Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Sociologists as Social Engineers

Sociologists as Social Engineers

On Thursday, May 4th 2017, Distinguished Senator John James Akpanudoedehe B.Sc; M.Sc; Ph.D; Cert in Leadership (Harvard); was invited to be the Guest Speaker at the UNIVERSITY OF UYO ALUMNUS GUEST LECTURE. 


The Lecture, which was broadcast live on UNIUYO (University of Uyo) FM-100.7, was well-attended by students of the Sociology and Anthropology Department of the University of Uyo, as well as members of the academia from the University, and beyond. It turned out to be an enthralling event, especially with the Guest Lecturer, Distinguished Senator Akpanudoedehe, holding the audience spell-bound, with his well-informed analyses of issues.

“When I received the invitation to address you on the topic: ‘NSASA, University of Uyo, Linking Former and Present Members for Solving Current Challenges in the University System in Nigeria’, I felt it was time for us, Sociologists, to showcase our intellectual endowments and resourcefulness. I also felt it was indeed the right time, for Sociologists (former and present NSASA Members), to network effectively to address the social, economic, and political challenges facing our dear nation, Nigeria.

My task today is not to discuss and proffer solutions to all the challenges facing our dear country, but to start somewhere; that is, our university system. 

Sociology as a discipline, emanated from the social upheavals that faced Europe in the 18th Century. It emerged as “a solution discipline”, to social problems; and as such, Sociology developed Theories, Paradigms, Models, and Principles, that made her the delight of the government at the time; and that of contemporary advanced democracies. Little wonder, Auguste Comte, called Sociology “the Science King”. 

As a ‘Science King’, Sociology scientifically studies society and its institutions; and as such, is the best discipline to proffer solutions to social problems including that of our ailing university system.

Thus, we as sociologists have the right answer to the problems facing our university system; and our answer will make more sense, if we link up, and network among ourselves, as sons and daughters of the ‘Science King’.

In a knowledge-driven world like ours, education at all levels provides the bedrock upon which society is built. It is the most-potent tool for national growth and development. The economic, socio-cultural, and political aspiration of our dear country, Nigeria, is tied to our educational system. The recognition of this fact informed the British colonial administration to establish Training Centres, and other educational institutions in Nigeria. However, the need to train the middle and high-level manpower that are needed for the development of the educational system itself, and the society at large, informed the establishment of Yaba College in 1947; and the University College in 1948. These great schools marked the beginning of tertiary institutions in Nigeria. 

Tertiary institutions, especially the university, are the ‘Ivory Towers’ of learning. The traditional function of the university includes: Teaching, Research, Knowledge Creation and Dissemination, as well as the Training and Production of appropriate manpower for socio-economic and political development. 

These functions are exemplified in our university’s ability to serve as “instruments par excellence”, for advancing the frontiers of knowledge, social change, national reconstruction and development. As a people-processing centre, the university remains the prime supplier of high level manpower; and a significant major factor in stimulating and sustaining sectoral growth and development in society. This truism undoubtedly informed government’s decision to establish specialized universities, including the Universities of Agriculture, Technology, and Science, among others. Government also licensed the establishment of private universities to meet the manpower needs of the country.

Thus, the university system produces human capital, necessary for development. It is the catalyst for educational development at all levels; and a vital tool for national integration, and the amelioration of poverty. It is our abiding hope for the overcoming of economic recession, insecurity, and political upheavals in Nigeria. 

Despite the advantages universities offer to society, the entire university system is bedevilled with a significant number of factors that obstruct not only its function, but threaten its existence.  The system is perennially mired with problems and uncertainties. These include: inadequate funding; infrastructure problems; poor working conditions; corruption; examination malpractice; academic dishonesty; the problem of quality assurance; strikes; and labour disputes. Others are: non-implementation of Union Government agreements; cultism; poor recruitment processes; leadership problems; unnecessary political interference; and the problem of autonomy.

These universities, except for a few of the privately-owned, are grossly under-funded. The chronic underfunding of universities is evident in the dwindling yearly budgetary allocations to Education from 1994 to date. It shows that in 1994, the Federal Government allocated 7.83% to Education. In 1995-12.26%; 1996-12.32%; 1997-11.59%; 1998-10.27%; 1999-11.12%; 2000-12.56%; 2001-6.88%; 2002-11.56%; 2003-6.58; 2004-6.89%; 2005-6.27%; 2006-8.56%; 2007-9.49%; 2008-7.74%; 2009-6.44%; 2010-5.49%; 2011-10.13%; 2012-10.48%; 2013-10.58%; 2014-12.30%; (Source: CBN Statistical Bulletin-2014); 2015-6%; 2016-2%; 2017-6% (Source: Daily Trust, June 3, 2016). 

