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Thursday, April 14, 2016

THE ENDLESS DEBATE ON NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES

There are different types of Universities in Nigeria. There are the public universities which comprise of the federal and state universities while private Universities are either faith-based or owned by a proprietor. Nigeria has a total of 121 universities. These universities have various ways of being funded. However, there are perturbing issues that need to be addressed for Nigerians to experience quality education.

Federal and State Universities in Nigeria are full-fledged communities on their own. These communities have Vice-Chancellors who are like Prime Ministers while the Pro-Chancellors are the Ceremonial Heads. The Vice Chancellors are charged with the responsibility of running the institutions on daily basis. As it is known for ages, man is the most difficult animal to control, we all reason differently. This has led to the breakdown of law and order within the campus at the slightest provocation.

The different unions within the institution agitate for their rights most especially fund related reasons. Many of these unions feel that the Vice-Chancellor is not sensitive to their plights, whereas he is waiting to access funds from either the Federal or State Government. These infringements on their human rights lead to incessant strike actions, peaceful protests, rallies and other industrial actions.

These industrial actions of the unions impact negatively on the students who are the proverbial grass that suffer the most when two Elephants engage in a needless fight. These students spend many years in the University than necessary because of these endless tussles. Students do not know the number of years that it takes to study a 4-year course while veterinary and medical students spend up to a decade in school. Conversely, University of Ilorin has been running her academic calendar for years without undue interruption from the forces of the unions and the students.

Interestingly, about thirty years ago, university students were treated like a King. They had good facilities, good hostels, accommodating lecturers and the freedom of expression which helped them even after graduation and the environment was less competitive. Unfortunately, the current generation of students study under severe conditions such as epileptic power supply; dearth of portable way; uninhabitable hostels; poor lit classrooms; old and irrelevant books in the libraries; sadist lecturers and increase in fees without adequate notice to the students.

All of the aforementioned facts have resulted in protest in the University of Lagos and the University of Port Harcourt in less than a fortnight. These institutions of learning experience uprising by the student unions and these schools have been closed down indefinitely. As sang by the Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Nigerians are accustomed to ‘Suffering and smiling’. Should these students continue to suffer in silence when the state of learning is not conducive?

Students can be very violent but should the uniform agents of government be used to stop them when they are not armed? There is no need to shed the blood of students during uprising in our tertiary institutions like it happened recently at the University of Port Harcourt. Whatever is destroyed, many times, the students pay for it before resumption. In the same vein, the lecturers and the school authorities that they pay courtesy visit to on normal days, stay away from addressing them at this period of anguish and pain. If the Dean of Students Affairs or the Vice Chancellor can address these students; the situation might subside but they stay away till a memo is issued. Many times, this aggravates the uprising.

This ugly trend has led Nigerian graduates to be tagged ‘half-baked’, ‘unemployable’ among others. Everyone keeps yelling about the quality of education but people are not complaining about the state of education. The state of education precedes the quality of education. There is a need to take a holistic view at tertiary education in Nigeria.

On the other hand, students of private universities are usually from very rich backgrounds. Prior to now, it is assumed that pupils of public and private schools attend the same university except those who travel out of the Nigerian borders. In this age, parents might decided to train their children through all level of education belonging to the same ‘group of educational provider’ for example there are some individuals who have primary, secondary and university.  There are ways in which parents are lured to send their children to these private institutions, this include, the promise of scholarship to top performers; discount for siblings; discount to children of the members of the denomination; for faith-based institutions and many more.

There are majorly two means of gaining admission into these universities. Some years ago, after ‘failing’ the almighty JAMB (Joint Admission Matriculation Board), the determinant of your eligibility status for admission into a federal or state university, I got a surface mail from Madonna University that I can apply to the institution. Another way of getting admitted is by applying directed to the school.

As such, Dr. Idris Oyemitan of the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha, Eastern Cape, South Africa wrote a piece titled ‘Proliferation of First Class Degrees’ from students of private universities. According to him there are four angles to think of it-
·         The Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) grades of these glorifies first class graduates cannot match those in public universities
·         Almost, if not all of them, scored below average or minimum scores that would not have qualified them for admission into leading universities
·         Most of the private universities cannot compete with the public ones in the areas of quality lecturers as they most rely on unemployed, retired, visiting, part-time and sometimes grossly incompetent academic staff
·         Most of the private universities cannot boast of standard laboratories.

He concluded the piece by urging the National Universities Commission should look into this issue, intervene and restore sanity into these treacherous acts of our private universities.

These arguments are very strong but I will also want to disagree with him a little, particularly, on the third point, I believe much more in retired academic because they are like old wine. They have mastered their craft over decades as such, they now understand the most effective way of teaching their students. As regards standard laboratories, private institutions invest more and have recent tools that are not in the obsolete laboratories that both federal and state schools pride themselves to have in their possession. In fact, private institutions generate electricity when the government institutions are complaining that they do not have it all. There have been reported cases of students passing the night in the laboratories of some public institutions so that they can carry out experiments if electricity is restored in the wee hours of the day. Many parents’ buy strikes’ and other time wasting factors associated with government tertiary institutions.

This debate is an endless one. However there is a need for universities and their administrators to think deeply. There is a difference between a staunch academia who never worked in the private sector and an academia who worked in the private sector. The Federal and State Universities must learn how to generate internal revenue, which is well accounted for, void of government subvention; let every staff be on strict Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). While the private institutions need to imbibe leading standards obtainable in other parts of the world; it is an insult to be alleged as incompetent.

All tertiary institution either public or private should be concerned with the production of quality graduates that can stand shoulder high with the graduates of other universities in the world. These schools usually pride themselves with one exceptional student who independently becomes successful as their product, what the Nigerian society need are institutions that can showcase all her products. Sadly, there are millions of graduates from both public and private institutions who are either unemployed or underemployed.

References:
Universitiesofnigeria.com
The Punch Newspaper, April 13, 2016. Pg. 21


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