By Leonard Karshima Shilgba
In addition to my many contributed essays on management, quality assurance and funding of public education in Nigeria, I have the following proposition:
1. No university vice chancellor or college provost is qualified to continue in office who allows admission of more students and therefore a student population in excess of the facilities-carrying capacity of their campuses.
Accordingly, allegations that poor funding is the cause of overcrowded lecture rooms, student hostels, libraries, or laboratories are simply inverted reasoning. Rather, such overcrowding is the evidence and outcome of inefficient management.
Every campus is designed for a maximum student population, and a simple logistics model should inform a college CEO about the optimal number of students that should be admitted every academic session. Any university or college in the world could be overcrowded if appropriate governing logistics models were ignored by their CEOs and Governing Councils or Board of Trustees.
2. Any public university or college has the potential to, and, in fact, can generate internal revenue to defray at least 50 per cent of their personnel costs and overhead expenditure. Accordingly, the Federal Government and State Governments can afford to take 50 per cent off public university and college staff payroll, and rather focus on selected interventions in fixed and non-fixed physical facilities, equipment, books, and priority research funding.
The primary responsibility of a university or college is not to “create jobs” , but rather to produce job-creating knowledge. Public universities and colleges should be given the freedom to fix and pay the salaries they so desire and can afford, and to employ the number and type of staff and faculty members they truly need. Student population determines staff size. For example, a student population of 1, 000 does not require more than 100 faculty members (At least 20 of whom should be full professors or associate professors) and 50 non-teaching staff. Services such as security and environmental cleaning and management should be outsourced. If average salary of faculty members were to be set at N 4 million (taking the current average of a professor ‘s salary and that of an Assistant Lecturer in Nigeria), N400 million would be needed a year to pay salaries. A university or college could decide that staff wage bill would not be more than one quarter of faculty wage bill. Therefore, a public university in Nigeria, for instance, with a student population of 1, 000 could spend about N500 million a year on salaries (to which government contribution would not exceed N250 million), and improve on this as revenue grows. On average, a student ‘s contribution to wage bill would be N500, 000. And with government contributing 50 per cent, each student in a public university should pay not less than N300, 000 (including extra N 50, 000 or 20 per cent of N250, 000) as tuition excluding accommodation, meal, medical, and other charges (Some students in public universities paid more than this annually when they attended secondary schools). Presently, some federal universities charge some fresh students up to N100, 000 as “registration fees” exclusive of “hostel maintenance charges” (You know, officially, public universities charge N90 for hostel accommodation that some of us paid in the 80s or 90s!). Students who are truly indigent could be assisted in other ways (Refer to my series on education reengineering and reforms in Nigeria).
3. From (2) above, it is not difficult to see that a public university with a student population of 1, 000 could generate in excess of N50 million for overhead expenditure. And this amount grows as student population increases within facilities-carrying boundaries.
4. One of the greatest areas of fraud in public universities is staff payroll. Therefore, if the government ties its wage contribution to student population (e.g. N250,000 × Student population), a lot of money could be saved to invest in areas that would enhance quality of education and service on campuses.
Having regard to the four assumptions above, it is necessary to subject vice chancellors and provosts to annual assessment by their students, staff, and faculty. If they score below an average of 3.0 on a scale of 5.0 in two consecutive academic sessions, they would lose their job.
An assumption that has been wrongly accepted in Nigeria is that only full professors should be considered for the office of vice chancellors. Firstly, the Nigerian Universities Miscellaneous Act does not contain this requirement. Secondly, the office of a university vice chancellor requires capacity in management of human and material resources. Only a first degree with industry management experience is a sufficient qualification to lead a university that offers ONLY undergraduate degree programs, while a terminal degree is an advisable additional requirement for universities that host graduate degree programs.
The Federal Government cannot fix its universities without fixing the process through which their vice chancellors emerge. Universities should be excluded from Federal Character restrictions in the same way our national sports teams have if we seek improvement in quality. For example, it is compulsory that a Yoruba man/woman is vice chancellor of University of Ibadan, an Igbo woman/man is vice chancellor of University of Nigeria Nsukka, a hausa/fulani woman/man is vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, or a Tiv man/woman is vice chancellor of University of Agriculture Makurdi (I hope you understand what I mean). Vice chancellors should be sought for Nigerian Universities from any and all parts of the WORLD!
Conclusion: It is not the fault of government if a vice chancellor refuses, fails, or neglects to provide adequate internet service, potable water, or electricity on their campuses, and to keep the environment clean. It is the fault of the vice chancellor. But I am concerned that the present leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education cannot instigate the necessary reforms; the ministry itself needs reforming. No one can give what they don’t have. Just take a walk to the building/premises of Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja. The stench of urine would hit your nostrils as you walk in and get close to the fence overlooking the main entrance to the massive building. You will notice the poor landscaping and a chaotic market environment in the surroundings. Climb the stairs (There is no lift or escalator in this tall building) to the minister ‘s waiting room and other offices. If you enter the rest rooms, please, do not waste your effort to flush the toilet by the cistern flush handle or lever; water doesn’t run through the pipes and taps. You need to haul water from a bucket in a corner outside the toilets! (Now you realize why the surroundings stink of urine). This is where education in Nigeria is administered from. But just take a look at the annual allocations to this Ministry (exclusive of allocations to its 19 agencies and institutions of learning and research – huge!).
We need help; Nigeria deserves better. And it takes a President who understands the issues to carefully select the right team to tackle them. Let us wait on President Buhari to act, or should we wait for another?
*Leonard Karshima Shilgba