Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This was first published on January 25, 2014 in my Weekly Trust column

I think it’s appropriate to begin this piece by admitting that a comparison of Nigerian and American university teachers is necessarily imperfect. For one, America is the world’s most prosperous country. Although Nigeria is an oil-rich country, its wealth pales in comparison with America’s.  For another, unlike Nigeria, America does not have federal universities; it only has private and state universities. For yet another, unlike Nigerian universities that are characterized by a mind-numbingly mechanical uniformity, American universities have vastly different character, traditions, and conventions.

Nonetheless, a contrast of the university traditions of both countries isn’t entirely misplaced, not least because Nigeria consciously mimics American universities and because Nigerian university lecturers like to invoke what they say obtains in countries like America to justify their demands for better remuneration.

So let’s start with a bird’s eye view of American universities. In America, all university teachers understand that their jobs entail a commitment to research, teaching and service. Research intensive universities (called R1 universities) place more emphasis on research than they do on teaching while liberal arts colleges and comprehensive state universities (called teaching-heavy universities) place more emphasis on teaching than on research. 

Many universities try to strike a happy balance between teaching and research. But all universities expect service commitments from all teachers. This includes serving on departmental committees, reviewing articles for journals/conferences, advising and mentoring students, supervising theses and dissertations, serving on thesis/dissertation committees, etc. No one gets –or expects to get—any monetary reward for service responsibilities. That’s why it’s called “service.”

In research-intensive universities, teachers either publish or perish. Their productivity, and thus desirability, is measured mostly—but by no means only— by the number and quality of their journal articles or books. Teaching-heavy universities, on the other hand, don’t expect their teachers to publish; they judge teachers on the effectiveness of their teaching, which is valuated by a combination of student evaluations and peer observations. Teachers in research-heavy universities don’t teach many courses because they need time for their research. Teaching universities, on the other hand, impose heavy teaching responsibilities on their teachers.

Nigerian universities, for the most part, have no clear demarcation between research and teaching universities.  Every university aspires to the same ill-defined goals. A University of Ibadan teacher is expected to have the same aspirations as a teacher at the newest university in town. And that’s where the problem lies. 

A Nigerian university teacher once told me that the “excess workload allowance” that Nigerian university lecturers demand from the government is justified because lecturers in countries such as the United States don’t teach as many students in a single course as Nigerian university teachers do. “Can a lecturer teach 300 students in a course without a graduate assistant in the US?” he asked.

I said “yes.” He was shocked. But the truth is that in teaching-heavy state universities in America, one teacher can teach as many as 300 or more students in a single survey class. Of course, such a teacher will have no access to a graduate assistant because, well, many teaching-heavy universities don’t have graduate schools; they have only undergraduate programs. And in community colleges and some state universities, a teacher can teach as many as five or six courses per semester. And they don’t get any “excess workload allowance” for that, except that they are not expected to publish scholarly research to move up the academic ladder.

In any case, here in America, most people teach because they love the job, not because they want to be affluent. University teaching isn’t the cushy, financially rewarding job that many people think it is. It can guarantee a middle-class lifestyle, but it isn’t on par with the salaries of politicians and business people. (I will say more on this in the coming weeks.)

Anyway, to get back to the point about heavy teaching load, it isn’t  at all true that high student –teacher ratio is a Nigerian university peculiarity, although I must admit that, in general, American university teachers teach far fewer students in a class than their Nigerian counterparts. But the high student-teacher ratio in Nigeria seems to me to be partly self-inflicted since many university teachers usually actively participate in the admission process.  University teachers administer “post-UME tests” and recommend students for admission. Of course, not every Nigerian university teacher does this, but many do.  So the question is: why do teachers admit more students than they have the capacity to teach and then turn around and ask for “excess workload allowance”? In America, university teachers don’t participate in undergraduate admissions in any direct way. 

Whatever it is, it seems clear to me that part of the reasons for the turmoil in the Nigerian university system is that universities haven’t clearly articulated their missions. University teachers want to—or are expected to— simultaneously be teachers and researchers but many end up being neither.  

