Tuesday, 17 November 2015

EDUCATION IS NOT BUSINESS: ERC STATEMENT ON INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS' DAY


For a Movement to Fight for Scrapping of Fees, Improved Funding and Free Education

On the occasion of the 2015 International Students Day, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) decries successive governments’ neo-liberal market capitalist policies that have converted education into business and students into customers. This is reflected in the astronomical fee hike, far above the national minimum wage of N18, 000, which students in public tertiary institutions across the country are being subjected to. The consequence is exclusion of tens of thousands of students and an increasing drop-out rate.

The latest fee hike has just occurred at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Univeristy (ATBU) Bauchi where fresh students will now pay N44, 250 while returning students would pay N39, 520, up from N22, 500 and N14, 500 respectively.

We reject the unfair education system which uses high fees to force students from poor working class background to abandon their dreams of getting a University degree and pushes them into a life of crime. With this unfair education policy, the capitalist ruling elite aim to sustain the class divide between the rich and the poor by ensuring young people from working class and poor backgrounds are never able to rise above the poverty in which they are subjected. We also reject the effort by government, through the policy of underfunding, to kill public universities in order to promote private universities which are owned by corrupt politicians, churches and other private interests.

We affirm that education is a right, not a privilege. We say education should not be for the rich alone, neither should it be a “debt sentence”. When an individual is educated, the entire society reaps the benefit. We declare that public education is a social responsibility of government to its citizens and demand scrapping of all fees and the immediate increase in the funding of education with a view to making education free at all levels. Currently funding to education remains abysmally low.

As a result of government pro-capitalist policy, funding of essential facilities in tertiary institutions are being cut. Grants given to faculties and departments are never enough to cover their most basic overhead costs. Essential facilities like hostels, water, electricity supply and medical clinics are rarely allocated enough funds. As the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities reported in November, 2012, physical facilities for teaching and learning in Nigerian Universities are inadequate, dilapidated, over-stretched/overcrowded and improvised. Open-air sports pavilions, old cafeteria, convocation arenas and even uncompleted buildings are being used for lectures. In some cases, workshops are conducted under corrugated sheds or trees.

Many laboratories and workshops are old with inappropriate facilities. Equipments and consumables are absent, inadequate or outdated. In fact, many laboratory equipments are only known to students in theory. They have never seen them not to talk of using them. Kerosene stoves are being sued as Bunsen burners in some laboratories. In many Universities, science-based faculties are running “Dry Lab” for lack of reagent and tools to conduct physical and real experiments. When major equipments exist, the ratio to student, in some universities, is as high as 1:500. Library resources are outdated. Nigerian universities have a crisis of man power. Majority of Universities in the country are grossly understaffed, rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers, have under-qualified academics and have no effective staff development programme outside of TETFUND intervention. As a result, the students lecturer ratio in Universities are alarming (e.g. NOUN: 1:363, UNIABUJA: 1:122, LASU: 1:114 etc).

Public polytechnics and colleges of education are worse off. The condition at colleges of education across the country is so bad that there is little wonder that one of the obstacles to achieving the Education For All (EFA) goals was  the shortage of teachers and low teaching quality. Despite strikes and protests in recent years, government and employers of labour continue to pursue a brutal policy of discrimination against HND certificate holders thus condemning many polytechnic graduates to low paid employment.

Recent protest of students at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) over bed-bug infested mattresses has again brought to light the terrible living conditions students are subjected to. The provision of decent hostel accommodation to at least 50% of the student population in any residential university is proving to be an uphill task for Nigerian universities. Overall provision of student housing is less than 30% of the demand. Vast majority live in privately-rented accommodation. Most state universities have no provision at all for student accommodation.

Whilst there are around 1, 252, 913 (2013 estimate) students in 61 public universities in Nigeria, only about 109, 509 (10.3% of the total student population) on-campus hostel bed spaces are available. The resulting situation is overcrowding as many students who do not get official accommodation resort to squatting. The hostels are infested with rodents and bed bugs. Lavatories and bathrooms in most hostels are both inadequate and unfit for human use. This is not surprising given the average ratio of toilet to users of 1:20. As a result, many students, including female students, are forced to take their bath in the open and use the bush for defecation. The terrible living condition takes heavy toll on students’ health. This has led to a prevalence of pneumonia and Bronchitis as a result of indoor cooking, cholera, Diarrhea, typhoid fever, toilet infection and hepatitis due to unclean water and poor sanitary conditions in the hostels.

