Academic Industrial Actions
Recently, a young undergraduate called to ask if university teachers, under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) were considering downing chalk again. I told him no. But that response of
mine was served with a cocktail of emotions.
First, answering in the definite negative was more a falsehood than a state-ment of fact as the ever-suffering, ever-agitating, and ever-ignored Nigerian academic unions before long have their backs against the wall of industrial action again because the government never takes action after signing agreements with the unions. Yet, these are the professionals entrusted with grooming the future of the nation, “in character and in learning.”
A second emotion that coursed through me was that Nigerians are spending more money on ‘educational tourism’ outside of the country than they spend on their own institutions. Nigerian nationals reportedly spend N160bn (US$1bn) in two Ghanaian institutions alone while the Federal Government proposes to spend only N426bn (about US$3bn) on the education sector that comprises over a hundred tertiary institutions. Needless to say, the institutions are underfunded and very few opportunities for non-public funds exist. Funding for university education has been pared down to the barest minimum: paying the salaries of lecturers and non-academic staff. Endowing of professorial chairs, funds for research grants and scholarship opportunities are all but extinct in the Nigerian academic universe.
The third strand in the cocktail of emotions was the overall education-related ‘brain drain’, which characterises much of Nigeria’s net migration of minus 300,000, as reported by the World Bank for the year 2010. That estimate implies that 300,000 more people leave the country every year than the number that comes in. An unknown fraction of these migrants travel via irregular routes and often fall victims of nefarious persons who smuggle migrants, making the migrants remain undocumented in foreign lands.
And the plights of the migrants are like those of education and knowledge generation in Africa: they are embarking on some strike action, it seems. Academic journals need to be revived. More opportunities for academy-industry-society linkages will need to be created. At the moment, data and knowledge from the universities, industry and society stand in different silos that desire each other but are either too full of pride to reach across to the other warehouses. The new digital methods of information storage, dissemination/retrieval and collabo-ration would find greater use in African ivory towers.
Most industrial actions in Nigerian universities have cited “poor working conditions”, absence of teaching aids and research support. A number of sup-ports from donors like the MacArthur Foundation have focused on equipment and infrastructure like computers, but there is a yawning gap for ‘soft’-content support for Nigerian universities. If the academics are more able to develop solutions for Nigerian industrial concerns, perhaps old things shall pass their exams and move to a new level of no industrial disharmony