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UNIVERSITY AUTONOMY IN NIGERIA- by: Adamu Ruth, Delta State University

Jul 6, 2023 #News

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world “.These were the words of Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s greatest leaders. It is indisputable that …”education is the premise of progress in any society…” Therefore any governmental policy should be properly considered and not taken with levity in order to guarantee the progress of our beloved country
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, during his presidential campaign rally, indicated his interest in granting Nigerian universities autonomy. During one of his speeches, he disclosed his plan to ensure that Nigerian universities become autonomous declaring that the incessant crisis in the sub-sector should not be the reason why university students should continue to lose valuable academic years.
What then is university autonomy? Like many other concepts, university students has been interpreted in a myraid of ways. However, generally, university autonomy refers to the power of a university to formulate it own policies , programs or lines of action to take that will inadvertently result in the attainment of it’s vision and mission. Essentially, it entails self- governing, self- determination and self- financing. According to Yulianto (2017:4), university autonomy means ” the university has its own right to govern itself without being influenced by others. “
University autonomy is a house with many rooms. These are : organizational autonomy, financial autonomy, staffing autonomy and academic autonomy. Organizational autonomy allows a university to formulate its policies by which it will be governed. Financial autonomy empowers a university to set tuition fees, borrow money from the financial markets, issue shares and bonds, own and sell real estate, etc. Academy Autonomy denotes that a university is able to determine its curriculum, syllabus, what to teach,.how to asess its students, etc. Lastly, staffing autonomy means that universities can set the qualification for recruitment of staff and control the whole process of recruitment and promotion of its staff.

It is important to note that different countries who have implemented university autonomy have done so differently. Countries such as China, France and Germany are examples of such countries. German, French and Chinese universities are allowed to keep a surplus of their public funding; however, universities in Germany and China cannot sell their real estate. Also, Universities In France are not In control of the recruitment of library personnel, central a academic staff and senior academic staff. The list goes so. This implies that although these countries have seemingly granted their universities Autonomy, there are still restrictions being imposed on the parts that make up university autonomy. The question that comes to mind is what type of restrictions will imposed In the case of Nigeria?

As a country there are many factors that may necessitate the implementation of the policy of university autonomy. Principal among them are the incessant strikes embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. It is outrageously surprising that from 1999 to 2022 only seven years are free from strike actions, The union has always had reasons for embarking on strikes ranging from a demand for improved salary schemes, payment of unpaid arrears owed to university staff, revitalization of Nigerian universities, inability of several federal administrations to keep to agreements reached with the Union,etc. The strike actions have lasted for durations ranging from several weeks to months ,the longest so far been the 2022 strike action which lasted for eight months.

The frequent strikes is just one of the reasons why the federal government thinks it best to grant autonomy to Nigerian universities . Another probable reason for such a policy if it is ever formulated and implemented is revenue allocation. Over the past two decades the budget allocation to education has continued to either fluctuate or dwindle. For instance, in the just immediate past administration, the percentage of the Nigerian budget allocated to the educational sector started with 7.9% in 2016 and began to dwindle till it became 5.6% in 2021. After which it saw an increase with the percentage of budgetry allocation for education for 2022 and 2023 being 7.2% and 8.8% respectively. Several administrations have not being able to meet the UNESCO benchmark of 15-20% budget allocation for education. The inability of the government to adequate finance university education has impacted negatively on the performance and sustainability of higher education in Nigeria. The incessant strikes embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities only goes to show for this. Again, this is one of the reasons why university autonomy seems to be the only solution to the challenges facing Nigerian universities.
Furthermore, there are problems regarding the administration of Nigerian universities. The Level of corruption among university staff and students is alarming and appalling. Funds required for the administration of universities and the execution of projects in universities end up being diverted to private accounts. There is a high level of examination malpractice among students, cases of sexual harassment involving lecturers, employment of unqualified staff, unfair allocation of grades to deserving students, etc. All these are just some of the corrupted practices in the system.
Having looked at the challenges bedeviling the university system in Nigeria, it is necessary to highlight the prospect of university autonomy and to what extent it can solve these challenges. First, university autonomy will empower Nigerian universities to be self financing. By implications, tuition fees of students will be set by universities, universities will be able to borrow from the financial market, they will be able to invest in financial products, issue shares and bonds and own the land and buildings they occupy. Consequently, Nigerian universities will be able to raise adequate funds to finance itself. The Academic Staff Union of Universities will no longer have to demand funds from the federal government and so strikes will probably be a thing of the past.
In addition, Autonomy will lead to enhanced improvement In research , better management of resources, improved teaching and learning by improving the university system such that individual universities will be able to restrategize so as to tackle its local, regional and national needs.
Furthermore, university autonomy will lead to greater flexibility as bureaucratic bottlenecks involving the government will be eradicated. Autonomous universities are able to quickly react to emergencies. As a result, they are able to efficiently manage their finances ,manage their Internal crisis and are generally better equipped to respond to the demands of a fast developing world.

Also, there is greater productivity in an autonomous university. This is due to the greater sense of hardwork, curiousity, accountability, creativity and critical thinking that autonomy spurs on any group. As a result, there will greater productivity on the part of every stakeholder in the system. Also, accountability in the system implies that there will be greater scrutiny and as a result improved performance on all staff.
Nevertheless, as wonderful as the prospect of university autonomy may appear. There are still drawbacks to be considered and questions to be answered. In a country where the government is not able to adequately fund universities, how will Individual universities handle the budget for the enormous projects to be undertaken and its general administration. Also, will there be any form of grant released to universities to support their revenue. In the face of harsh economic realities, will the universities, if autonomous, increase tuition fees to cater for its needs and if so will the masses be able to afford quality education? Also, will the Nigerian government grant complete autonomy to universities or impose some level of restrictions? If so, to what level will the restrictions be? Also, will Nigerian universities be autonomically free from corruption if granted autonomy. These and many other issues should be considered.
In conclusion, whatevet the price of our libraries the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. This paper has highlighted the pros and cons of implementing the policy of university autonomy. It remains to be seen if the implementation of this policy will be a reality in our country. Nevertheless, education in any country is a matter that should not be taken lightly. Therefore, it must be taken care that whatever will be the decision of the government, it will be something that will be beneficial to not just the government but most importantly the people of Nigeria whom the government has the duty to serve. Education is important and should be regarded as such.
Adamu Ruth Olohije
Delta state university

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