It has been reported that industrial action launched in early July by the three registered trade unions in Nigerian public universities has paralysed teaching, research and administration. Staff grievances include low salaries, lack of university autonomy and more money for research.
According to University World News, the current stand-off is not new. It started in 2001 when the government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) failed to sign a negotiated memorandum of understanding articulating the need to improve working and living conditions in Nigerian universities. It is reported that
Both parties agreed on four things: First, there was an urgent need to reduce the brain drain that is costing Nigerian universities their best academics. It was agreed that lecturer salaries should be increased by about 140% and the high price of crude oil and gas was sufficient to meet the cost.
Second, it was agreed the retirement age of professors should be raised from 65 to 70 years. Most brilliant young graduates today are not interested in pursuing postgraduate studies that would enable them to succeed ageing professors.
They have different ambitions and career agendas, and prefer to dash out of university with a first degree and plunge into the labour market where they hope rapidly to become millionaires.
Third, the government agreed to substantially increase research funding in universities. It also pledged to put pressure on the private sector to earmark a percentage of profits for research.
Finally, the ASUU obtained a promise to enshrine the principle of university autonomy in the agreement.
The developments in Nigeria show that the problems faced by most Universities on the continent are very similar. We have often been told that academicians in Africa cannot be given higher salaries because of limited financial resources. But, ironically, we continue to see politicians giving themselves hefty salaries and allowances from the same meagre resources.
For African countries to crawl out of poverty, they have to commit a huge portion of their limited resources to education. As President Obama puts it, education is the currency that can purchase success in the 21st century. Most African countries are endowed with vast quantities of natural resources, but as Phillip Emeagwali points out, it is countries that have higher intellectual capital, but with fewer natural resources, that demonstrate greater economic growth rates. Emeagwali notes that
Japan’s economic growth, driven by technological superiority, outpaces that of Saudi Arabia; South Korea is growing faster than oil-rich Nigeria; and Taiwan’s economy has moved well beyond that of oil-rich Venezuela. The United States and Norway are also rich in oil, yet their staggering economic growth comes from intellectual capital.
African countries must make deliberate efforts to boost their intellectual capital just like India has been doing. Otherwise, I am sorry to say that the cycle of poverty on the continent will not be broken 🙁