The average public expenditure of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on Education is Five Percent (5%), which is far below that of Ghana and other African countries. For instance, Ghana’s budgetary allocation to Education in 1999 was 14.9%. In 2012-37.7%; and in 2015, it was 30%. This is against that of Nigeria which was: 11.12%; 10.48%; and 6%; respectively, in the years under consideration.

Poor-funding, or what I call ‘Token Funding’ of universities in Nigeria, also affects a whole lot of things in the system. These include: 

Our universities can no longer effectively develop research, and create knowledge to meet the challenges of society.  In the face of high inflation and economic recession, the average pay of teaching and non-teaching staff of universities can no longer take them home. For instance, the average salary of a lecturer in Nigeria is about 4% (Four Percent) of that of their colleagues in Botswana.

Dearth of infrastructure; inadequate classroom and office accommodation; poor sanitary conditions; inadequate water; and epileptic power supply, are becoming a common feature of our universities.

Half salary syndrome: Lecturers and non-academic staff are no longer sure of their monthly salaries. Some are paid 70%; 50%; 25%; etc; and this grossly affects their attitude to work, commitment, and productivity.

Per-student expenditure also drops as a result of token allocations to universities. This affects not only the learning environment, but also the general well-being of our university students.

Continuous brain drain of academic staff to other countries.
Apart from poor-funding, the university is bedevilled by unnecessary external influence, which significantly erodes its autonomy. Autonomy here refers to non-interference and independence in decision-making and activities of universities. Universities are expected to administer and run their affairs, including: admissions, employment, curricula, etc. However, since the signing of the University Autonomy Act on July 20, 2004, by President Olusegun Obasanjo, universities’ functions have been continually influenced and controlled by powerful and influential people, governments and its agencies.
Examination Malpractice of different kinds and types also characterize our university system. This phenomenon is not without consequences on society, and the university system, itself. The continuous low ranking of Nigerian universities by intellectual organizations, and the classification of our graduates as: “half-baked”, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), co-relates with malpractice in our university system.

The effect of Examination Malpractice on society is further exemplified in one of the expressive messages a university lecturer wrote to his student in a South African university. It read thus: 

The patient dies in the hands of the doctor who passed his exams through cheating.

And the building collapses in the hands of an engineer who passed his exams through cheating. And the money is lost in the hands of an accountant who passed his exams through cheating.  And humanity dies at the hands of a religious scholar who passed his exams through cheating 

And Justice is lost in the hand of a Judge who passed his exams through cheating. And ignorance is rampant in the minds of children who are under the care of the teacher who passed his exams through cheating

And I added: The collapse of university education through examination malpractice is the collapse of the nation, and our collective aspirations. 
Quality Assurance is also a serious challenge in our universities. The preference for graduates from foreign universities, including Ghana and South Africa suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with the quality of education we offer in our universities. It implies that academic programmes, admission, and recruitment procedures, the quality of books, physical infrastructure, evaluative mechanism, and existing academic culture in our universities need to be strengthened to meet the job demands of society.

Corruption is the single most vital obstacle to the development of Nigerian universities. It undermines and weakens vital institutions and committees set up to develop university education in the country. Permit me to say here, that Corruption occurs at all levels and ranks in our universities; from the office messenger to the top; including Regulatory Agencies and Commissions saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the smooth running of our tertiary institutions. It is saddening to hear that some Vice Chancellors and principal staff are arrested and detained by the EFCC soon after they leave office. Again, Corruption obstructs the equitable distribution of resources; employment and admission procedures; infrastructural development; and service delivery, in our universities.

Furthermore, the non-implementation of Union Government agreements, informs strikes and other forms of industrial disputes in our university system. This dispute impedes effective administration, and has resulted in frequent closures and dislocation of the academic calendars in our universities. While the causes of industrial disputes in universities are multifarious, this negative consequence on the system is more multi-dimensional and diversifying. This needs urgent attention, including the current strike threatened by ASUU, come July 1st 2017, if the Federal Government fails to review the wages of academic staff of universities.

I divided the way out of the challenges facing our university system into two major subheadings:
First, through Sociological Theories, Models, and Principles; and
Secondly, through NSASA, University of Uyo, linking former and present members

Sociology is the scientific study of society; and as such, it is the only discipline that provides us with significant theories, models, and principles, that touch all aspects of human life.

