Marginal budget increase fuels uncertainty in sector

Vice Chancellor, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Osun State, Prof Sola Fajana,

Vice Chancellor, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Osun State, Prof Sola Fajana,

Across the country, parents, professionals, academics, captains of industries among others are united in their conclusion that something is seriously wrong with our educational system.

Lack of qualified manpower and teaching/learning aids, and decaying or decayed infrastructure, among others, rank topmost on the list of factors that aid and abet the malaise in the sector.

The yearly fiscal budget, many contend, has the capacity to rejuvenate the sector if a government that has the political will to do so, routinely allocate reasonable sums to the sector over time.

Unfortunately, the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government appears to be off the mark in this regard, given what it has allocated to the sector for the second consecutive year.

Last year, many lamented that the 2016 allocation fell short of the much-touted, unconfirmed, 26 per cent recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), hence incapable of breathing life into the ailing sector.

That did not stop the Federal Government from doing almost the same thing this year, in a development many say has failed to inspire confidence.

Recent allocations by the Federal Government to education have shown marginal yearly increases, except for the N367.73 billion (6.01 percent) in 2016, which saw a decrease from the allocations for the preceding years.

The figures include N492.34b in 2015, N493b in 2014 and N426.53b in 2013. The allocations were N400.15b in 2012, N306.3b in 2011 and N249.086b in 2010.

In this year’s budget proposal, which the president presented last week to the joint houses of the National Assembly, N448.01billion was allocated to education, representing about 6 per cent of the N7.30 trillion budget. Of this amount, N398.01b is for recurrent expenditure and the balance of N50b is for capital projects.

Some stakeholders are of the view that a government that budgets N398.01b for the entire education sector, while being in deficit to the tune of N800b to universities for NEED Assessment Revitalisation Funds, and over N60b as earned academic allowances to lecturers has not done much because the amount is simply not the right quantum to bring about widespread improvements.

Only recently, the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), embarked on a one-week warning strike to demand the implementation of a 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement, and honouring of a 2011 MoU signed by the two, among other reasons.

It is not only at the federal level that that increased budgetary allocation to the education sector is needed to solve a litany of problems. Similar intervention is also badly needed at the states’ level where the situation is no different.

At the states level in 2016 for instance, 33 states of the federation allocated only N653.53b (10.70percent) of their combined total budget estimates of N6.1trillion to education.

Since the Federal Government has consistently been setting aside well under 10 per cent of its fiscal budget for the education sector, can this cause any meaningful revolution in a comatose sector?

Education researcher, Dr. Peter Ogudoro said, “Only a combination of clear vision, SMART objectives, the right values, adequate funding, cutting-edge technology, and skilled stewards and operators can give us the functional education we need to put Nigeria on the path of sustainable development. None of those variables have we scratched the surface. In the absence of adequate funding, it becomes difficult for us to begin the journey towards fixing the myriad of problems in the sector.”

According to him, “The kind of money we have budgeted for the entire education system in Nigeria is less than the annual budget of one of the colleges of Oxford University. This education budget is also about half of the amount of money Nigerian elites used to pay the school fees of their children who are in foreign educational institutions in the year 2015. Those children of the elites represent less than one per cent of Nigerian children. We are yet to realise that we cannot move forward as a people without a sound educational foundation.”

On what would have been done in the sectoral allocation for a country playing catch up with its peers, the United Kingdom career management expert said, “The UNESCO prescription of 26 per cent of national budget should be our minimum allocation to education, if we desire to achieve the level of development that can make the world reckon with us. There are also innovative approaches to addressing the problems in the sector, which our education policy makers are ignoring out of pride. Innovation based on evidence will enable us to achieve more with less. In the face of obvious economic challenges, innovating all the systems in the sector, based on research evidence will enable us to gain considerable mileage.”

He regretted that, “The politicians who run the system in Nigeria, but train their children abroad will not, without external pressure allocate the right quantum of resources to the sector in Nigeria. They do not wear the shoe; and therefore do not know where it pinches. This will continue to raise issues of inequity and injustice in Nigeria and keep our socio-economic problems on the rise. Things may get out of hand soon.”

On whether the country can ever be rid of 10.5 million out-of-school children with education being treated this way, he expressed doubt saying, “More children will drop out of school in the years ahead if we sustain our current nonchalant attitude to education. We are currently growing our population at the rate of about five million per annum. That carries serious implications for the demand for education across board. Our political leaders do not seem to realise the implications of this trend for the socio-economic and political stability and development of the country. We are disappointing the black race terribly.”

For Vice Chancellor, Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Osun State, Professor Sola Fajana, “The allocation of 6.1 per cent of the entire budget to education is not significantly different from the share to this sector over the last 20 years. The highest in two separate years during the period was about 10 per cent. This is way far below the UNESCO prescription for countries at our stage of development. Moreover, this figure represents only a promise. At the end of the fiscal year, little or no information is put at the public domain to enable an objective and realistic assessment of the actual spending on each sector. This is one ‘accountability’ issue that should come to the consciousness of Nigerians and others who love her.

“It is observed from the budget allocations that in 2017, infrastructure and food had first rate priorities. With the assumption that the economy will continue to be driven by total government expenditure in all sectors, a relatively reflated economy is expected to favour parents with liquidity to settle school fees. Thus, education will indirectly benefit from the allocations given to the priority sectors – infrastructure and agriculture. With as many as over 36 states and over 50 private universities charging and collecting fees with ease and convenience in 2017, staff salaries and other recurrent expenditure will be reasonably taken care off in the education sector, leading to staff retention and the sustenance of staff motivation for quality performance,” he said.

The professor of Labour and Human Resource Management, described the increase in the sector’s allocation from N396b in 2016, to 448b in 2017, “is a welcome development. Inadequate funding of education pre-2016 led several agencies and regulators in the education sector to look for ‘internally generated revenue’ to run their activities. It is hoped that in 2017 for instance, improved funding will instigate a higher level of relief to institutions in providing counterpart funding for the accreditation of their programmes. There is something not quite right, at least morally, when institutions provide the funds with which their programmes are accredited.”

Fajana added that, “even though the allocated N448b comprises of N398b recurrent expenditure and 50b for capital projects; there is another capital project allocation of N92b for the Universal Basic Education Commission. It is obvious that the capital fund of N50b for the Ministry of Education cannot really go far, but this is understandable against the backdrop of other competing sectors.

“However, it is expected that statutory transfers to TETFund will be available to augment this sum. Salaries, past due obligations in terms of earned academic allowances, funds for the needs assessment programmes, and kindred matters will struggle for attention within the funds allocated to this sector. Notwithstanding the preferences and priorities of government, it can only be expected that development-oriented research will be encouraged in our institutions. Gratefully enough, the 2017 budget is aimed at recovery and growth. The latter will be positively impacted by adequately funded research. This is the norm in other climes where national developments have indeed been influenced by the quality and quantum of research activities in the universities.”

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