‘Varsity Leaders Must Engage Student Activists’ | Independent Newspapers Limited
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‘Varsity Leaders Must Engage Student Activists’

Posted: Jun 1, 2016 at 8:06 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Oyeniran Apata



The place education world over is to provide a platform for the acquisition of knowledge, skills, habits and values for productive living in the society. As a result of this, education equips individuals with the personal capabilities for survival in and contribution to the societal development.

Thus globally, socio-economic and political developments are increasingly been driven by the advancement and application of knowledge (education).

However, as it becomes glaring to students that their aspiration to add values for a productive life is threatened, without the authority or government showing enough concern most times lead to agitation for a reverse of the situation.

Many a time, such agitation for a better learning condition is often times considered confrontational by people in whose custody the students are entrusted by their parents and guardians thus leading to showdown between students and government, management of an institution or host community where the institution is located.

Authority and students’ crisis in Nigeria dates back to 1944 when students protested against the British authorities’ intension to build a military base in Lagos to help in the Second World War.

Since then, students’ crises have grown to become a regular occurrence in the country. By the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the form of protest changed from its peaceful, non-violent form to violent and open confrontation with the school authorities and security agencies leading to destruction of lives and property.

Arguably one of the most dreaded protest and riots by Nigerian students was in 1978 where the introduction of fees in all tertiary institutions in the country led to the students’ crisis tagged ‘ALLI MUST GO’. Since then, students have used several means to express their grievances that had on many occasions turned bloody, death and destruction of properties.

This year alone, University of Port Harcourt, University of Ibadan, Lagos State University (LASU) and University of Lagos have all suffered lockouts caused by violent protests against certain decisions and inaction of the management of the respective institutions and government.

What control measures can be taken to prevent occurrence of such crises? Scholars present at the 2016 edition of the Going Global, the British Council’s annual conference for leaders of international education which held on the African soil deliberated on the issue and made far reaching suggestions on the need for university leaders to engage students’ activists.

Prominent student activists from India, South Africa and Ukraine explained their motivations for change to a room full of education leaders..

Kealeboga Mase Ramaru, a South African graduate and equal education activist rejected the notion that Universities are safe spaces of critical thought and social conscience where students and academics can question and contest the norms, cultures and challenges of their societies.

He said: “There’s only academic freedom when there are certain types of knowledge in the university.”

Discussing the recent Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns that have taken place in South Africa, Ramaru said that “We cannot just be in institutions that protect a certain minority, especially in an African context.”

“What we saw last year was that no one was really listening to the students. Last year we had students creating a new path of change in their universities, and actively so. There was a time when we were willing to come to the table, but it was never open for us. So we need to do it ourselves, and be credited for it.”

“It’s not enough to take down a painting and still exclude students.” Ramaru said.

Olena Rusnak, Head of Secretariat, Ukrainian Association of Student Self-Government, discussed the role of Ukrainian students in the rapid changes that their country has experienced since the winter of 2013.

“The massive national protest only started after students were dispersed by the police because they came together to show they didn’t agree with the decisions of the government. 80 students were injured. After that, Ukrainian people realised that our government didn’t listen to people.” Rusnak said.

“After the students were dispersed, our society shifted its emphasis to revolution, to protest against the Government and the State authorities. Prior to the revolution students were not allowed to protest due to threats from officials.”

Rusnak explained that: “In 2014, students decided to come to the Ministry, ‘we entered the Ministry, and we stayed there. We worked out the roadmap; that we wouldn’t leave until the new Minister would come and agree to all of our points in our roadmap.”

“This is the story of how students can influence decision- making if we’re not included in the decision-making process. I’m not proud that we were forced to use these kinds of methods to make our voice heard. We want students to be a competent and equal partner in the process, not a destructive member of society. Now our main task as student leaders is to show that our voice is a voice to be heard, we have to move forward” Rusnak said.

Sanjana Krishnan, a PhD Student from the University of Hyderabad, India, responded to the view from a delegate that student movements were ineffective in delivering change beyond the campus environment.

Krishnan told the education leaders from around the world that they too had a positive role to play in student activism and according to him,  “A professor told me once that rule breaking and protest is an essential role of students, part of growing up, and finding what the rules are.”

“Student movements need to have a clearer vision; we need to step back and work out where we went wrong. It’s important that strong public attention is there, we can’t just be five-10 people protesting on the streets.

“So, we begin with a lot of euphoria as students and positive energy to bring about change. What happens eventually with student movements is that we end up largely with disappointment when we don’t achieve our aims. The role of university administration is to listen to us and engage with us before we can move forwards” Krishnan said.

Factors responsible for occurrence of students crises include; authoritarian governance arising from the erosion of institutional autonomy infrastructural collapse and social distortion due to poor funding, poor remuneration of staff who have a major obligation for the moral character and well-being of the students, decline economic conditions which have affected students lives and studies poor communication between institutions authorities and students, social cult activities etc, more identified as the services of the students crises.

The panelist suggested that a proactive and democratic style of crises management should be adopted by the individuals and groups involved in tertiary education sector.