By Joan Nwagwu
The issue of universities’ autonomy, accountability and transparency in the universities, featured at a recent conference organised by stakeholders in Abuja.
Experts hold the view that granting autonomy to universities and providing effective administration by key stakeholders are sine qua non for education development in the country.
They say that to revolutionise the university system and provide good governance, there must be collaboration among all the stakeholders.
Present at the stakeholders conference were pro- chancellors, vice-chancellors, trade unions, scholars and representatives of government agencies.
The theme of the conference was: “Repositioning Nigerian Public Universities for Global Competitiveness in the 21st Century.’’
Prof. Kimse Okoko, the Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Federal Universities, who spoke at the conference, said the current state of public universities was a reflection of several years of neglect.
“We are not unaware of the fact that only a fully autonomous university system will make it possible for individual university to undertake negotiations with the unions in the universities.
“We, therefore, call on Federal Government to grant the universities full autonomy if we must avoid the embarrassing and disrupting spate of strikes in our universities,’’ he said.
According to him, the stakeholders in the Nigeria university system must work hard to ensure that Nigerian universities are ranked among world top universities.
Chief Afe Babalola, the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, called on the Federal Government to grant unconditional autonomy to Nigerian universities.
Represented by Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, Babalola said granting autonomy to universities would reduce tension and check incessant strikes by universities’ workers.
“To stem the tide of brain drain, universities must have freedom and financial independence to be able to recruit the very best at all times.
“Many Nigerian universities are weighed down by the bureaucratic demands of political correctness, reporting and regulation that stifle productivity and capacity to innovate,’ he said.
According to him, university autonomy does not mean that government has no stake in the universities.
He said the autonomy must include the right of a university to enjoy the core privileges of academic freedom, substantive independence, and procedural self-independence, subject to public accountability.
Dr Nassir Fagge, President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), also stressed that autonomy was important for the evolution of quality universities. [eap_ad_1] He said that autonomy would empower the universities to appoint their vice-chancellors and other principal officers, among others.
Mr Samson Ugwoke, National President, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, said autonomy was necessary to reposition the university administrative system.
“Autonomy will give the system a cutting edge position that will promote effective learning,’’ he said.
Prof. Andrew Efemini, Department of Philosophy, University of Port Harcourt, however called for the establishment of a bank that would service the education sector.
He said the bank would facilitate the independence and autonomy of universities and reduce their dependence on government direct funding.
Efemini stressed that the establishment of the bank would help to reposition the Nigerian universities in terms of funding, sustainable growth and global ranking.
On his part, Chief Nyesom Wike, the Minister of State for Education, said the Federal Government had provided enough fund for the running of the universities.
Represented by Prof. Julius Okojie, Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Wike said that in 2013, the government allocated N225.1 billion to federal universities.
He said the allocation was in addition to the N100 billion special intervention funds for infrastructure upgrade for both federal and state universities.
According to him, this has greatly improved the needed infrastructure in public universities.
“I seize this opportunity to urge management of tertiary institutions to evolve appropriate and transparent system of managing the funds allocated to them.
“They should also seek optimal ways of generating funds internally to complement what is given to them by government,’’he said.
Wike urged them to pursue policies and programmes with greater emphasis on research activities which would proffer appropriate and sustainable solutions to challenges confronting the nation.
Irrespective of government’s funding, participants at the conference, insist that the university system must enjoy full autonomy in order to key into global competitiveness.
They opine that such autonomy would enable the councils of universities to initiate steps capable of transforming the nation’s university system.
They also argue that government’s funding alone, could not upscale any Nigerian university to a top class world university, and check the current rot in the university system.