 Universities that define their missions as centers of excellence in undergraduate teaching should not expect their teachers to publish to the same degree that research universities should. And teachers in teaching-heavy universities shouldn’t complain—and certainly shouldn’t expect to be paid “excess workload allowances”—if they have a heavy teaching load since they are not expected to publish.

I certainly don’t want to be misconstrued as begrudging my colleagues in Nigeria for their pay raises and sundry allowances. On the contrary, I think it’s a good thing that Nigerian university teachers now earn decent wages. However, the improved living conditions of university teachers should come with more responsibility and accountability. As I write this piece, there is no formal mechanism to evaluate the pedagogical effectiveness of Nigerian university teachers. 

To be continued

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Q and A on English Plurals, Word Usage, and Expressions

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Is it “staff members” or “staffs”? Should you say “the media is biased” or the “media are biased?” Why is it wrong to describe an African’s skin color as “black”? Is it right to say “sixthly,” “seventhly,” “sixteenthly,” etc.? Is it: “cut your coat according to your size” or “cut your coat according to your cloth”? This week’s Q and A answers these and other questions.

What is the plural of staff? Is it staffs or staff members? I was taught in secondary school that staff has no plural or, more accurately, that the plural of staff is either just “staff” or “staff members.” But I have seen the word “staffs” in many respected books. Can you help?

That’s an interesting question. Like you, all my secondary school English teachers in Nigeria taught me to never use “staffs” as the plural of staff. They said “staff” is a collective noun that does not admit of a plural form. When I started reading American journalism textbooks during my undergraduate education in Nigeria, however, I found expressions like “newsroom staffs” and got confused. I remember thinking: I thought we were never supposed to say “staffs.” Why do American journalism textbooks habitually use “newsroom staffs”?

Since coming to America, I discovered that there is no agreement among native English speakers on whether “staff” should be pluralized with an “s.” Some people discountenance “staffs”; others say it is legitimate. The Oxford English Dictionary, interestingly, is silent on this controversy. It, however, does not identify “staff” as an uncountable noun. That means it would not look on “staffs” with disfavor.

 In the Longman Guide to English Usage, Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, two well-regarded professors of English in the UK, wrote the following about the issue: “The plural of staff meaning any kind of stick is staffs, or sometimes staves. When it means ‘a group of employed people’ it must be staffs” (emphasis mine).

In other words, according to Greenbaum and Whitcut, there is no grammatical basis for the notion that staff cannot be pluralized with a terminal “s” when it’s used in place of “employees.” Other authorities say “staffs” is justified only when reference is being made to several groups of employees. So we can talk of “New Nigerian staff,” “Media Trust staff,” but “New Nigerian and Media Trust staffs.” I am inclined to go with that prescription, but I generally prefer to use terms like “employees” or “workers” in order to avoid the controversy over the appropriate plural form of “staff.” Some American English speakers use “staffers,” especially when they talk of newsroom personnel, to avoid saying “staffs.”

It is worthy of note that while there is no agreement among native speakers of the language on the correct plural form of “staff,” grammarians discountenance the expression “a staff” to refer to a single employee. The preferred expression is “a staff member” or “one of the staff.” 

Is “media” plural or singular? I am a lawyer based in Lagos and my wife is a graduate of English. My wife and I had an argument sometime ago about whether or not “media” is plural. She said “media” is singular and always goes with a singular verb, such as “the media IS biased.” Although she studied English in the university, I said she was wrong. I told her it should be “the media ARE biased.” But she isn’t convinced, so I said we should refer our case to you, the Nigerian judge of English grammar, for adjudication. I know we will get justice.

Thanks for your flattering description of me as the “Nigerian judge of English grammar,” but I am most certainly far from that. Several people are way worthier of that description in Nigeria than I am. Now to your question: you’re right that in proper usage “media” always takes a plural verb, as in “the Nigerian news media ARE biased.” “Media” is the plural of “medium,” so it’s OK to say “that news medium IS biased.” It’s true, however, that many native speakers habitually fail to recognize that “media” is the plural of “medium” and say things like “the media IS fueling this controversy.” So your wife is probably referring to “what is” as opposed to “what ought to be.”

