The Vice Chancellor of Plateau State University, Bokkos, Prof. Bernard Matur, has affirmed his commitment to enhancing the well-being of both staff and students.
Addressing the ongoing strike by 110 out of 258 academic staff since November last year, Prof. Matur stated on Rhythm 93.7FM Jos, Tuesday, “As management, we’ve addressed most of their demands.”
He acknowledged challenges like staff quarters and road network, emphasizing, “These are long-term projects dependent on resources.”
Prof. Matur highlighted the State Governor’s approval for a 5km road network within the university, signaling progress. Despite the strike, he noted, the university initiated dialogue efforts with the lecturers well before November 9.
“When I assumed office in June 2023, the University staff and students presented their demands, with a significant focus on the outstanding Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) dating back to 2016. I promptly addressed EAA payments up to the last examination in 2020,” explained Prof. Matur.
Lecturers’ Entitlements Cleared
Highlighting the unresolved EAA for the 2020/2021 session, he clarified, “The lecturers haven’t submitted results, a prerequisite for verification and subsequent payment. A committee chaired by the bursar was set up for verification, but during discussions, ASUU staged a walkout, disputing the presented template.”
Matur detailed numerous failed attempts to engage ASUU, expressing regret for their refusal to attend meetings.
“On the day they began the strike after a meeting on November 9th at Plateau State Polytechnic in Jos despite lacking a quorum and no prior warning strike, contrary to ASUU tradition, the university council meeting was ongoing. We tried to call and text them for a meeting, but they refused. Subsequent invitations on November 11th, 13th, 19th, 22nd, and 25th were all declined. Even on December 5th, when another invitation was extended, they still refused. The Plateau House of Assembly speaker, also an alumnus, invited us and ASUU for a meeting at the old government house, and they refused until he invited us again along with the commissioner of higher education. Reluctantly, they attended, maintaining claims on already addressed issues,” Matur explained.
“Before my tenure, the academic staff union had a three-month strike, with the federal government still owing salary arrears. I convinced former Governor Lalong to pay three months, and when the new administration led by Governor Caleb Mutfwang took over, all salary arrears were cleared for both academic and non-academic staff. PLASU is the only university among 220+ in Nigeria without staff salary arrears, except for those currently on strike.
148 out of 258 Lecturers Still Working
“Out of 258 academic staff, 146 deemed the strike illegal and baseless, urging patience for the new administration to settle in. I, as VC, requested time to continue at the pace I began, but they haven’t granted me that opportunity, despite other achievements within six months,” he lamented.
On the lecturers’ security concerns, the VC said “The first thing I did in the first week of June 2023 when I officially took over as VC was to write to the IGP and personally delivered the letter to his office requesting for a functional police station within the vicinity of the university. The IGP immediately signaled the CP to set up a police station and that is active now. We equally contacted the STF and they set up a base in the vicinity of the university. Recently we got the NSCDC to deploy ten personnel to add to the existing securities in the university,” he detailed, noting security was his first priority.
“As a university, we’ve recruited 27 professional hunters and purchased six motorcycles to enable our internal security effectively patrol the university. For effective communication purposes, the university purchased 37 walkie-talkie to the university security and vigilantes in the host community to effectively safeguard the university,” he said.
“Academic expansion is my number two priority. The expansion of the university is long overdue. This is a university that started in 2005 Bauchi State university, Veritas universities, Godfrey Okoye university, IBB university Lapai and Nasarawa State University all started at the same time but have more than 20 faculties and have been running PG programs for over 15 years. Immediately I took over, I went to the NUC with the necessary documentations, and today the university has grown from a four faculty university with 16 programs to 11 faculties and the school of post graduate studies. We have as well introduced programs in the education training sector. PLASU now has 45 academic programs including in law, medical and nursing sciences, Environmental sciences and building engineering among others,” he explained.
Transition to E-learning amid massive infrastructural upgrade
The VC further stated “we have ensured that our e-learning system is up to 90% functional. We have procured and installed 100KVA solar power system in the e library to provide power and electricity to the library. We are installing another one in hostels and lecturer halls to enable students access the system. Through e-learning, you will be able to provide teaching and continuous assessment as well as grade students remotely and with less stress.
“My third priority is to provide a conducive learning environment for staff and students and even customers and partners of the university,” continued Matur.
“When I took over, the last examination we wrote, more than 70% of them wrote exams standing. There were dilapidated lecture halls and seats and tables. I told the students they will not recognize the university by the time they returned and I did it. There is no lecture hall both new and old that has not been equipped with new seats and tables for students comfort. This is the new PLASU we are trying to build. It’s not only lecture halls. Science laboratories are also being rehabilitated. We have purchased a lot of facilities. The only central laboratory we have in PLASU for the entire north central region was not working. But it is fully functional now,” he said.
N125million Research Funding
“The university through TETFund has also provided up to N60m scholarships to 34 lecturers to carry out institutional based research. We are identifying more researchers. I am compiling another list of 35 researchers. The money is there. I got N125m for the IBR. TETFUND had planned to try PLASU with N61m before releasing the rest. This we did to raise the morale of lecturers in discharging their duties,” he disclosed.
Tuition fee increase
Prof. Matur appealed for the support and understanding of staff and students as well as the general public, explaining the recent increase in tuition fees was inherited and inherent.
“When I took over last year, what was handed over to me as council resolutions of January 2023 was approved school fee review. It had been approved and was simply waiting for implementation. The former VC felt the need to leave in peace and allow the next VC to implement it. But that is not the main issue. Looking at the current national economic situation and if we actually want to add value to the university and society, this is a university that has not grown. Revenue generation was zero. There are no businesses owned by the university. N36,000 [previous tuition] cannot take care of a student for one whole year. So council decided that let the tuition fee be increased. The increase was not to N80,000 for returning students and N90,000 for new students. The increase was way over N160,000 but we had to negotiate with council and reduce it to what it is,” he said, advising students to take advantage of a 50% intervention by the state government.
“The state government announced a 50% reduction of school fees and what we did was to communicate it to the students but making it clear that we don’t have a white paper to that effect. But from our last meeting in December, the government deemed it fit to allow the students to access that intervention directly. They therefore have resolved that students will go to the scholarship board to directly access it,” he said, insisting PLASU charges the least tuition in the country.
“As far as I am concerned, PLASU is the least charging university even compared to federal universities. The closest federal universities charge over N145,000 regardless of specialized courses. Even if you want to look at secondary schools, there are secondary schools that charge up to N1m, N500,000 but it will not be proper to compare a university to a secondary school. But comparing with a university, I challenge anyone to provide any university in Nigeria that is charging as low as N80,000 as tuition fee,” he boasted.
Rafan Dafang James
P.A. to the Vice chancellor.