Without ASUU: Ecumenical Measures and Economic Meaning of a Mismanaged Tertiary Education

Without ASUU’s Agitations for wide-ranging reforms in Nigeria’s tertiary education system, what would Nigerian Universities look like?

Better or worse?

No strikes, no delay of students from completing their degrees at the right time. Reduced drop-out rate of delayed and disillusioned students. Timely turnout of graduates – Bachelors, Masters, PhDs – for the labor market.

This sounds better. Life without ASUU’s hassles.

That is exactly what you get in the primary and secondary tiers of education in the country. No strikes by the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT). Primary and secondary students graduate at the right time. No delays. Everyone just moves on in life.

ASUU can simply take a cue from the peace and progress of students in state public primary and secondary schools, and in the few federal unity secondary schools, and just face their work. And if there are challenges with their work, they should either build up coping mechanisms or resign, as honourable people do in other walks of life.

And that reminds of Nigeria’s private universities. Some are cheap, some affordable, some pricey. But they show us the typical university life without ASUU’s hassles.

Better still, beyond just imagining this post-ASUU world of bliss, it would be great to measure in real terms the peace and progress that would be known in Nigeria’s university education system.

The truth is bitter. The lie is better. And ignorance is bliss.

Misconstrued Cues: The basis for undermining Nigeria’s Tertiary Education

Before measuring that hypothetical post-ASUU scenario, when the Nigerian federal and state governments would have successfully starved, sued, begged, and blackmailed Professor Emmanuel Osodeke and his colleagues to maintain the status quo, it is useful to understand why we got here in the first place.

When President Buhari said there was no more employment for graduates in the country. He only flashed the politically correct side of the coin. The uglier side of the coin is that the graduates are not employable. This apolitical part is what managers and employers in Nigeria agonise on everyday. 

Nigeria’s education is in shambles – tattered primary schools and teetering high schools prepare students to be admitted to universities with a standard pass mark of 150 in 400 marks. The Polytechnics and Colleges of education are forced to admit students with as low as 100 in 400 marks.

Then the teachers in the Universities are saddled with the responsibility of remedying these unfortunate students. 

However the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) insists its members cannot rescue these undereducated ones like these – without adequate funding for the teaching and learning environment and for their research and industrial income.  

Some of the contentious issues that led to the strike by ASUU include the non-release of the revitalisation fund, non-payment of earned allowance (or earned academic allowance), renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement, and the release of the white paper for the visitation panel.

Others are: the non-payment of minimum wage arrears and the inconsistency occasioned by the use of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).

Sadly, an increasing number of people are beginning to vilify ASUU for the body’s unrelenting demand that the government refocus and revamp the country’s tottering ivory towers.

Some believe ASUU is asking for too much. Some believe that the government has done its best. The Minister of labour said “there is no money anywhere.” Some argue that the government should hands off sponsoring public universities and face primary and secondary education. 

They argue that government is over subsidising universities fees, and should raise student tuition and accommodation fees to provide quality education. They insist tertiary education is costly and is not meant for everyone.

Interestingly, advocates of these different solutions often refer to some countries in Europe, America, Asia, and so on, as countries with no cheap education. 

Yet many of these countries by all means enable access to tertiary education for as many of their citizens as are willing, their poor and rich alike. 

Where Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, it has a tertiary education completion rate of 8%, behind Ghana’s 9%, as of 2018.

The argument is that only rich people in poor countries should attend tertiary institutions. Yet poor people in rich countries attend universities and colleges. 

The question then is whether low-income countries can ever become middle income countries like India or high-income countries like France if their poor are deprived access to quality tertiary education.

Several studies conclude that tertiary education informs greater output for the individual in terms of better employability, higher wages, higher democratic participation and better health outcomes. These outcomes feed into the society through human capital and long-term growth, innovation and regional development, social cohesion and well-functioning societies.

However, as ASUU only pushes, Nigeria as a country, its Universities and colleges, and students is not achieving these expected outcomes because the poor who are willing and able to survive the rigours of sound tertiary education are increasingly lacking equal access as the rich students, due to low funding of public tertiary education.

Measuring the Status quo without ASUU 

Welcome to the hypothetical world without ASUU’s hassles. Everything about Nigerian Universities remain the way it was before February when ASUU took the route of a ‘needless’ strike well into its 7th month now.

