is not well spent, let them indict themselves. Government is saying from now, if we have the money, we will go and look at what project they want to put the money into.
Is there anything wrong with that? Government is not going to give the money and just fold their hands.“In the past six years, government has given to about six public universities about N3bn to revamp the system. Despite the capital grant every year, do you know the funny thing? Some of the universities couldn’t defend it. We have so much liquidity in the system; let them mop up what they have.
The problem they have is poor leadership. “When you hear that the system is so decayed, go to these institutions and find out if they are still using chalk.“