So my blog post on ASUU which contained no facts has been accused of being fact free. I actually thought I explained this in the very first sentence and even called it a tirade. But no matter.
Now that I have your undivided attention, let me try again. This time around we shall stick to the facts. But before we get to that, I received another response from a Professor to my blog post and its reproduced below
This piece is utter rubbish for many reasons e.g : 1) Nigeria is not a poor country as claimed by the writer, the politicians just want everything to themselves at the expense of others. ASUU is relatively underpaid, my salary as a lecturer of 35 years and professor of 8 years is only half of that of a local govt councillor with no university education!
2) In any profession or group there will always be some not effective people, in the university I will put it at 10% definitely not 90%
3) Nigerian universities are currently understaffed because of student overpopulation, I take some classes with more than 500 students. So how can anyone in their right mind advocate a cut down in staff? Besides Nigeria now has over 70 universities and many lecturers are already teaching in 2 or 3 concurrently
4) If any cut down is needed it is in the political office holders, if at all in the universities perhaps in administrative staff.
1. This issue of student overpopulation is a recurring one so perhaps its best to start there. Undoubtedly, many universities are bursting at the seams at least to the naked eye. But this is mainly a problem of facilities not really overpopulation. Looked at in a different way – I was in Shanghai (24m people) and Beijing (20m people) this year and neither place felt anywhere near as crowded as Lagos. So this problem manifesting itself in packed lecture halls in our universities is no different from what causes gridlock traffic in Lagos everyday – we simply aren’t very good at organising ourselves.
But let’s look at some numbers starting with a rough calculation. There are currently around 37,504 academics/teaching staff in Nigeria’s 74 universities. Those same universities also have 1,252,913 students in total. This gives a rough ratio of 33 students to one lecturer. However this kind of headline data masks the very wide distribution across the schools. So for example the ratio in University of Abuja is 1:122 (512 lecturers) while LASU is 1:114 (797 lecturers)
However, Ondo State University of Science & Technology has 29 lecturers and 212 students giving a ratio of 1:7. Quickly we can see that the student to teacher ratio can be meaningless when taken as a whole but let’s persist. What is the ratio like in other similar countries?
Vietnam – 84,109 lecturers. I can’t find latest figures but a reasonable guess based on this report will be 1,900,000. So a 1:23 ratio. By the way, the average university lecturer’s salary was N24,000 ($150) per month in Vietnam in 2010 (more on this in next point). In that same year, Nigeria had a GDP per capita of $1,432 and Vietnam had $1,224. By 2012, they had overtaken us and had a slightly higher GDP per capita than us. Nevertheless, between 2007 and 2010, the government there rolled out 100 new universities.
China – 31 million students in 2011. I can’t find a total number of lecturers for all Chinese universities but I did find the student-teacher ratio for the top 20 Chinese universities in 2013. The list is here. The ratios vary wildly. In Zhejiang University, it is 1:29 while at National Yan Ming Uni it is 1:98. All the others fall somewhere in between.
India – Student population was 12 million in 2011. The diagram below relates to 2006/07 but we can make a rough calculation. In total – adding colleges and universities, there were 488,002 teaching staff so a ratio of 1:25.
South Africa – This report says that in 2008, the country had some 799,568 students in its universities. It also had 15,589 academics for a 1:51 ratio.
As I said earlier, this ratio can be very meaningless but it’s an argument that ASUU like to make but our numbers are not particularly crazy especially considering the hidden distribution.
2. Last year, there was a book released that compared lecturer salaries across 28 countries in the world. Nigeria happened to be one of those countries. The book is titled ‘Paying The Professoriate‘ and its findings were widely reported when it came out. So what did they find?
In the 28 countries studied, entry-level Chinese academics were the worst paid with a monthly salary of $259 while Canadian entry-level staff were the best paid at $5,733. Nigeria? $2,758 – higher than in France, Colombia, Brazil and Turkey and roughly the same as in Malaysia. At the top-level, Nigerian lecturers earn more than their counterparts in Japan and Norway. No, I am not making this up.
For years now, ASUU have gotten away with the idea (often not backed by facts) that they are underpaid. But relative to who? And how much exactly should we pay them? To be clear, ASUU members are 100% entitled to their pay because the government, in its wisdom or foolishness, signed the agreement. It must honour it. How much is enough to pay our lecturers and when can we start asking for returns for this pay?
