I feel ashamed to be associated with the university system as currently configured in Nigeria. The whole system is warped in blurred vision with no direction towards an agenda for national development. But for ASUU’s incessant strikes being thorn in the flesh of negligent government, public universities in Nigeria would have been a history, more so government continues to licence private investors to do business in the sector.
ASUU strike has more or less become the new normal. In other words, the presence of strike is not news but the absence of it. What then are the issues? As an insider, not a unionist please, I can identify the following:
First, university education is the apex of the tertiary level which requires conducive learning environment that is adequate in personnel, equipment and facilities but the reverse is the case with Nigeria.
Second, universities are noted for research towards solving societal problems but not with Nigeria.
Third, universities are training grounds leaders in politics, economy and governance but not in Nigeria.
Fourth, universities the world over have universal as well as individual mandates which separate them from others but ours seem to be pursuing uniformity instead of diversity.
The absence of the above make the Nigerian university education to be far from what is called quality. Come to think of it, are students really getting any value for their studentship from enrollment to graduation? What is the quality of skills they acquire through teaching, practicals and assessment? How much attention do they get from their lecturers in terms of teaching, counseling and mentoring? My answer is near zero. Reasons? Teaching and learning are a function of human and material resources.
To start with, Nigerian public universities are shortchanging students by not hiring adequate lecturers that are commensurate with their number in class. No student is a complete dullard. It all depends on how the teacher relates with him/her and to do this, a teacher must know his students by name, abilities and other indiosycracies in order to carry every one of them along. That is why student-teacher ratio is fundamental in teaching and learning. But in the case of Nigeria, this is practically not a consideration in admitting students and recruiting lecturers.
A situation where a lecturer is assigned to about 300 students to teach one, two or more courses is an invitation to neglect for quality and standard but mass production. Efficiency is never possible in this scenario and that’s what operates in public universities.
Sadly enough, the staff strength of public universities is in excess of the number they need. Am I contradicting myself? No. Truth be told that all over the world, teachers are the primary human resource in any educational institution taking up to 70% or 80% of the total number of staff while the rest is filled by supporting staff but the reverse is the case with Nigerian public universities. The overloaded non-teaching staff who are up to 70% or more in Nigerian public universities are not involved in teaching and evaluation, yet they are more in number. What a misplaced priority!
To worsen the situation, the current system does not motivate dedication, commitment and scholarship because it is dysfunctional. Monitoring, evaluation and reward system in Nigerian universities are warped in misplaced priority. Recruitment is not competitive and merit driven anymore but based on “connection” and other primordial sentiments. More worrisome is the career progression whereby promotion is not earned based on commitment to teaching, research, mentoring and knowledge production but solely on publications. In other words, a writer of articles in journals who is hardly commited to teaching is promoted at the expense of the best teacher in his field. One wonders the impact of those articles, which are hardly read or cited, on teaching and learning as it affects the students. Most of these publications are yet to influence any government policy or address our societal challenges but are done for the purpose of earning promotion. What a system!
On non-human resources, the facilities and equipment required to train students are grossly inadequate or non-existent in some fields. But for ASUU demands over the years, our laboratories, studios and workshops would have been at best empty halls. Yet, we want to produce quality graduates with knowledge and skills? No magic can do this.
To worsen the matter, students who are aware of this rot and their parents are never interested in the process that produces them but are more in a hurry to graduate at record times even if they learnt nothing which is why they rain curses and abuses on ASUU for “wasting”their time forgetting that most ASUU members have their children in the same strike-ridden universities The future indeed is bleak.
On the part of government, university education is not a priority as it does not value research for nation building. As a matter of fact, public universities are not in its agenda because those in the helms of affairs at different levels have alternatives- private or foreign universities. They have forgotten that education is both universal and cultural. Foreign institutions cannot and will never run a curriculum meant to solving Nigeria’s challenges but their own country’s. So we are sowing no meaningful seed into the future of Nigeria.
Governments at all levels have equally failed the nation by proliferating universities that they cannot fund. Is not an irony that governments in Nigeria keep establishing new universities every year while they can hardly fund the existing ones? The justification of the proliferation in the name of specialised universities is laughable as the ones under experiment in recent times- technology, agriculture, medical sciences, etc have not done anything differently but even below the feats recorded in such faculties in conventional universities. They have turned universities to constituency projects. Most constituency projects in Nigeria are established and commissioned with fanfare but no sooner they were established than they they become abandoned projects. Their establishments are just for political patronage and nothing more. That is what public universities have become in Nigeria.
To address the following, there is the need to decentralize university administration in Nigeria to allow each institution to have full autonomy to run its affairs and curriculum in response to the needs of its environment. Universities can thus compete favourably with their peers and each will earn its own reputation on merit. Admission of students, staff recruitment and others should no longer be centralized.
Also, an embargo should be placed on the establishment of any public university for now until the existing ones are adequately funded to a reasonable level .
Unless something urgent is done address the drift, our degree certificates will have the worth of a tissue paper.
*Dr Abimbola, Public Affairs
Commentator is of the Department of Mass Communication, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State