1.1 Background to the Study
University education is arguably the most important and crucial component in human capital development. It is considered indispensable to the building of a strong and viable economy (World Bank, 2008; Akindele, Oginni and Omoyele, 2012). As Oziengbe and Obhiosa (2014) have argued that functional education is an important ingredient for national development. Furthermore, knowledge accumulation and its applications are seen as a major factor in the economic development of any nation leading to competitive advantage in the global economy. According to Ogu (2008), educating the citizenry of any nation is essential to its social, political, economic and cultural vitality. Okebukola (2008) opined that higher education provides the much needed human resources for actively improving the economy of nations and guaranteeing rapid changes. He asserted that “the greater the opportunity given to the citizenry for higher education, the more expansive the horizon for rapid social and economic development”.
University education can, therefore, be considered a platform on which the future development of a nation rests (Anyim, 2012). Indeed, Obasanjo (2012) opined that a nation can only develop in relation to its achievements in education. These assertions are not misplaced in that extant literature posits that educational systems are responsible for producing the skilled manpower and the knowledge needed for technological advancement and economic growth. Quite apart, university commands a lot of respect and trust. According to Clarke and Edwards (1980) in Arikewuyo (2008) “Universities, since their medieval beginnings, have been founded to preserve the positive heritage of society. They are committed to promote society’s corporate wellbeing and advancement by refining the ability of their members to select reasons and understand by enquiring into and seeking to explain the development and function of man as part of the natural world and by acting as guide and critic in those areas which can be informed by a university’s resources of knowledge and specialized skills”.
This is why much emphasis is placed on quality education in many nations. However, with reference to university education in Nigeria, the few universities set up after independence
undoubtedly possessed world-class stature with outstanding scholars in almost all the disciplines. According to Nuhu Yaqub in Kazeem (2009), the 1980s saw Nigerian universities as examples of excellence in academia and a pillar on which the nation’s developmental hope rested. The working conditions were satisfactory and there were adequate academic staff both in quality and quantity. Funds were available and individuals were glad to take up academic careers in Nigeria, irrespective of what was offered them in alternative sectors such as the oil industry or civil service. In addition, staff and students had access to good accommodation, pipe-borne water, regular supply of power, amongst other basic infrastructures. The environment was conducive for learning, and the university management related well with the staff and students as future leaders of the nation. Besides, jobs were automatic rewards of university education. Students saw the university as a ‘better home’ and were content with their studies as they saw that their future aspirations were within sight. (Oyetakin, Oluwole, and Kayode, 2012).
In spite of the enormous benefits derived from university education in nation building, Nigerian universities had over the years gradually deteriorated from citadels of learning to “centres of violence” (Rotimi, 2005). According to Liberman, Levy and Segal (2009), the latent force of educational system in developing countries like Nigeria is frequently disillusioned by long-standing problems of programme reforms, changes in policy, and onslaught of conflicts. Thus, contrary to the high expectations of the founding fathers whose vision and dream were to see that Nigerian men and women were equipped with university degrees equivalent to what obtained in Western countries, Nigerian universities have been plagued with conflicts (Oni, 2012). The realisation of the dream and vision of the founding fathers is almost becoming an illusion and movement towards global relevance has become a difficult task which can be partly attributed to unmanaged or mis-managed conflicts within the system.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Conflict is considered an inevitable phenomenon in organisations (Whyte, 1967; Jones, George and Hill, 2000; Bells and Song, 2005). According to Tjosvold (2008), “to work in an organisation is to be in conflict and to take advantage of joint work requires conflict management”. It has further been argued by different authors that for an organisation to thrive and develop, there is the need for conflict (Blackard, 2001; Alzawahreh and
Khasawneh, 2011; Leffel, Hallam, and Darling, 2012). Conflict, if not properly managed, can ruin any organisation or institution (McKenzie, 2002; Axelrod and Johnson, 2005). Adeoti (2003) and Axelrod and Johnson (2005) had posited that conflicts can hinder an organisation’s performance and the attainment of its goals. Rainey (2014) similarly posited that conflict can lead to “stress, frustration, dissatisfaction, high turnover, absenteeism and poor performance among employees”. According to Nahavandi, Denhardt, Denhardt, and Aristigueta (2015), conflict can be a destructive force but if properly managed, it can become useful as a source of renewal and creativity, as managers can assemble different pieces of information to yield productive result.