In fact, so terrible are the conditions of study in Nigeria that students are dying in droves across the country. Many health centres are so understaffed that while a doctor or nurse is attending to a patient, over 30 others are waiting on the queue. This has led to at least five deaths this year alone. Examples are Mayowa Alaran at the University of Ibadan, Kel at the University of PortHarcourt, Oluchi Anekwe at the University of Lagos, Akintaro Raphael at the Polytechnic Ibadan and Maria Atere at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta. They were all neglected at their institution’s health centres and died in the process. The ERC demands that education should not be a death sentence. However without fighting for improved funding of education and democratic running of schools, many more would find themselves falling victim of the tragic conditions in the education system.

Unless something is hurriedly done, the condition of public education look set to get worse in the next period. The situation in Osun, Oyo and Ekiti states where primary and secondary education have come under new threats are indications of what to expect. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai’s brazen call for the sale of Unity schools betrays the mindset of the so-called “progressives” now in power. Given half a chance, they could completely convert public education into something the children of the poor cannot have a chance at having. Their excuse would be the on-going economic crisis and the need for reforms.

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) warns the Buhari government not to try to use the economic crisis and revenue decline as an excuse to implement austerity policies dressed up as cost-saving measures. During his first coming as a military ruler in 1984, Buhari stopped the public-funded cafeteria system which ensured subsidized meal for university students. Any attempt to impose austerity measures on public education will be met with nationwide mass boycott, demonstrations and resistance.

A central lesson that all students in Nigeria must take from the recent victorious #FeesMustfall struggle in South Africa is that even during an economic crisis, we can force government to retreat on its neo-liberal attacks on education and win big concessions on fees, funding, living and learning conditions. Both Nigeria and South Africa  are in the throes of economic crisis caused by the decline in commodity prices and slowing global growth especially in China. In Nigeria, politicians of both the PDP and APC squandered the huge revenue generated over the past years from high price of crude oil such that by the time price fell, there were only a little savings left to cushion the effect.

Therefore, Nigerian students must not give in to the blackmail that we cannot get improvement in funding to education now because of the economic crisis. To their blackmails, we have to demand that rather than cut education funding, it is the salaries, allowances and privileges of public office holders that should be cut. Austerity is not the answer to economic crisis. Rather than resolve the crisis, austerity merely places the burden on workers, youth and the poor who did not benefit from the boom. Whereas if the key sectors of the economy were placed under public ownership and workers’ democratic control and management, there would be no need for cuts, instead it would be possible to ensure that much of Nigeria’s wealth that often goes to enrich the 1 per cent is recovered and invested, through a socialist plan, to meet the needs of the mass majority. We should not accept to wait until the economy improves until we demand that fees in Nigeria must fall as well. We have waited too long already such that at the basic education level, over 10.5 million children of school-going age are out of school. We have waited long enough that 6 million out of the 36 million girls out of school globally are Nigerians. How much longer would we have to wait?

To be clear, the confidence and bravery to fight is not what is missing. Despite brutal victimizations, Nigerian students have led big mass struggles in the past one of which is the successful struggle last year at the Lagos state University (LASU) which forced a total reversal of hiked fees and payment of refunds to those who had paid the fees for three years. A key obstacle  in the student movement is the rightwing and pro-government leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) which prefers to run after one capitalist politician or the other for money rather than provide leadership to the mass of their members. Obviously something has to be done about this. The ERC calls for a campaign to reclaim NANS and for these self-appointed state agents masquerading as students’ leaders to be flushed out and the students’ movement reclaimed and rebuilt from the bottom to the top. However alongside the campaign to reclaim NANS, the struggle against fees and poor conditions in the education sector must begin in earnest. Activists must now devote themselves to intervening among the rank and file students, education workers and the labour movement with the aim of building a united movement from below that can begin to mobilize for struggle against fees and for overall improvement in the funding and conditions of education.


                                                                                          
Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                               Michael Ogundele                            
National Coordinator (07033697259)                     National Secretary                       

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