Friday, August 21, 2009

Again, the ASUU Strike

The frequency of strikes by both the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and their non-academic counterparts says much about the unenviable state of tertiary education in the country. Our concern here is not necessarily the merit or otherwise of the latest industrial action by the university teachers. Certainly we have written much on the poor attitude of our governments towards matters pertaining to education which had often triggered restiveness in our higher institutions of learning. We have also written much on the need for lecturers to explore other means of airing their grievances than work stoppages.
However, the issue at hand is one that clearly portrays the government as insensitive. Why are the university teachers currently on strike? Principally because the government has refused to endorse an agreement it had signed with the union last January on the need to, among other things, improve the state of the universities by upgrading their infrastructure. Noteworthy is the fact that many of the issues have nothing to do with the welfare of the teachers themselves but rather with how the quality of education in the universities can be generally enhanced.
Anyone familiar with the environment of our universities today will be amazed that government needs any prodding to act to save the situation. There is so much decay of infrastructure that most of these universities have become no more than glorified high schools. Funding is low and even the little that is available is hardly well utilized. Classrooms are incredibly over crowded and lecture theatres that were even originally meant for large number of students have become scandalously over-congested, with sometimes more than half the students receiving lectures from across the windows. This highly non-conducive atmosphere invariably leads to the production of half-baked graduates by the universities.
In the globalised labour market of today, we wonder how these poorly exposed graduates can compete. Right from the universities they have been disabled by the poor quality of environment in which they receive their classes. The situation is worse for science and engineering students. All too often, they lack the necessary practical experience because of the absence of good laboratories and workshops.
These are not issues that need flogging before a government that has listed education as one of its cardinal programmes can begin to act towards remedying them. It can only be argued that the government is not showing much concern because most of the children of its top officials study abroad where facilities are much better.
The state of higher education in the country has become so bad that nothing less than a call for a national emergency can redress it. For us, the challenge before the current minister of education, who incidentally was a university lecturer just as the president and the vice-president, is how to re-invent our universities.
Indeed, most of them have become shadows of what they ought to be. Is it any surprise that Nigerians who can afford it now send their children to places like Ghana where the quality of education is evidently higher than what currently obtains in our country?
The latest ASUU strike is really regrettable. The government should not have allowed it to happen in the first place. Now that it has, we expect the federal authorities to take necessary steps to stop it from being prolonged by acceding to the reasonable demands of the university teachers. Let our universities regain their lost glory. And one of the ways to do so is through massive infusion of funds into them for the development of infrastructure.