Although most of the research on conflict has been conducted in traditional organisations according to Din, Khan, Rehman and Bibi (2011), this does not imply that conflicts do not occur in the universities. Gmelch and Carroll (1991) had opined that conflict “is sewn into the fabrics” of educational institutions as a result of the nature of the functional and relational characteristics of the various academic departments. Miklas and Kleiner (2003) had further explained that the educational institutions are “a perfect breeding ground for conflict” as a result of the academic freedom present there, whereby the academic staff are more independent in their approaches and viewpoints.
A poorly managed conflict does not only affect the length of time the students spend in the universities with attendant financial burden on parents, it also affects the image of the universities within the global context. Alabi (2002) asserted that it is unrealistic and impossible to completely eradicate conflict within the university system but the corollary is that no meaningful development can take place where a system is torn apart by conflicts (Adeyemi and Ekundayo, 2010). This brings about the need to properly manage conflicts in order to retain its positive aspect and improve job satisfaction. The effect and consequences of unmanaged conflicts in the workplace on employees and the organisation are crucial (Dijkstra, 2006). In order to manage or develop effective key conflict management strategies, it is essential to know the underlying causes (Havenga, 2005). According to Mayer (2000), if the causes of conflict are known, a conflict chart which directs management processes can be developed. This can enable organisations’ managers to develop appropriate strategies towards managing such a conflict. Notwithstanding, the knowledge basis of the sources or causes of organisations’ conflicts are minimal and this can be attributed to the low incidence of empirical research, especially in relation to Nigerian universities. One of the basic questions
that this research seeks to answer is how conflict management strategies can affect academic staff productivity in Nigerian universities. Since staff productivity is considered the major parameter in shaping the success of any organisation, it is important that organisations continuously strive to enhance the productivity of their staff (Leffel et al, 2012).
But looking at the Nigerian university system, there have been cases of conflicts often resulting into strike actions especially between the various staff unions in the public universities and the government; and staff and management in private universities. For more than thirty years now, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria have been in industrial disharmony over the non-implementation of agreements reached by both parties by the Federal Government. The agreements addressed issues of poor conditions of service of academic staff members in government-owned universities; problem of underfunding and infrastructural neglect in the universities; as well as lack of autonomy and academic freedom which ASUU claims, affect the quality of teaching, research and scholarship in the universities. These issues have featured prominently as the primary causes of the conflicts between ASUU and the government. Likewise, the other non-academic trade unions comprising Non-Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have also gone on strike several times based on the non-implementation of agreements signed between the Federal Government and the unions. The said agreements border on funding, salary and allowances and the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) assessment report (Paul, 2013).
Other forms of conflicts also found in the universities are between students and university authorities and between academic staff and the students (Tucker, 1981 in Akpotu, Onoyase and Onoyase, 2008). An example is the case at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) where a lecturer was abducted by members of the Student Union Council on the ground that students used to fail his course (Akpotu et al, 2008). Conflict also arises between a member of staff and management of an institution and if the conflict is not resolved or properly managed, it could result to either dismissal of the member of staff by the institution or resignation by such member of staff. If in the case of dismissal, the member of staff felt that his or her termination was unjustified or the conditions of service under which he or she was employed
had been breached, the outcome might result into litigation which usually lingers on for years.
As earlier posited, some of the strikes within the Nigerian university system often lead to nationwide closures of universities. From 1993-2003, Adesulu (2013) put the total number of months lost as a result of this closure at 30 as explained by Table 1.1.
Table 1.1.1: Strike Actions between 1993 and 2003
Number of months lost in the academic session
1 month, 5 days