3. Fun Fact: Since 2007, Nigeria has been led back to back by former lecturers.
Under President Yar’Adua in 2009, ASUU went on strike for 3 months which ended in October after government agreed to a 53% pay rise for senior lecturers. They had initially gone on a 1 week ‘warning’ strike in May of that year over an agreement reached in 2007. In 2007 they also went on strike for 3 months which ended in July of that year. How exactly are these pay rise numbers arrived at? I honestly have no idea but I imagine that ASUU have a strong hand to play with students sitting at home and parents asking government to just give ASUU what they want. 53% is a lot to get as pay rise in one go which is probably why governments always end up not honouring them and why ASUU will never say anything other than ‘government broke the agreement’ without telling us what the agreement was.
I digress. Goodluck Jonathan became President in 2010 and given that this is his first(?) strike, you have to say he is doing quite well. Yar’Adua was on his 3rd strike in the same time period. In any case, this current strike began on July 1st so he might break Yar’Adua’s record for length very soon.
But there is a subtler point to be made here – who can negotiate with ASUU to ASUU’s satisfaction? What you are seeing is typical bunker mentality you find in hardcore unions. The moment someone is not part of the group anymore, all past relationships are meaningless and he/she is to be treated like the enemy. If ASUU cannot sit down round a table with 2 of its former members and trash out an agreement that doesn’t waste the lives of thousands of students across the country, what hope is there for anyone else?
4. Does anyone have a copy of the 2009 agreement between government and ASUU that is supposedly the cause of the current strike? I cannot find it anywhere online and the links to it on the ASUU website are all dead. But I did find this press conference by the ASUU president, Nassir Isa at Unilag on August 22nd. Please read it. From it we can deduce that there was an agreement for the government to spend around N1.3trn (they will manage N100bn for now while N400bn is released to them each year for 3 years) on our universities over 3 years to ‘restore their lost glory once and for all’. Apparently this amount was arrived at ‘scientifically’. Please note that this is only for universities and not education in general.
In the 2013 budget, education got the highest allocation with N432bn. Of this amount, more than half (N291bn) already goes on universities. But ASUU want another N400bn. Perhaps no amount is too much to be spent on education but when you read the ASUU president’s statement, you quickly realise what this is all about – it’s a shakedown operation by experienced shakedown artistes. He is invoking the amount given to Nollywood and airlines and banks i.e. we want our own too. There is an ongoing debate about how the government spends our money very badly and this was part of the conversation during the fuel subsidy protests. Salaries and such like will consume N1.72trn in 2013. This is madness and we all know that if we break away from this model, so many things will improve even if only marginally.
But ASUU are very clever. When these conversations are going on, they never participate too loudly so as to not weaken their ‘brand’ or become part of something that will be eventually bigger than them. When they join the conversation, it is always to highlight how money is being spent elsewhere and not on them, given how they are the ‘key to the nation’s development’.
They want the money because they are ASUU…and they will take your children hostage if you don’t pay up.
All of this begs the question – what kind of government signs such an agreement anyway? Even the current budget is difficult to implement and every other day we worry about the government going broke. Are the government stupid or perhaps clever? I go with the latter because they surely know they can never pay this money.
By the way, out of curiosity, I put the ASUU president’s name into Google Scholar and it returned one result – a paper he co-wrote with 2 other academics. One. The man is a Professor, I will have you know and the journal in which it was published is a Nigerian one but at least it is online so 1 point for him.
Someone will say ‘oh but my professor has published several articles in international journals’. I am happy for you. But can you please help me ask your Professor why he is happy to be led by a man who is, to all intents and purposes, a non-academic?
5. Staying with journals and research publications. This is the bread and butter of academia and there is a well established ecosystem where academics publish their research in International Journals (note that international is different from foreign here). It is part of the system by which lecturers become doctors and professors and generally advance in their careers.
International journals thus make more sense because the opportunity to share knowledge and information is far greater than publishing in some local journal that no one reads. In short, this is the equivalent of exports in manufacturing which are the best signal that a country has arrived – you can always protect your local market and force the people to buy locally made goods but you will never know how good your products are or how well you are improving until you can sell it to foreigners who are under no compulsion to buy from you.
