Public universities were once citadels of academic excellence. Then they were few, professionally managed and well-funded. Not anymore.
Frequent strikes by students and lecturers, an acute shortage of facilities, mismanagement, an unpredictable academic calendar and under-funding have vanquished the lustre.
For the third time this year, lecturers are downing tools to protest non-payment of higher salaries awarded a couple of months ago.
The strike is bound to compound the crisis in the institutions, most of them technically closed as undergraduates were sent home last month ahead of the fresh presidential election.
The Universities Academic Staff Union signed a collective bargaining agreement with the government in March, which was to be implemented from July. This had dragged on for months as the government procrastinated until the lecturers went on strike to force its conclusion.
The pay dispute is a manifestation of a deeper malaise. Underlying this is the unplanned and uncoordinated expansion over the past two decades, without commensurate funding.
Inasmuch as this was triggered by an increased number of students, it was equally driven by politics, where universities were established to assuage political interests.
Paradoxically, funding was limited and, therefore, the institutions have been unable to meet critical obligations such as providing quality teaching and learning facilities, and pay attractive and commensurate salaries and allowances.
Lecturers have been forced to traverse universities across the country to earn a little more, but in so doing, compromise their ability to deliver quality.
An audit by the Commission for University Education early this year unearthed the widespread rot in the universities — public and private — ranging from poor academic standards to fake certification.
Since the government signed the pay deal, it should pay and end the circus.
More importantly, we need some serious debate on university education, focusing on academic standards, facilities, funding, management, the quality of courses, learning calendar and staff compensation.