Every semester, I test my students, who are native English speakers, on this question and only about 20 percent get it right. It’s probably time grammarians accept the fact that “media” has evolved into a singular noun, the same way that “agenda” has. In case you didn’t know, semantic purists used to insist that “agenda” should always take a plural verb (as in: the agenda HAVE been changed) because they say “agenda” is the plural of “agendum.” But almost no one says “agendum” these days. So it’s now grammatically permissible to use “agenda” with a singular verb (as in: the agenda HAS been changed).

I’d like to know the distinction between these two words: guaranty and guarantee. And in what context is one more appropriate to be used?

The short answer to your question is that both words can be used interchangeably. Guaranty is "a collateral agreement to answer for the debt of another in case that person defaults." Guarantee is a variant spelling of guaranty. However, guarantee can also mean a whole host of other things. For instance, it can be used as a verb whereas “guaranty” can only be used as a noun. “Guarantee” can also mean "to make certain in the future" (such as saying “I guarantee you that Jonathan won't win the 2015 election”). And so on and so forth.

 Is the word “sixthly” acceptable in English? In President Goodluck Jonathan’s letter to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he used the word “sixthly.”

Sixthly, seventhly, eighthly, even “twentiethly,” etc. are acceptable usages, although many grammarians object to the addition of "ly" to ordinal numbers (that is, numbers that stand for a place in an ordered sequence such as “first,” “second,” “third,” “fourth,” hundredth, etc.) because ordinal numbers are both adjectives and adverbs. Since ordinal numbers are always already adverbs, the addition of “ly” to them is thought to be superfluous. It’s like saying “the conversation went welly” instead of simply “the conversation went well.”  The word “well,” in the context it’s used in the above sentence, is already an adverb, and adding “ly” to it to make it adverbial is unnecessary.

 Nevertheless, the addition of “ly” to ordinals is pretty widespread even among many careful writers. But some style guides recommend that writers limit the addition of the “ly” suffix to “fourthly.” My own recommendation is that you should be consistent. If you start your list with “firstly” and have hundred things on your list, end with “hundrethly,” as absurd as “hundredthly” sounds and looks. If, however, you started with “first,” never add “ly” to any subsequent ordinal.

What is wrong with describing an African’s complexion as “black”? I once “confused” a native English speaker when I described my Ghanaian friend as “black” as opposed to me who is light-skinned.

Native English speakers use “black” to refer to a racial category (that is, to so-called sub-Saharan Africans and people who are descended from them) and “dark” for skin color. So President Obama is “black” but he is not “dark.” President Robert Mugabe is both “black” and “dark.” Many Nigerians, as your example illustrates, tend to use “black” to describe people’s skin color. That would confuse an average Briton or American. So, next time, describe your friend as “dark-skinned” instead of “black.” Note, though, that it is perfectly OK to describe inanimate things or non-human forms as both “black” and “dark.”

Is it, “cut your coat according to your size” or “cut your coat according to your cloth”?

The standard expression is "cut your coat according to your cloth," which makes logical sense because you could be large and not have enough cloth to cut your coat.

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Re: What ASUU REALLY went on Strike For

Dr. Kawu Ahidjo Abdulkadiri’s article with the above title continues to spark both heat and light. Many ASUU sympathizers, unable to refute the substance of the writer’s submissions, have resorted to the cheap, predictably diversionary tactic of divining the motives of the write-up. Two people wrote to ask if I was a Goodluck Jonathan sympathizer for allowing a piece critical of ASUU to be published in my column. It’s sad that I have to remind anybody that I am one of President Jonathan’s fiercest critics and that a criticism of ASUU isn’t an endorsement of Jonathan.

Of course a whole host of people were enlightened by the article and have the good sense to know that the article’s intent was to invite debate, to inspire introspection, and to provoke critical inquiry. I had intended to start my comparison of the remunerative packages of university teachers in America and Nigeria in light of ASUU’s constant references to international benchmarks, but I thought I should give some space to some of the reactions that trailed Dr. Abdulkadiri’s article. The sample represents the range of responses the article stimulated.

