Wednesday 8 January 2014

Decade Blogs - Chuba Ezekwesili - The Hidden Costs of University Strikes

Decade Blogs
Chuba Ezekwesili in his piece for my #YourBlogOnMyBlog Series commemorating my Decade of Blogging writes about the true costs of strikes in the tertiary educational sector in Nigeria.
I would not once suggest that he might have experienced another hidden cost first hand by reason of a relation who might have returned home with headaches about the inscrutable, intractable, interminable and incessant default to industrial dispute between academia and the government of the day.
Yet, I have some really enlightening conversations with Chuba, his mother and his brother on Twitter, whilst his blogs when published are quite insightful and knowledgeable in the use of facts and data and in offering useful opinion and thinking points.
On Twitter, he goes by the handle @ChubaEzeks and blogs at, and I am honoured to have him write for my series.
Students are most affected by the strikes, whether they are in school, graduated or seeking admission. Chuba identifies those areas and laments about the fact that students do not seem to realise how affected they are to get agitated enough to demand engagement, change, accountability and responsibility.
That is in my view, a great shame, indeed.
The Hidden Costs of University Strikes
Got back to Nigeria over a year ago and I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity of experiencing a fuel strike and a Universities Union strike. As should be clear to anyone, strikes negatively affect the economy directly and indirectly. The direct costs of strikes are mostly financial. [BBC News] [Vanguard Nigeria]
According to Reuters, the 2012 fuel strike cost Nigeria $1.2 billion after only 8 days of striking. Also, the Punch newspaper estimates that the total sum in salary for the lecturers during period of the ASUU strike may run into billions of naira. So yes, we’ve lost billions thanks to these strikes, but there’s more to them than financial loss.
The indirect costs are less obvious and perhaps more potent to the economy in the long run. Worse still, these indirect costs tend to be far greater in the skilled sectors-especially the academic sector-than in the non-skill sectors. Why? Cause it has long lasting effects that cannot be solved solely through money. Atrophy of knowledge. Knowledge – like a muscle – declines the less one makes use of it.
Academic schedules are created with strategic amounts of time to ensure that students are able to learn as much as possible. Sadly, the unpredictable nature of strikes immediately interrupts such learning processes. “The academic calendar of the students has already been disrupted. This would mean the adjustment of their timetable and a delay in their year of graduation. The man hours lost over this period would have to be paid for,” notes Professor Yomi Akinyeye, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, the University of Lagos.
Worse still, it creates a wedge in knowledge assimilation. During the strike process, students forget a major part of what had been previously taught. Add this to the fact that with the Nigerian rote method of learning, assimilation is hardly possible. So, with an absence in tutorship, the rate of atrophy is much faster. Consequently, when the strike is over, students are guaranteed to return back to school dumber than they left. How then are they all meant to graduate with Upper Second Class degrees?
Given enough strikes, students can end up spending 2-3 more years attempting to obtain a measly degree. Worst still, by the time these student graduates, they'll be inducted into the one year of NYSC Service. By the end of their NYSC year, few will be retained at their Primary Place of Assignment i.e. where they 'worked'.
Those searching for a job afterwards will be faced with job applications with a requirements like "Applicant must not be older than 24". Consider also that this requirement gets worse as time passes. If one cannot get an entry level job this year due to one's age and lack of work experience, then his/her situation is bound to worsen the next year. This is the reality of thousands of graduates. A system that holds the students back and proceeds to alienate them once they attempt to be economically productive.
Interestingly enough, the consequence of this regressive game of strikes reaches further back to those outside of the University gates: applicants attempting to get into these universities. The delay in the academic calendar of Universities causes a backlog of applicants who end up with more competition over time.
Do the math: the more the applicants to a constant and finite number of universities will only result in the rejection of capable students.
Students will be rejected, not because of their academic inability, but because there’s simply lack of university spaces to accommodate the backlog of applicants. Most of these Secondary School students will have to wait a few years before they can be admitted into these Universities with subpar education.
Within their universities, they will face the same issue of strikes that kept them out of these same universities for so long. Then, they will eventually graduate and be faced with the same age barrier as the rest of those before them.
Sadly, the interesting part of the strike system is that it never affects the two major jousting parties; at least not significantly. The Government suffers no adverse effect from it; after all, the professors are not drilling oil, so their strike is inconsequential to them.
The professors on the other hand do not significantly feel the weight of such strikes as most of them probably have speaking engagements and other projects on the side. Best part of it, they can’t get fired; ask Nyesom Wike, the Education Minister, he tried. [ThisDay Online] [Premium Times]
Once we begin to understand where the incentives lie, we begin to understand who really endures the most of these strikes: the students. Many of whom might be unaware of the true cost of the strike and might just be happy to get back to school.
The game of strike in the education sector might have ended now, but assuredly, another strike will commence once the $1.3bn Government payout runs out. There’s something to continuity that takes more than $1.3bn. The money is nothing but a Band-Aid for a problem that cuts much deeper. It would take the overhaul of a system that encourages incompetence and lack of accountability.
Like Mr. Akin's persistent 10 years of blogging - which has made him proficient - adopting an efficient system improves efficiency & specialisation.
Besides, students must understand the need to become more vocal about how they choose to influence their academic lives, no one bears the cost more than them.
Students were disappointedly quiet during this ASUU strike, and unless they become vocal about the accountability of funds supposedly doled out to ‘improve their education’, they’ll be nothing but pawns on the chessboard of power. Those with the most to lose need to be the most vocal.

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