And here are the measurements that would remain, and possibly regress:

  • First, going by the Times Higher Education standards, only 6 out of Nigeria’s 217 private and public universities were eligible to be ranked by world standards. 
  • 5 of them are Federal public universities while 1 of the 6, Covenant University is a private institution.
  • The 20 year old and youngest institution, Covenant University, ranked higher than all the other 5 public universities, including the oldest of them, the University of Ibadan, at 74 years, in both Research and Industry income.
  • Next, 3 of the 6 ranked universities are rated between 400th and 800th position in the world. The next 3 are ranked among the bottom 1201th and below.
  • While Covenant University, the youngest of the 6 universities was eligible to be ranked, Lagos State University, the only State University, that attempted to apply for the world standard ranking was denied even the worst rank, and given a reporter status instead.

The Global Measurement Criteria that disqualified 211 out of the 217 Nigerian Universities from being rated

Below is a breakdown of the 5 criteria that virtually all the Universities in Nigeria critically lack presently, and their weights in the Times ecumenical rankings:

Teaching (the learning environment): 30%

  • Reputation survey: 15%
  • Staff-to-student ratio: 4.5%
  • Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio: 2.25%
  • Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio: 6%
  • Institutional income: 2.25%

Research (volume, income and reputation): 30%

  • Reputation survey: 18%
  • Research income: 6%
  • Research productivity: 6%

Citations (research influence): 30%

The research influence indicator looks at universities’ role in spreading new knowledge and ideas.

It examines research influence by capturing the average number of times a university’s published work is cited by scholars globally. This year, (the) bibliometric data supplier Elsevier examined more than 108 million citations to 14.4 million journal articles, article reviews, conference proceedings, books and book chapters published over five years.

International outlook (staff, students, research): 7.5%

  • Proportion of international students: 2.5%
  • Proportion of international staff: 2.5%
  • International collaboration: 2.5%

Industry income (knowledge transfer): 2.5%

A university’s ability to help industry with innovations, inventions and consultancy has become a core mission of the contemporary global academy. This category seeks to capture such knowledge-transfer activity by looking at how much research income an institution earns from industry (adjusted for PPP), scaled against the number of academic staff it employs.

The category suggests the extent to which businesses are willing to pay for research and a university’s ability to attract funding in the commercial marketplace – useful indicators of institutional quality.


Universities can be excluded from the World University Rankings if they do not teach undergraduates, or if their research output amounted to fewer than 1,000 relevant publications between 2016 and 2020 (with a minimum of 150 a year). Universities can also be excluded if 80 per cent or more of their research output is exclusively in one of our 11 subject areas.

Universities at the bottom of the table that are listed as having “reporter” status provided data but did not meet our eligibility criteria to receive a rank

Measuring the 57 State Universities, without ASUU

When the ASUU President labeled some State universities as quack, he meant what he said. It was regarded as not politically correct, but his obvious slip was the most pathetically correct by an academic.

Going by another World renowned measurement of the viability of Universities in the World, Webometrics, no State-owned University in Nigeria is among the first 10 in Nigeria, the first 100 in Africa, and the first 3000 in the world.

This is at a time that 20 year-old Covenant University ranks 25 in Africa and 11 year old Landmark University ranks 100 in Africa, both Private Universities.

Unfortunately, Professor Sodeke, the ASUU President mentioned the Pro Chancellors of State Universities as some of the greatest foes of the ASUU agitations.

Without ASUU, it is easy to see the peace and progress that State Universities would enjoy as the students no longer get delayed by ASUU strikes.

The 3 Criteria that displaced all the 57 State-owned Universities in Nigeria from the first 100 universities while 2 young private universities made the list, according to Webometrics, are given below: 

Measuring the 111 Private Universities, without ASUU

As noted earlier, the Private provide the ideal picture of what happens in Universities that have no such Staff union as ASUU. The students focus on learning and each class of admitted students graduates at the scheduled time.

While Private Universities are now the majority in Nigeria, with 111 scattered throughout the country, none except Covenant University and Landmark University have been able to prove that Private Universities are worthy alternatives to Federal and State Universities.

Managing Nigeria’s Tertiary Education: Four frequently-asked Questions and Answers

In October, 2021, a group of World Bank Analysts, Mamta Murthinina, Arnhold Roberta, and Malee Bassett, highlighted the economic meaning of a well managed Tertiary education. 

Like the results from previous studies, theres also maintain that a well-managed “Tertiary education is essential for opportunity, competitiveness, and growth.” They raised 4 frequently-asked questions on tertiary education policy, especially of low-income countries. The questions and answers are:

1. Should low-income countries invest public resources in tertiary education, including research, even when resources are needed to strengthen primary and secondary education as well?