The challenge I have in relating with the article is not in its content, which I think is brilliant and unassailable in its argument, but in the assumption that there is a rational, forward-thinking government in place in Nigeria. The current crop of people (in government) in Nigeria only think for the day in which they have food to eat and cars to ride in. Note the deliberate placement of "in government" in brackets, because it is not only those Nigerians in government. When I was a student from the early 90s, ASUU's strikes led by Attahiru Jega made great appeals to reason, and they were ignored, not only by the governments of the day, but the same Nigerians whom a better educational system would have benefited.

 Every opportunity that provides for analysing and proffering solutions to the educational crises in Nigeria is ignored by the youth, who make up 70% of the population, and the elders are busy stealing or condoning it as pastors, chiefs, imams, and police. So, I do not want to discuss Nigeria in sectors anymore. Discussing the problem in sectors, I fear, makes one lose sight of the pervasiveness of resignation by the individual; everyone thinks they need to join in looting the country and thus should bid their time for that ignoble opportunity. Of course, if you sense a resignation in my position, I think I can explain mine in the fact that I believe the Nigerian problem should be dealt with brutally, using some mass action to clean the slate, learn, and write from scratch. None of us is clean enough to exonerate themselves.
Odoh Diego Okenyodo, Abuja

''Each academic staff was entitled to a car loan equivalent to his/her annual salary charged at 2% for administrative cost (stop laughing). They were also entitled to a car refurbishment loan for those who wanted to refurbish their old cars, again charged at 2%...For housing loans, each academic was entitled to 8 times his/her annual salary to buy a house.'' This must be news to many many of us. I can authoritatively say that since 1995 to date I have never heard of anyone benefiting from any of these juicy loans.
Ahmad Usman Altie. University of Abuja

The issue of Nigeria is: whoever can hold the government to ransom gets heard and responded to. Others may die of malnutrition no matter the genuineness of their plight. When I spoke to a medical doctor 3 years ago, I understood why incessant strikes are far from being stamped out. The gap being the present remuneration and the target/expectation is enough to contain a continent. Agreed, the less than 1% lucky Nigerians are trapping up to 90% of the national income as their birth right and that of their family members.

 But I think there should be justice in the fight for an honourable income. It can be done at the level of the NLC. This is my suggestion: the salary scale of the various professions should be tallied with the ILO standard. Thereafter further progress/demand should be negotiated in terms of percentage. If for example, doctors and lecturers have already attained 40% of the ILO standard, they should wait for the others--agriculturists, teachers, waiters, etc.--to catch up. After that, we should be moving together in equal leap, negotiating with the gov‘t in terms of the same (percentage) point. This is justice.
Abdullahi AbdullahiGinya, Minna

I'm a follower of your weekly columns and never doubted your integrity, but just couldn't help verifying these unbelievable demands. I was before this article an ASUU sympathizer but I can't decipher why a lecturer should be paid allowances for doing what he's employed and paid salary for.  Are these lecturers trying to get their own share of the national cake? Are they really fighting for better graduates or fatter pockets?
Ibrahim Haneef (

Thank you for the expose on the ASUU strike. Even though it is just the first part one can see how ASUU outwitted government negotiators right from the beginning i. e. consideration of appropriate salary structure for academic staff. Government officials lost the thread of the arguments from there. I had argued with friends that the way to break the ASUU stranglehold was to retire all academic staff, pay off their entitlements (gratuities, pensions, etc.), close the universities for two years during which extensive rehabilitation should be undertaken to help reverse some of the decay. At the end of this exercise, government should undertake fresh recruitment of academic staff under new terms and conditions. Those previously retired can apply if they wish. Academic qualifications are now almost useless, so the closure will not be a serious loss. Without this radical approach ASUU will call continue to hold the country to ransom.
Mohammed Tukur Usman (

Related Article:

Monday, January 13, 2014

What ASUU REALLY went on Strike For

In order to establish a context for my international comparisons in the coming weeks, I thought it was appropriate to familiarize my readers with what the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) actually fought for—and won.
Dr. Kawu Ahidjo Abdulkadiri, a Consultant Spine Surgeon at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, sent me a really helpful article on the exact demands of ASUU, which many people seem unaware of. What follows is an edited version of the article. 