In the course of my presentation, I identified corruption as one of the major challenges facing our university system; and the best way for us to solve this problem is to understand its origin. I use here the Functionalist perspective to explain the origin of corruption in our universities. Functionalists such as: August Comte, and Herbert Spencer, view society as ‘a system with a set of inter-connected parts, which together form a whole’. This set of parts, are understood in terms of their relationship to the whole; and what affects one part, affects the others. From this postulate, society is made up of five major parts or institutions:

The family, Religious, Political Education, Economic situation
As part of the society, the weakness and failure of the family, religious, political, and economic institutions, marks the origin of corruption in our educational system and the university in particular. For instance:
Family values are no longer emphasized

Religious institutions are weak in maintaining good moral values
The economic institutions can no longer cater to the economic needs of society; and as such, people have to steal to make ends meet.

Our political institutions are weak and cannot strictly maintain law and order; as well as fight illegalities. However, thank God for the body-language of the President, which is making everybody to sit up.

Our educational and indeed our university system is weak because of endemic corruption from other primary institutions of society.

Thus, to address corruption in the university system, our families, political, religious, and economic institutions, must be strengthened through awareness-creation, and value re-orientation programmes mounted by sociologists who understand the fabric of society. Again, if our families and religious institutions are strengthened, it will have a trickle-down effect on our university system. It will help reduce cultism, sexual harassment, examination malpractice, sorting, bribery, etc. 

Moreso, the challenges in our university education system can be curtailed if administrators strictly adhere to the bureaucratic models or principles of Max Weber. The model emphasized the importance of rational actions in our bureaucratic institutions, of which the university is one. This implies that:
People, including lecturers, and other staff, should be hired based on their competence, qualification, and experience.

Regular and continuous execution of duties in our universities should be based on formalized rules and regulations.

Rigid Division of Labour among staff of the university should be adhered to.
I will like to limit my discussion to these three major principles of Weber’s Bureaucratic Models. First: If the university management leans on Weber’s ideas, incompetent, unqualified, and inexperienced staff will not be employed.
Second: Activities in our universities will be carried out on a continuous and regular basis, within the context of rules and regulations governing the university system; thereby reducing corruption, malpractices, and absenteeism; and enhancing the quality of education.

Third: Division of Labour based on Weber’s Bureaucratic Model, will help reduce the incidence of conflict, and tension, emanating from ‘role-conflict’ and a lack of clear chains of command.

Conflict, Strikes, and Low Productivity, can also be reduced in our university system if Management and the government improve the wages of staff. Here, I will address this problem using the ideas of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Abraham Maslow.

First, Marx argues in his ‘COMMUNIST MANIFESTO’, that: “the history of all hitherto existing in society is the history of class conflict”. Marx observes that access to wealth or means of production is the major source of conflict in society. One of the ways university staff can access wealth in our contemporary days, is through good wages; that is, salaries “that can take them home”. Salaries that will not only help them produce their race; but help them improve their race, and break the cycle of poverty.

Marx also argues that before anyone can ‘philosophize’, he or she must be able to feed himself; clothe himself; and put a roof over his head. The implication of this assertion is that, the salaries of staff should be enough to cater and meet their physiological needs, as proposed by Maslow, before they can be motivated into high productivity, and enhance the effectiveness of our university system.

Again, a significant number of challenges in our universities can also be addressed if Management and Government investigate them using the ‘Versterhen Approach’ of Max Weber. That is, Management and Government must directly observe situations in the universities, as well as empathize the working conditions of university staff. It implies that Management and Government must put themselves in the shoes of workers, to enable them provide lasting solutions to their employees plight in universities.

Networking among former and present NSASA members is vital to overcoming the challenges that are threatening the existence of our university system. There is strength in unity. If we stand together, we win together. We need to galvanize our efforts to overcome the problems in our universities, and make the system work effectively again.

We have the solution, but individual effort will not carry much weight. Our collective effort is prime here. Former and present members of NSASA from all the sub-disciplines of Sociology: Industrial Sociology; Development Sociology: Medical Sociology; Criminology; Sociology of Communication; Demography; Sociology of Education’; Political Sociology; Sociology of Religion; among others, must synergize, to move our universities forwards.

We must regularly meet to draw up strategies that will inform positive reforms in our primary and basic institutions. We must develop a forum, a frontier, and serve as foot soldiers for positive reform in the university system. This entails organizing Public-Enlightenment programmes, Talk-Shows, Seminars; and having frequent interactions with government at all levels. We have to develop our website, and use other social network to effect change in our university system, and the society at large.

We must advocate and press on government to give us the chance to positively change the Nigerian society, as obtainable in USA, Britain, and other advanced democracies.

NSASA, let’s unite, link up ourselves, and solve the problems in our university system and society at large”.

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