Yes.  Economic research unequivocally demonstrates high rates of private and social return on investments in tertiary education, including research. The benefits include higher employment and earnings, increased productivity and innovation, greater social stability, more effective public administrations, increased civic engagement, and better health outcomes.  

And these outcomes are critical for low-income countries’ development today, in the same way they were for today’s rich countries when they were much poorer 200 or even 1,000 years ago when they started investing in tertiary education. 

The consequences of underinvesting in tertiary education include: 

  • loss of talent, 
  • limited access to applied research capacity needed for local problem solving, 
  • hindered economic growth due to low levels of skills in the workforce, 
  • low-quality teaching and learning at every level of education, 
  • expanded wealth inequality both within countries and among nations, with those investing more experiencing higher levels of innovation and attraction of investment. 

A Cue from the Korea Republic

There is ample evidence of the role of education, including tertiary education, has played in boosting economic growth. One such example is the Republic of Korea which in 1948, was one of the poorest countries in the world. 

It grew to be the world’s 15th richest economy, however, by investing in and strengthening education at all levels, including providing universal access to tertiary education. Interestingly, already in the early 1980s, Korea started placing higher education in a lifelong learning context and has reaped the benefits of this decision ever since.

2. Should digital skills and digital technologies be part of the investments made in tertiary education in low-income countries?

Yes. Digital technology and capabilities are essential to more resilient tertiary education systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly revealed that digital technologies are the primary instrument for resilience in tertiary education, and that all types of tertiary education institutions will need to embrace and adapt to remote delivery and online settings. 

The expansion of ‘Open Universities’ around the world—including in Turkey, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, for example—reflects the access and delivery opportunities afforded by embracing digital delivery in tertiary education. 

Building individual and organizational-level digital skills can support 

  • high-quality, adaptive teaching for students; 
  • new opportunities in digital research tools and methods; 
  • digital competencies. 

Without investments in digitalization and digital skills, individuals and systems will fall further behind, as has been exposed by the shifts in education delivery forced by the COVID-19 pandemic: in Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 80% of tertiary education students do not have access to reliable internet, the shift to on-line education during lockdown was not sustainable. 

3. Will the sustained expansion of accessibility ensure the closing of equity gaps in tertiary education?

No, not without further measures, including a combination of merit- and need-based approaches to student support and a diversity of other options. To date, tertiary education expansion has generally not meant equitable access—that is, more students accessing tertiary education globally has not resulted in proportionally more students enrolling from low socioeconomic status or underrepresented groups. 

To address these issues, countries need to have deliberate and sound policies to concomitantly enable access to disadvantaged groups, such as:

  • means-based scholarships, 
  • grants and student loan programs
  • remedial intervention to ensure readiness for postsecondary studies. 

Moreover, countries should foster the development of a high-quality ecosystem of tertiary education with a variety of options and flexible pathways, including high-quality, short-cycle tertiary education programs, as has been developed with long-term benefits in California, for instance, via the “Master Plan for Higher Education” and in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.  

4.  Should countries invest in tertiary education only after they can ensure jobs for graduates?

No. The march of technology, the emergence of big data, AI and other elements of the ‘fourth’ industrial revolution are changing the nature of production and work all over the world.  Countries with a workforce lacking the required skills are less likely to keep up with technological advancement – as well as R&D-intensive domestic or foreign investments. 

Moreover, there is a lag in the response in the supply of tertiary graduates to the labor market demand from firms. Investments and policy reforms to improve other important aspects of the investment climate such as infrastructure, taxes, and regulations, can take a shorter time than to produce an adequately skilled supply of graduates. 

While this lag may seem troubling, perceptions of social unrest increasing when there are greater numbers of un- or under-employed educated people can make some policy makers look to delaying investments in tertiary education. However, there is little rigorous evidence that bears out this anecdotal perception that improved education in environments lacking opportunities leads to unrest.  Moreover, the alternative is simply unacceptable—no country should forgo developing the skills of its people as highly as possible in a globe dominated by knowledge economies.  Limiting education results in limited development—it’s as simple as that.

Every government must be purposeful in supporting and steering its tertiary education systems, including universities, polytechnics, community colleges, and other institutions, to build the human capital vital to the 21st century knowledge economy. 

As hubs for advanced education and skill development in every country, regardless of GDP and income status, these institutions have the potential to produce the skilled workers and leaders needed to create stable foundations for sound governance and dynamic economic growth, and address pressing challenges like global pandemics and climate change to promote opportunities today and into the future.

Source: Dataphyte

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