So what’s going on in Nigerian universities when it comes to publishing research? In 2012, something like 7,935 articles were published in Nigerian universities. Of that number, 3,304 (41%) were published ‘in-house’ i.e. an academic carries out research in say LASU and then publishes his findings in a LASU journal (usually his own department) and that is the end of the matter. Another 3,288 (41%) are published in other local journals i.e. an academic in UniBen publishing in a UniPort journal. The remaining 1,343 are published in foreign journals. More than 80% of Nigerian academics are unknown in the international academic circle i.e. when you put their name in Google Scholar, you will get nothing in return.
It is possible to describe Iyanya as a Maestro who specialises in the high art of waist music. But you can also describe him truthfully – a singer of very danceable trash. What you are seeing with those journal numbers is corruption. There is no other name to call it. The publishing of research papers involves rigour, this is what academia is about. And opening up your work to the world via international journals means that you have to put in the sweat and hours if only to avoid embarrassment.
Our academics have found a way to bypass this rigour, the most fundamental part of their calling, by creating a corrupt system away from scrutiny. A lecturer carries out some ‘research’ and publishes his ‘findings’ in the ‘journal’ run by the department in which he is employed. Journal noni. He will put it on his CV and go towards his publication count for the day when he will be promoted. This is not much different from a policeman staging arrests to make himself look good and hardworking. Of course these journals are not published online – they are in a cupboard somewhere in the school department, so even if the work was copied wholesale from somewhere else, who is going to find out?
Every single lecturer, who is part of this system, is damned by it, including the ones who actually work hard to get published internationally. It is a corrupt system and all who come in contact with it, will be stained, no matter what they do.
I ask again, what are we getting for the money we are paying our lecturers? Of course there are good, conscientious, decent and hard-working lecturers in the system. It is not all policemen that are corrupt – Monday Agbonika is doing his best but he is daily undermined by the ‘pay me my money‘ brigade, who remain in the overwhelming majority.
Ordinarily, this wont be a problem per se – Nigerian lecturers are behaving exactly like Nigerians. But it must be challenged when they put themselves out as custodians of the nation’s development, set apart for signs and wonders and anointed not to be touched.
And we have not yet gone into the PhDs who obtained their BSc, Masters and PhD from the same university often without a break in between. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trend is Mr President himself
1977 – 1981 – B.Sc – University of Port Harcourt – Zoology
1983 – 1984 – Masters – University of Port Harcourt – Hydro/Fisheries Biology
1987 – 1995 – D Phil – University of Port Harcourt – Zoology
How very depressing to spend all your academic life in one university. How can this ever be seriously described as seeking out knowledge? And this corrupt practice is rampant in our universities. Make no mistake about it, there is a financial incentive for doing this because pay increases with journals published and degrees obtained.
6. Despite everything above, I have no problem with academic staff earning more money. I am dubious as to whether this will improve quality, but it is maybe worth a shot.
The idea that more money to people in Nigeria will solve any given problem is rather popular but surprisingly lacking in evidence. A few days ago, some young men and women went to the National Assembly to demand accountability for N1trn that has disappeared into a sinkhole there. We have thrown this astronomical sum at these men and women and they have not stopped throwing blows and chairs. Indeed, the more money they are paid, the worse they behave. For your N150bn this year, you get a law banning gay marriage that was never legal in the first place.
Ordinarily, high pay should attract quality people and top talent. But this is not happening at all in Nigeria. The high pay in the NASS is creating a perverse incentive that makes the place very attractive to brigands, part-reformed thugs, wide boys, chancers and cultists. In short, in this scenario, high pay has made it impossible for good guys to get anywhere near the place. To get a decent chap in there now, a governor will practically have to rig on his behalf and teleguide the process to ensure the preferred outcome.
As a result of this, many Nigerians now believe that a part-time legislature will do us a world of good especially because they will earn much less. We have come full circle – to get good people into our NASS, we have to pay them practically peanuts so as to make it unattractive for the aforementioned people i.e. there is reason to believe that if we pay our legislators very little, we might (hopefully) get people who go there because they genuinely want to do the work we want them to. You see this life?