ASUU asked for and got a special salary structure for themselves called Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure II (CONUASS). This CONUASS was further made up of 3 components: A) CONUASS I [the previous one from 2007], B) Consolidated Peculiar University Academic Allowances [CONPUAA], and B) Rent.

The CONPUAA was apparently designed to capture all the other allowances that they wanted but not captured in the CONUASS. The reason why they were allowed this was because the committee agreed that “Nigerian academics represent the critical mass of scholars in the society’ and as a result of this they ‘deserved unique conditions that will motivate them ... to attain greater efficiency.” 

In exchange for this new pay, ASUU agreed to be of good behaviour and not do anything that disrupts the academic calendar to get whatever it wants, i.e. no striking. Next thing they did was to look at the countries where Nigerian academics frequently migrated to e.g. Botswana, Ghana and other developed countries. Based on this, they came up with a salary structure that would prevent this kind of brain drain. They called this Table 1 in the agreement. The highest salary anyone could earn based on this table was N7.5m per annum. But ASUU then seemingly looked at the government’s condition and took pity on them because the government didn’t have a lot of money and then gave them some sort of ‘discount’. This gave birth to Table 2 in which the highest possible salary was N6m.

ASUU president Dr. Nair Fagge
 It is the next bit that seems to have caused all the problems and it’s easy to see why. Something called Earned Academic Allowances was also agreed to by both parties. In essence, this was supposed to be a kind of piece-rate payment where ASUU members as academic staff were paid a fixed amount for each unit of work they did. So for supervising postgraduate students, a Professor was to be paid N25,000 per student while a Lecturer 1 and Senior Lecturer were to be paid N15,000 and N20,000 per student respectively.

For Teaching Practice/Industrial Supervision/Field Trips, a Professor was entitled to N100,000 per annum. Further, if a Professor did more than one field trip in a year, he would be paid separately for each one. Even though this money was for field trips, such an academic staff would be entitled to mileage and overnight allowance in line with government regulations. It’s unclear why, after being paid N100,000 for a field trip, the same person will then be entitled to mileage and overnight allowance. And what is ‘field trip’?

There was also honoraria for helping to conduct exams internally or externally ranging from N45,000 for master’s degree to N105,000 for doctorates. For moderating external undergraduate or postgraduate exams, there was a separate honoraria ranging from N60,000 for 50 undergraduate students to N80,000 for more than 10 postgraduate students.

To encourage young academics to ‘further,’ their studies, postgraduate study grants were to be given – N350,000 per session (up to a maximum of 2 sessions) for a science based masters and N500,000 per session (up to a maximum of 4 sessions) for a science-based doctorate. The figures were N250,000 and N350,000 respectively for non-science studies.

Another N200,000 was to be paid to external assessors for the position of Reader and Professor. Call duty and clinical hazard allowances were to be paid to those who qualify per existing government regulations.

It is unclear what a Responsibility Allowance is (at least to me) but a Vice Chancellor and Librarian were entitled to N750,000 per annum for this allowance while “all other officers” were entitled to N150,000.

Excess Workload Allowance was to be paid per hour to teaching staff ranging from N2,000 per hour for a Graduate Assistant to N3,500 per hour for a Professor.

The problem with these allowances is that there is no way for the government to know how much they will cost in advance. They could cost N10bn or they could cost N100bn. Lecturers would simply submit the bills and the government would have to cough up the money. You can also see that ASUU played a clever hand by giving the government a ‘discount’ on the base salaries while loading up with all sorts of allowances elsewhere. For a lecturer earning, say, N3m per annum, it won’t take much for him/her to earn an extra say 50% of that salary through all these allowances. 

 There were other non-salary benefits in the agreement as well. Each academic staff was entitled to a car loan equivalent to his/her annual salary charged at 2% for administrative cost (stop laughing). They were also entitled to a car refurbishment loan for those who wanted to refurbish their old cars, again charged at 2%. At least with a car loan you get to see the new car if you want to, but refurbishment? That’s just money in the bush. 

 For housing loans, each academic was entitled to 8 times his/her annual salary to buy a house. After 6 years’ service, an academic would be entitled to a sabbatical leave. If this sabbatical was abroad, the university would pay the “transport” costs for the academic, his or her spouse, and up to 4 children. If hospitalised, an academic would be entitled to 6 months’ paid sick leave, which could be extended for another 6 months.

