OAU Management has closed down the school, following protests over increase in school fees. The management has said that its decision is not negotiable.
Such statements close the door on meaningful dialogue.
Negotiation does not necessarily translate to changing one’s decision. Rather, it is a tool for seeking options, ideas and solutions that could make a situation better.
Here, I’ll discuss a number of things the management could have done, in conjunction with students and the government, and that would have made the difference today.
The first is ‘student loan’. Top world class universities usually have programmes where students can take loans to pay for their education. These loans are usually repaid over a period of time after graduation. What would it cost OAU to adopt this plan?
The school does not even have to give anyone money in actual sense. It could simply allow such students in need to access its services on credit. It’s a “take classes first, then pay later.” I’m sure the students, upon graduation, would be willing to pay whatever marginal interest is place on such services.
The other idea is like the first. How about permiting payment in installments? In the real economic world, the ‘cash and carry’ idea is fast fading out. The world, and indeed, great economies thrive on credit.
These plans allow people of humble means to attempt great things, to get an education and be better fitted for the market place. Such people can earn a living, pay their debts, including their study loans, and help drive a good economy.
In both plans, the university does not have to shrink the price at which are offering their services. And neither are the students under sudden and intense pressure to pay up.
I’m certain that if the management had been open to dialogue, even more ideas and solutions could be proffered. Also think of seeking meaningful partnerships in the private sector to make more scholarship slots available and easier to access.
There is one more thing. It’s the bigger problem that has not received much attention. That is, I don’t think the school management has a ‘conflict prevention/response plan’.
Conflicts of interest are bound to occur, but if well addressed or planned for, they won’t degenerate to a point where the school has to be shut down. Can you imagine shutting down school because of water shortage? It appears that the only measure in the school’s book to address situations like this is to close down the school, and perhaps proscribe the student union.
It does not have to be that way.
Usually, it is not the water shortage, or power outage, or increase in school fees that, in a direct manner, cause a shutdown. But when there is a lack of proper planning to handle the resulting conflict of interests, things get out of hand, and a shutdown occurs.
Over the decades, the leadership of the school have gained enough experience to know what could easily trigger a conflict, and can make of list of these things. Then it can plan ahead. It is as simple as asking, “when such and such problem occurs, what are the first five steps we are going to take?”
“When we introduce a new policy that would fundamentally change the status quo of things, what are the first five steps to take to avoid an unproductive closure or waste of time?’
The public relations arm has to improved. Why should students have to start protests before the school starts offering explanations why something is not functioning?
At such a time, it is too late. As soon as a report comes in- like a water pipe serving the school has been damaged and would lead to water shortage on campus- let the P.R.O and the Students’ Affairs Office get the news out quickly. Immediately inform the school community what has happened and the steps that are being taken to rectify the problem, as well as steps to ease the discomfort that might arise. Also give a reasonable time frame for resolving the problem.
This also mandates the management to improve its maintenance and repair department. Those fellows have to be proactive and responsive in dealing with important infrastructure issues.
That way, who is going to protest until the timeframe has elapsed? And if they don’t protest, time won’t be lost, neither would school have to shutdown because protesting students got out of hand, or took too much time.
Three simple things could have averted this shutdown: proper communication, dialogue, and creative innovations.
I now believe that it is somewhat too easy for the university to be closed down. If that is how easy presidents of countries can declare war, then this world would be an unbelievably ugly place to live in. So there are checks and balances.
Therefore, I propose that salaries of people on the management team should be stopped anytime the school is shutdown in this manner. This way, we are sure that they are not just rushing forward to ‘punish’ students as the opportunity presents itself.