Prof Ukachukwu Aloysius Awuzie is the immediate past President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the current Ag Vice Chancellor, Imo State University. In this interview with Vanguard Learning, he bares his mind on the major issues bedeviling the education sector 53 years after independence; the on-going ASUU strike, pertinent issues government and other stakeholders must resolve to regain the lost glory of the nation’s education sector, among others.
The nation’s public universities look like grave yard due to the ongoing ASUU strike and failure of Federal government to accede to ASUU’s demands (cuts in)
No, not to accede to ASUU’s demands, but to honour an agreement which it willingly entered into and signed with the union. There are no more demands. ASUU has already made its demands long before now when the union went into agreement with government. So the issue is that government has refused to implement what it signed with the union.
But government recently earmarked N130bn to settle the NEEDS Assessment implementation programmes for varsities and staff’s Earned Allowance. Are these not enough for ASUU to call its members to work?
I don’t think so because the major issue ASUU raised are funding of public varsities and to create conducive environment for teaching and learning. Those ones you have mentioned are sub-sets within the efforts to create conducive teaching and learning environment; to attract the best of brains. If you look at the NEEDS Assessment and the guidelines, it’s not just all about the EAA or giving N100bn. Those are not the issues.
ASUU is agitating for about N500bn while government has earmarked N100bn with a promise to release additional N150bn in 2014. Doesn’t government’s commitment go down well with the union?
Let’s look at the background of these issues because my leadership was instrumental to what gave rise to the NEEDS Assessment. We had no agreement with government over N500bn. Rather, government said on December 31, 2011, and I quote ‘we will give immediately; we will make available within one month N100bn and give additional N300bn to make it N400bn that year, and give N400bn for every other year for the next three years, making N1.2trn’.
That was what we agreed and I don’t know where government got the N500bn that is in the public sphere today. The document I have is that government said ‘we shall release immediately N100bn to fund universities.’
It’s pathetic that the N100bn government promised to release in 2011 is what it’s releasing in 2013, one year after I have left office as ASUU President. Is that what ‘immediately’ means?
It’s also on record that government said before the financial year is through, they are going to release additional N300bn to make it N400bn that year, making our agreement with them N1.2trn for three years. By the time we had that strike of 2011, we did all the subtractions and what was left was N1.2trn still government said it couldn’t pay it because three years had already elapsed and the agreement was signed in 2009.
From 2009 when we signed this agreement, government ought to have been providing N400bn to fund varsities every year till 2012, when it was time for re-negotiation.
Of this N1.2trn, a paltry sum was released to varsities as capital grants. When we had problems with them in December 2011, government decided that we should forfeit the accumulated money from those years and move forward. This means government ‘shall now immediately give N400bn and before the year runs out, we shall include in the budget an additional N400bn, and then give N400bn each for the two other years, making N1.2 trillion’.
To spend this money, we must have to do this assessment to know how to apply them to varsities so as to get maximum results and, through it, build the base for some level of ultimate, reasonable and self-sustainability for these varsities. We also agreed that when we build these hostel facilities, we will report back to an external management that will charge the students reasonable fees and from there we will be able to develop the varsities.
We also agreed that it’s realizable for students to pay between N9,000 to N10,000 as accommodation fee annually, instead of the N20,000 to N30,000 they pay off-campus. These are part of our NEEDS Assessment condition; that we invest in this housing project and also part of it will also go to what we call NUPEMCO, we establish our pension fund administrator, which will be another source of fund generation, like the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund, is generating money for varsities today.
Remember that’s it is the TETFund that has been sustaining our varsities, else, our varsities, polytechnics and colleges of education would have died. TETFund came to being as a result of the ASUU strike of 1993.
The main issue is government’s insincerity because for one year, nothing happened until this strike. Government has not shown enough goodwill, even with the N100bn it says it’s dolling out to varsities. If ASUU wants to call-off this strike, it will be for the sake of our children and the society and not because of government’s lack of commitment.
If government were to be sincere, it would have started implementation since the agreement was signed, and if it encountered any difficulty, it would have called ASUU to explain and not wait for ASUU to call its members on strike.
So should students expect the strike to be called off any time soon out ASUU’s sympathy?
This is not a matter of sympathy for the students because there’s no need turning out students who don’t have quality education all in the name of sympathy. I have photographs of the sordid and appalling state of infrastructures captured in the NEEDS Assessment reports when we went round the varsities. Some students receive lectures under trees; stoves are being used as Bunsen burners in laboratories; erosion of campus roads; staff offices of lecturers and Professors look like common rooms in secondary schools; no potable water for students in the universities; libraries without books; dilapidated lecture auditoriums; crowded lecture auditoriums; broken seats in lecture auditoriums. There was a university we visited where students are sitting on the ground to receive lectures and people expect ASUU to keep quiet. We have a long way to go to regain the lost glory of our varsities.
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