We must allow Ian Morris to tell us why the Industrial Revolution took place in the British Isles rather than in France. The lesson we will learn from this will encourage us to free up our public universities for greater productivity.
Over the past six months, our educational institutions have closed due to insufficient funding and crippling bureaucracy. During the same period, the government generously transported more than 40,000 pilgrims to holy lands. The willingness of Nigerian leaders to fund religion and holy men while denying them to universities and scholars means that Nigeria could break down on all fronts.
To turn things around, our universities must have alternative funding beyond the control of indifferent politicians. Our goal is to find ways and means for these schools to fund themselves through internally generated revenue.
How Britain beat France
Scholars in Medieval and Renaissance Europe were funded by wealthy patrons and nobles. At the dawn of the machine age, mobs in Paris killed French nobles during the French Revolution of 1789. This tragedy crippled research and experimentation.
But Britain, which never killed its bosses, fared better. Nobles financed the Stockton and Darlington Railway line, originally designed to be operated with horse-drawn carriages, which inspired engineer George Stevenson to build the world’s first locomotive engine in September 1825; thus pushing Great Britain to beat France in the race for the industrial revolution.
Morris concluded, in “Why the West Leads-For Now”, that countries that massively fund their universities and scholars to relentlessly discover new and better forms of energy, or what he called the “chain of ‘energies’, would be in the lead. But those who invest heavily in religion, or “Chain of Deities”, would sink. This is because economic and military powers no longer flow from the temple and the altar, but from the library and the laboratory.
Purge Nigerian Academics
The very circumscribed environment allowed for our universities led to the formation of the Nigerian Association of University Teachers, NAUT, in 1965. This body demanded better funding and autonomy for the then five universities. In 1978, the Union of Academic Staff of Universities, ASUU, emerged from NAUT. The demands made on the Tafawa Balewa government in 1965 by NAUT were no different from those made on the Muhammadu Buhari government in 2022 by ASUU. Nothing has changed.
France shot itself in the foot by purging those who funded education in 1789. Nigeria is doing the same by directly purging its academics. ASUU National President Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, following his association’s 2022 six-month industrial strike, reveals “the exodus of professors from the country’s universities to greener pastures overseas.”
Like France which descended into chaos leading to the costly Napoleonic Wars after silencing its brightest minds, Nigeria is also paying the price by fighting armed insurgents, energy crisis, food crisis and economic crisis. We rely on Ghana, South Africa and India for education and medicine; which means that we lost out to those countries in the second industrial revolution associated with the poor countries of the southern hemisphere.
Six decades of unsuccessful negotiations with the government should convince our university students, our professors and our administrators that they must work together and make a difference. Also, there has to be an end to the way ASUU laments or no one takes it seriously anymore. Any man whose dad doesn’t train should stop complaining and train. Our universities need to heal themselves by running profitable businesses to generate funds for development.
Professor Turner Timinipre Isoun, father of Nigerian space technology, built the first Nigerian satellite at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, SSTL, a commercial arm of the University of Surrey, UK. The students of this institution worked on the project with their teachers earning millions of dollars in profit. Harvard University creates blue chip companies before selling them on the New York Stock Exchange to raise capital. Nigerian students can also work side by side with their professors in producing goods and services to create wealth for their universities.
Internally generated revenue, IGR.
Lack of funds means that our universities are not moving from their traditional teaching work to production. It is weakness. For example, the only laboratory in Rivers State that gives accurate results in table water analysis belongs to the Department of Chemical/Petrochemical Engineering at Rivers State University, RSU, former University of Rivers State Science and Technology, RSUST. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, only accepts reports from this laboratory.
Our argument is that if this department can consult the water producers, what prevents it from setting up its own bottling plant? At least that it produces drinking water for the university community so that no other brand finds a ready market on campus. If financing to establish the factory is the challenge, the department can approach a commercial bank for a loan. Since all the factors of production are there, what logical thing to do but to produce. It is encouraging that the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State is already on the road to self-sufficiency in drinking water production and wealth creation. Its Uniport bottling plant, operated by Investment Networths Ltd, can be upgraded and expanded.
Internally generated revenue should be the basic fund of our reformed universities so that all the government brings is just grants. For example, the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State has a student population of 40,000. With each student paying an annual fee of N45,000, the resulting N1.8 billion could put the school on a new trajectory if the management controls it.
The government should be honest enough to state that our universities generate huge profits because education in Nigeria is not free. Transparency means that the funds generated by these institutions must be reinvested to cover their expenses. Internally generated revenue could be used to pay the salaries of non-academic teaching staff and lower management. The federal government can then take over the salaries of the professors.
If Nigerian universities adapt, they could generate so much revenue without worrying about the existence of the government. This will involve reorganizing the university to profitably run consultancy services, bakery/fast food, commercial farming, gas station, gas filling plant, table water production, road construction, real estate, etc. This achievement means that each university must be administered as an independent university. status with the Vice Chancellor as President and CEO. Three entities are required, namely:
(1) Industrial production and storage park.
(2) Board of Internal Revenue to collect and publish revenue generated by businesses. This will include representatives from the faculties, the Vice-Chancellor’s Office and the Student Union Government.
(3) The Department of Trade and Investment, DTI, will receive and approve business proposals from departments and external investors. As an independent regulator, it will allocate factory sites allowing an investor to get off to a flying start. Direct investment concerns companies owned by faculties and their departments. Indirect investments belong to external investors.
In his 2018 article, “The University of Africa: in search of an innovative and sustainable university, responding to the challenges of a State and a nation”, the scholar Professor Isoun identified the attitude, rather than funds, as our audience’s number one issue. the universities. Nigerian leaders view the funds funneled to our higher institutions as redundant funds with low economic returns. This explains their reluctance to adequately budget these schools.
Our real fear in this great leap forward is, again, a negative attitude. If our professors see the factory floor as being below them, then there is no way a financially independent university can emerge. They are to emulate Professor Isoun, who as RSUST’s pioneering vice-chancellor worked with his students on development projects in the 1980s.
Ajie, an entrepreneur, wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Email: [email protected]