Balancing rhetoric and action in varsity funding
During the recent convocation of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr. Wale Babalakin, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the institution’s Governing Council, made the issue of meagre funding of public universities stick out like a sore thumb when he drew attention to how the institution is struggling to maintain high standards in terms of teaching, learning and infrastructural development. With more questions than answers, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, writes that more action is needed than rhetoric
Their eyes, lit with excitement, they sat still waiting to be unleashed into the larger society. Their gowns – all blue – danced gently to the rhythmic breeze. Once in a while, they gathered together the flowing gown. The hats they wore stood tall on their heads like warriors’ helmets – they have come, seen and conquered. Yet, their battle –not that of survival –to be the best, to be great and make the society better has just begun.
They all looked resplendent in their attire tucked underneath their flowing graduating gowns. Their faces exuded futuristic ideals and purpose. They appeared like an army ready to defend the integrity and pride of their country and alma mater.More than pomp and circumstance, a more gloomy situation occupied the mind of the man who was about to address them.
But when Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the council stepped onto the podium, the first salvo he fired was about the death-dealing challenges lack of adequate funding universities like UNILAG are facing. Even though that he expressed hope that the university and others in the country have what it takes to be great –to make standards of education great again and make Nigeria one of the best places in the world to teach and learn.
Before he addressed the graduands –with a tone of melancholy but not disillusionment –he recalled a glorious past, a troubling present and a future that looks enchanting. The audience sat still – all paying attention.Dateline was the 2016/2017 convocation ceremonies of UNILAG, which ran for three days –from May 8 to 11. A total of 12,638 graduating students were awarded degrees, diplomas and certificates.
Three years into the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari under the All Progressives Congress, not a few education experts think that there is still much grounds to be covered in terms of providing sufficient funding for education and remedying the falling standards. While it is generally accepted that education is power, the Nigerian government has continued to allocate a sum of money stakeholders consider too small to drive the needed development in the sector.
The commitment of a government to a sector is gauged by the financial commitment it makes for that sector in its budget. In the 2017 budget, the government allocated the sum of N398 billion to the Ministry of Education while this year is N435billion, representing 7.04 percent of the total budget.
Therefore, analysts in the education sector feel that a government in deficit to the tune of N800 billion to universities for NEED assessment revitalization funds and over N60 billion as Earned Academic Allowances to lecturers, budgeting N398 billion for the whole education sector should not be taken seriously.
They feel there is crisis ahead. Generally, not just under this administration, the sector has not been receiving the desired budgetary allocation – it is always below the United Nations’ benchmark of 26 per cent. Thus, it is evident that education is being underfunded in Nigeria.
Babalakin is not oblivious to the major challenge of funding plaguing the university. He admitted that more needs to be done to put education in its proper place in Nigeria.He said: “There have been serious plans for education to be free at all levels. My position is that if there’s a choice between free education and good education at all levels, I choose the latter. It requires N1.2 million on the average to thoroughly teach a properly accredited course in the university. With the population of about 40,000 at UNILAG, we require N48 billion per annum. We are able to attract about N10 billion or N11 billion from the Federal Government.”
Babalakin explained that for UNILAG to effectively reposition its academic activities, for beneficial teaching and learning to thrive, there must be more investments and commitment to education by key stakeholders. The pro-chancellor urged the country’s intelligentsia to rise to the call to salvage the nation from relying on handouts from the federal government and some developed countries while urging the graduands to also be part of the elite group.
Following his formal investiture as the 12th vice-chancellor of UNILAG, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, weighing in on the matter said: “It is my vision to produce graduates that are locally competitive and globally relevant. We intend to build a spirit of possibility and clear re-orientation among students and staff. We are also deploying human and material resources towards rebranding, especially in the area of research.” Ogundipe added that among his goals is “the setting up of a modular refinery, as well as obtaining a mining licence.”
The pro-chancellor now addressing the graduands, in a gratifying tone, noted: “Today marks the beginning of a new life for you all. You started well by choosing UNILAG. When you start life with a UNILAG degree, you start with an advantage and you should take advantage of that to advance yourself rapidly. But there are certain critical issues. The first is keeping time. We must endeavour to keep time if we are going to have a great society. My second point is that all of you here are very important professionals. You are critical to the nation’s development. It is not sufficient for you to leave here and become successful.”
