The ASUU Strike of 2022 is raising important questions and responses we must not dodge. Market reforms now demand Vice Chancellors should raise tens of billions of naira annually to fund their universities. Otherwise they are not fit for purpose. Really? Are Vice Chancellors to blame for the government’s ancient failures in education policy and practice? Thus, it is a question worth examining.
Market reform should make things better, not worse. Furthermore, transplanting reform to a nation that lacks the institutions, culture and climate of nations where it works faces the doom of failure. Vice Chancellors are primarily civil servants, teachers, and researchers, not entrepreneurs. I grew up with the dictum entrepreneurs may not have a high I.Q. but make endless millions, but academics may have I.Q.s that are off the charts but cannot make money. Thus, I ask, is that dictum now false?
I was once a colleague of late Prof Emmanuel Ezugwu, who was bringing in millions of pounds every year for over a decade to South Bank University. How did he do it? Research funding for lubrication and other specialities from Rolls Royce. If Prof Ezugwu had remained at UNN, would he have been able to achieve that?
Furthermore, another former colleague of mine is Prof Harry Goulbourne. He brought in millions of pounds to the South Bank University for research into Social Capital and Families, among other projects. How did he do it? With funds provided by the British government-funded body, the Economic and Social Research Council. Prof Goulbourne is unlikely to achieve such success in his native Jamaica?
As a matter of fact, the governments of rich and some developing nations invest heavily in Research & Development and its universities. Such investments are crucial to the advancement, security, and wealth of their nations. It may surprise some that the U.S. government in “Operation Paperclip” brought enemy scientists to America. These were excellent scientists but qualified for the death penalty or jail for life for their crimes in Nazi Germany and Japan during World War II. The scientists were brought to America with pardons and to live in freedom to develop the American “national interest.”
On the other hand, the Nigerian government and citizens seem to love it when a Nigerian scientist does great things in diaspora. With the right conditions and provision Nigeria scientists can do the same at home.
By the way, the modest research funds given to the late Prof Andrew Nok by the Obasanjo government saw him lined up for the Nobel Prize for medicine for his discoveries. Note, he never studied outside Nigeria; it was government funding that made his phenomenal research possible.
Are Nigerian Vice Chancellors to blame?
In the USA, top research universities have small and large corporations growing around them to develop their industries. Social capital between industry and university principals becomes inevitable and with easy access. Most of those universities get money from Research & Development funding from collaborating industries, alumni donations, endowments, and the government? But how about instances of such happening in Nigeria? Anybody?
On the contrary, almost all rich Nigerians will rather build a university they own than contribute large endowments in existing universities in the country. That is a big part of the problem and the ASUU Strike of 2022. Yet, we want to treat education in Nigeria as if it is in the USA.
That notwithstanding, I digress a little. Free-market proponents in Nigeria who with vehemence assert that billionaires like Bill Gates and Aliko Dangote have no obligations to workers. Not even their own workers! In a sharp U-turn, these same people tell us that alumni have obligations to the universities they attended but the government should hands-off? Have they now dropped the concepts of spontaneous maximisation, spontaneous market arrangements, every man for himself, and greed is right? Interesting.
Nevertheless, U.S. taxpayers’ money was the source of funds for most of the Research & Development that has given the world nuclear technology, computers, the internet, stem cell technology, aircraft, automobiles etc. Somehow the bequeath of the research outputs to young men made them billions, taxpayers got nothing. What does the Nigerian government do with the oil revenues, foreign loans, and taxpayers’ money it collects?
Now it’s time for the questions. Where are Nigeria’s industrial giants? None. Are there any the super-innovation-driven research labs in Nigeria? Perhaps but few and under-funded. Where are the billions of dollars to fund research of “national interest” provided by the Nigerian government? Ha ha ha!
Are Nigerian Vice Chancellors to blame?
Needless to say, market or any other reforms should not be a one-size-fits-all dictate. Every nation is unique and some have similar capabilities and resources but not so many. Nigeria as a nation and its universities have their peculiar needs. And no nation developed without its universities playing a major role. Therefore, clear and workable deliberation for reforms that are useful, non-destructive and immediate to Nigeria needs should be the focus. Then back it up with sustainable lines of action and enforceable institutions. This must be a priority for the government.
Or else, Nigeria would be left with research universities worse than they are today, less funds and a free-market that always fail them.
And the Vice Chancellors will not be liable for the blame.