Retirement age was increased from 65 to 70 and anyone who retired as a Professor would be entitled to a pension equivalent to his/her final salary. Indeed even if the Professor retired before the retirement age of 70, he would still be entitled to the final salary pension provided he had served as a Professor for 15 years in a university.

 University staff and their spouses as well as up to 4 children under the age of 18 were entitled to health insurance. There are various other benefits in the agreement but these are mainly standard stuff like maternity and 26 days leave.

 What I find interesting is that while the section on pay was quite specific in what university staff were entitled to, as soon as you get to the other sections, everything turns to a “recommendation.” So, for example, it was recommended that the government spend N472bn on the universities in 2009, N498bn in 2010 and N549bn in 2011. Somehow, the Federal Government was also supposed to fund the State Universities (at least recommended to) on a per student basis i.e. N3.7m per student in total from 2009 to 2011.

Another recommendation was for the state and federal governments to spend a minimum of 26% of their budgets on education. Of this amount, at least 50% was to be allocated to universities. Bear in mind that this was a negotiation between ASUU and the FG – the primary and secondary school interests were not represented there, but ASUU was effectively making a recommendation on how much they should get from the budget. In all this, there are 1.2m students in our universities while we need to find a way to get 10.5m children into school.

It was also recommended that the Education Tax Fund be changed to a Higher Education Fund i.e. solely for the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so scandalous. After taking 50% of the budget, the universities were to take 100% of the ETF as well. You couldn’t make it up, but then, when you start negotiations from the premise that there is a critical mass of nation-transforming scholars in our universities, this is not a surprise. I wonder if the “mumu” NUT that threatened to go on strike in solidarity with ASUU know that ASUU doesn’t really give a toss about them.

Universities were also to access the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) for the training and development of their staff i.e. more money for ASUU, and government was to grant universities duty-free importation rights for educational materials. Given that even our churches have been known to terribly abuse such waivers in the past, this is amusing, to say the least.

Where the agreement descends into outright farce is when it reaches the section on autonomy. Having demanded and obtained all the above things from the government, ASUU then proceeded to add insult to injury by asking that university autonomy and academic freedom should be “enhanced and protected.”  Note that this agreement wasn’t exactly reached with smiles and good-natured banter; it came after a strike that eventually forced the government to the negotiating table. So ASUU were not only asking the government to give them as much money as they could demand with a straight face, they were asking to be left alone to spend it and run their affairs as they wish ranging from changing the laws impeding university independence to allowing them admit students as they saw fit. You want the government to look after you and your family by paying everything you want and you want the same government to grant you freedom and autonomy. Eh?

 You can hardly come across the word ‘student’ in the agreement at all. And there is nothing specific about infrastructure in there other than the large sums of money the government was supposed to give the universities. There are many people today making ignorant noises about government ‘honouring the agreement’ and even coming up with things that are not in said agreement as ‘ASUU’s demands’. There really isn’t anything for anyone in here other than ASUU.

You can also see the sinister side of ASUU in the draft amendment bill with the way they were eager to tightly regulate the private universities via the NUC to protect themselves… going as far as recommending up to 5 year jail terms with no option of fine for anyone who so much as uses his property for the operation of an unapproved university.

Be that as it may, I think the government should honour this agreement. It should pay every last penny. That is the only way it might learn a lesson for the future. How you can send a team of ex-academics to negotiate with a team of academics on your behalf is beyond me. But, hey, I don’t know what went down in those days. Once this strike is over, prepare for the next one because as sure as night follows day, it will come.

Ultimately this document shows the impossibility of reaching an ‘agreement’ after one party has forced a negotiation via hostage taking. There is absolutely no way in this life or the next we are going to have anything approaching education reform until we break out of this death spiral of strikes and pay deals. The conversation we need to have has not even begun at all. My suggestion will be that the government should just pay ASUU whatever it is it wants right now and then begin talks on university reform i.e. the lecturers need to be in class when negotiations start. That way, we can know what everyone really wants.

Dr. Abdulkadiri can be reached at