To him, the graduands must be agents in the society. He espoused the fact that the society can only develop if there is a united and selfless elite determined to protect the gains of the society. “That is who I want you to be because fortune will fade away rapidly – generations of good people have passed on anonymously – but those who live for long are the ones who live in the minds of people and those who commit their efforts to changing the society,” urged the senior advocate of Nigeria.
Out of the 12,638 graduands, 6,816 representing 53.9 per cent graduated with first degrees or diplomas while 5,822 students representing 46.1 per cent were awarded postgraduate degrees. Among the total number, 245 students graduated with first class –with the Faculty of Engineering topping the list with 62. Then, there were 1,892 graduands were in the second class upper division; 2,959 graduands were in the second class lower division; 1,227 graduated with third class division; and 493 were awarded pass or diplomas not classified. One hundred and twenty-three postgraduate students were awarded Doctor of Philosophy in various fields; 5,190 bagged master’s degrees and 509 individuals received postgraduate diplomas.
However, there were the best of the best students; 11 individuals made the cut.
About these ones, the senior advocate of Nigeria enthused: “I am very impressed with the prize winners today and I hope that we will enhance the value of the prizes. As my commitment, the 11 people that won prizes in the Faculty of Law, as well as those in the Distant Learning Institute will receive an extra N150, 000 each from me. I want you to know that diligence is the mother of good luck. As you go out there, do not be discouraged. Do not be intimidated. Do not allow those who will tell you that things are impossible to be in your circle of friends.”
He continued: “You need those who believe that whatever the challenge is, there must be a way out. That is the sort of association you should keep. As tough as things are apparently, a lot of successes are still emerging. They are emerging because they have defied the odds. If they had the attitude that things were tough and they were not able to push forward, things will get tougher. Do not be inundated by any suggestions that you are handicapped because of a challenging background, inadequate finances and so many other issues that becloud our ability to aspire.”
Even among the best of the best students, the best still emerged. It was the trio of Jeffrey Matthew (Biochemistry Department, Faculty of Science); Bosun Roy-Layinde (Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department, Faculty of Engineering); and Oludare Babawale (Chemistry Department, Faculty of Science). All three graduated with a cumulative grade point average of 4.97.
Commending the excelling students, the UNILAG pro-chancellor advised, “Please remain focused. There is no limit to the capacity of an aspiring genius. You constitute a part of the elite of the society and I urge you to be guiding lights of the policies of the elite. No society thrives unless the elite jealously guard the values of the society, protect it and propagate it. Your education is not meant for you to simply earn a living. Your education is for you to contribute to redeveloping the society. You must challenge yourself to leave every place better than you met it.”
With the right attitude, he felt convinced that the height that will be attained by graduands and the institution’s administrators would be enviable. According to him, the first step in achievement in the world is to have the right attitude, emphasising that it is more important to have the right attitude to achieve the highest altitude.
Babalakin explained: “Attitude is your determination to succeed. From all the data I have assembled, the preponderance of great people is those who have attitude, not necessarily aptitude. It becomes a double whammy if you can combine both. But you should never feel handicapped because you don’t have aptitude if you have attitude.”
Despite poor funding of the universities, many can take solace in the story of a former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. When Margaret Thatcher was in secondary school, her school report said she was “dull but determined”. When she was called to the Bar, she was told to work under one Lord Lawson. Then, Sir Lawson told her he wasn’t sure she was “coping”. What would Thatcher do?
“I will prove to you that I can cope,” she replied to him: Years later, she became the prime minister of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Thatcher was determined – resolute – to make up for whatever deficiencies she had, thus, emerging one of the greatest leaders in the world. The UNILAG pro-chancellor wants the graduands to dream big, aim high and achieve more also.It is the view of education experts that it will take more than a fine speech by a federal government appointee and alumnus of UNILAG like Babalakin to generate the needed adequate funding not just for the institutions but for other public academic establishments in Nigeria.
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