When corruption and general bad behaviour has eaten deep into a system, paying more money to the insiders is more likely than not to make the problem worse. The insiders now have more reason and motivation to double down while the only people who will be able to dislodge them from the outside are those who are probably worse than them. It’s the nature of the beast. If you keep increasing the pay of lecturers when they ask for it, it cannot be long before we have an ex-militant Professor. Is there any reason why you think this cannot happen? Look around you and see the kind of positions being occupied by ex-militants and think again.
The only way around this is to tie pay rises to genuine performance and not the current ‘inflation adjustment’ that ASUU currently negotiates in the name of fighting for education. Publish your papers in international journals so we know its real. Ban in-house journals completely. Stop any promotion based on more than one degree from the same university. Bring back rigour into the system so that if anyone is getting paid, we can be confident that they are not gaming the system.
This business of asking for money all the time by ASUU absolutely has to stop. Those affected – students and parents – must see this behaviour exactly for what it is and apply pressure where it should be applied. ASUU will strike and the government will sign an agreement it has absolutely no intention of keeping. In all this, it is students who end up as the football being kicked around.
A few of my friends tell me I am being too hard on ASUU and ignoring the real source of the problems – the government. What is there to learn from that? This is the argument I heard all the while I was allegedly in a Nigerian university and the lecturers were on strike. The Nigerian government cannot fix the Lagos – Ibadan expressway. It celebrates, with much fanfare, a train service that takes the better part of 2 days to go from Lagos to Kano. No, I will instead question the motives of a group of people who continue to employ the same strategy in dealing with such a government.
The reality is that government funding is addictive and after a while the only kind of thinking that its recipients can engage in is the perverse type. Federal Universities in Nigeria today charge N90 for a bed space. What kind of madness is that? If we were to investigate, I’m almost certain we will find that they do this because increasing the cost of the bed space to market values will probably reduce some funding they get from the government i.e they will have to work. It was only a few weeks ago that ABU ‘launched’ (just like other Nigerians, our lecturers too are addicted to launching things) a N50bn internet fundraising drive. They have now discovered the use of the internet as a way of tapping up their alumni scattered around the globe. Better in 2013 than never. But think of all the quietly wealthy ex-ABU students who have died and who might have given the University some money but didn’t because no one reached out to them. In any case, the only money that comes with zero accountability is government money especially because the government itself wouldn’t know accountability if it landed on its lap dressed as a Laker girl. So government money can be used to buy furniture for VC’s office and build a new grandiose university gate. Who’s asking?
One of the roles of ASUU in our society is to think us out of our problems. So it’s up to them to put a plan on the table that does not involve more money in their pockets. Something that takes us away from this broken model of funding. E don do. And its time for everyone involved to face some home truths.
Finally, 8 universities (out of 74) in Nigeria account for 33% of all the students – LASU, UniAbuja, UniPort, UniBen, ABU, NOUN (Open Uni), UniMaid, Ekiti. We can explain LASU on that list by its location – Lagos is the most populous state in the country so a state university there will always attract numbers. The rest of course are all Federal universities. There is undoubtedly still an attraction to federal unis above state schools…universities are afterall brands themselves. This also puts a lie to the popular assertion that state schools are responsible for the drop in standards. There’s hardly anyone there and students seem to discount them already. Plateau and Bauchi state universities have less than 500 students each and Akwa Ibom has just over 800.
The real outlier on that list is Ekiti State University. I have not been there and I will confess that this is pure speculation on my part. But Ekiti is a tiny state so if the state University is one of the most populous in the country, it’s worth checking out. I have a strong feeling that it is a well run (relatively) university. Earlier this year, Governor Fayemi pushed through school fees increases that went as high as N150,000 per year for some courses. Having learnt a thing or two from their lecturers, the students promptly went on strike and protests. In the end I believe Governor Fayemi agreed to allow the students pay the fees in installment over the year.
If this is what I think it is – the state government trying to get the school to stand on its own feet – then it is an important development and represents the future of where we need to get to. The rest of the equation to be sorted out will then be how to have a working loans system that students can access to pay their fees.
When that day comes, watch out for the position that ASUU will take.
1. I have taken a lot of my data from a report that was submitted to the FG last year on the state of Nigerian universities. You can find it here
2. A good friend of mine also took me to task on my first post. His blog post is here
3. Apologies in advance for all typos (mine) and grammatical errors (the devil)