Education: Summit can’t fix funding gaps, priority does – Punch

A summit on funding education in the country will soon be held at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari. It is premised on the belief that government alone cannot shoulder the responsibility, given the other services competing for attention. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, who gave the hint at the 63rd National Council on Education meeting, said the minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, would soon enforce the presidential directive.

Talks on the challenges facing education are not new. The administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan convoked similar summits; their reports are waiting to be acted on. The government should leverage the inputs of these past dialogues and not waste time in organising another one. However, funding appears to be daunting with increase in population. It is a shared responsibility of the three tiers of government, cutting across primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Instructively, the level of funding education receives in any country is a function of the priority accorded it; and the realisation that it is the fulcrum of all developments.

For such countries, “education first” is a public policy agenda. Unfortunately, Nigeria is in the backwater. This showed in a 2013 UNESCO survey where Nigeria was ranked 167 out of 168 countries with its 0.85 per cent in education expenditure as a proportion of Gross National Income.

Government’s inability to rise up to the challenge in running public schools  has given room for private schools to flourish to the extent that a pupil pays as high as N1.5 million per annum in some private schools.

Inadequate classrooms, ill-equipped libraries and laboratories, shortage of teachers, non-rehabilitation of dilapidated school blocks and teachers salary arrears are indices of funding gaps. However, government had somehow responded to the challenge in 1999 with the introduction of the Universal Basic Education programme. Its goal is to ensure the delivery of a nine-year formal free and compulsory basic education to every Nigerian child. Through the UBE, new classrooms and provision of text and exercise books and other instructional materials from primary up to junior secondary schools across the country are supposed to be provided.

At the tertiary level, the Tertiary Education Fund assists by giving research grants to scholars and universities, funding master’s and doctoral training overseas, building lecture halls and equipping libraries, among others. The fund is sourced from a two per cent education tax on the assessable profit of registered companies. The Petroleum Technology Development Fund also bankrolls undergraduate to PhD programmes every year. For the 2018/19 academic session, 122 master’s and 76 doctoral scholarships are on offer.

Because of funding inadequacies, the Academic Staff Union of Universities is bristling to resume its suspended strike to nudge the government into implementing the 2009 agreement on better funding of universities and the welfare of its members. The pact was renegotiated in 2012 and government agreed to release N1.3 trillion to the universities beginning with N100 billion in 2012; and N400 billion annually up to 2015. Its breach led to almost six months strike in 2013.  Added to ASUU’s problem are similar agitations from many non-academic trade unions in universities, colleges of education and polytechnics.

Certainly, limited funding is just one layer of the enigma. Bigger issues lie in the corruption that has bedevilled  governance in Nigeria and the school system; lack of accountability, infidelity to due process, misfits as school administrators and establishment of universities driven purely by political impulse, rather than the criteria of need and national interest.

Many universities now admit students more than their carrying capacity. A university in such a quagmire – with overstretched resources – becomes anything but a citadel of learning. Because of excess admission, most graduates are no longer mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps programme in their year of graduation. Nigeria has 42 federal, 47 state and 75 privately-owned universities. In 2016, the National Universities Commission discovered that 150 courses were illegally being taught in 37 universities. This means, the schools were ill-equipped to teach those disciplines.  Incredibly, no vice-chancellor has been punished for these delinquencies.

The funding crisis could be tackled if provosts and vice-chancellors that abuse their offices, which prompted the Federal Government to unleash many visitation panels on tertiary institutions, are shown the way out and punished accordingly. Much could be achieved in the universities if they are put in the hands of managers who can run them “efficiently and prudently manage resources,” as Peter Okebukola, a former Executive Secretary of the NUC, suggested.

Basic school funding would have improved if governors had accessed and used their states quotas at the Universal Basic Education Commission accordingly. In 2017, 17 states failed to do so, thereby leaving N16.2 billion idle with UBEC. The reason for this is because of the governors’ unwillingness to abide by the due process involved, which includes providing counterpart funding. Some governors either embezzle or misappropriate the funds upon collection. One of the charges against a former governor from the North by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is the embezzlement of his state’s UBE funds.

Examples from the West strongly indicate that adequate funding is non-negotiable in getting quality education. Despite the high fees payable in the United Kingdom universities, government still gives them grants. For instance, in 2016, universities there received a grant of £12.1 billion. According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Oxford University alone received £161.2 million for 2015/2016. This pales into insignificance when compared with the N605.7 billion in the 2018 budget for Nigeria’s federal institutions.

Education funding in the country will improve when human development is taken by government at all levels as a number one priority, establishment of schools based on political influence stopped, minimum standards in running them enforced and more daring actions implemented against corruption, which vitiates the judicious use of available resources. Otherwise, it would make no difference even if the $46 billion in the foreign reserves is injected into the sector now.

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