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Getting Nigerian universities back on track

National Universities Commission

A deep intellectual and practical discourse to transform the Nigerian universities from institutions that merely answer to the epithet ‘university’ to universities indeed, recently engaged the attention of policy experts, academics, technocrats, bureaucrats, and the general public at a seminar organized by Ibadan School of Government and Public Policies (ISGPP) at the conference centre of the University of Ibadan (UI).

The seminar with the theme, “Getting our universities back on track: Professionalizing university governance as a critical reform agenda in Nigeria’s higher educational  system” was a breath-taking exercise that did not only identify thirty nine problems that have been inhibiting Nigerian universities from being ranked among the best in the world but suggested 15 practical solutions that will get the universities back on the track.

Although the theme of the seminar was the title of a book recently published by the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the Adekunle Ajasin University, (AAUA) Akungba, Ondo state, Prof Olufemi Mimiko who was also the lead Speaker at the seminar but many scholars and public analysts contributed their knowledge to enrich the topic of discourse.

Some of the scholars included, the Chairman of ISGPP, Prof Oladipo Akinkugbe,  the promoter of Pan-African University Press, Austin, TX, United States, Prof Toyin Falola; Vice Chancellor,  Lead City University Ibadan, Prof Babatunde Ogunmola; Pro-Chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr Wale Babalakin SAN.

Others are Prof. Ademola Oyejide, Prof. Gabriel Ogunmola, Dr. Olaopa, Prof. Jubrin Ibrahim, Prof Bolanle Awe, Prof Toun Ogunseye among others. Prof. Mimiko noted that despite the first university in Nigeria, UI was an offshoot of the University of London, UI was being ranked higher than its parent body as at 1960 on admission policies but wondered why no Nigerian university is ranked among the top 500 in the world.

To him, the problem with the universities goes beyond poor funding but doubted the competence and administrative skills of most managers of the universities that did not put into proper use the little resources at their disposal.

He said, “Even so, paucity of funds alone does not tell the full story of the non-performance of Nigerian universities, a position that informs my second thesis. It is that the governance system as a factor in the overall effectiveness of Nigerian universities is as important, if not more important than funding. From my own modest experience, I am actually persuaded that governance is much more important.

“For, a university that is fund-deficient, but rich in ideas and governance capability, could readily deploy the latter to mobilize needed funds. On the other hand, a university that has all the funds it needs, but is deficient in governance capacity is almost certainly going to shipwreck. It is axiomatic, therefore, that whereas access to funds is a critical condition precedent to effectiveness on the part of Nigerian universities, it is not a sufficient condition. On the scale of importance, governance capacity trumps funds availability. As the Nigerian experience clearly indicates, abundance of funds in the face of paucity of creativity and capacity reproduces failure.

To the Professor of Political Science, despite homologous number of universities in Nigeria, there is a disconnect between the quality of the graduates they churned out and what is needed for the national development.

He said,  “Nigeria has 153 universities – 40 federal, 45 state, and 68 private – (NUC, 2017), yet continues to reel in underdevelopment. Isn’t it just appropriate in the circumstances, to inquire whether our universities bear relevance to the end-state of national governance? The answer may be obvious, but it is one laced with a caveat.

“Evidence abounds that from the eve of relative political independence in 1960 up to the forceful takeover of governance by the military, what came to be known as first generation universities in Nigeria, in different degrees, acquainted themselves creditably relative to their counterparts in other parts of the world.

For too long, provision of a broader base of funding for these institutions has been presented as the final answer, ‘the end of history,’ as it were, to this historic challenge. While not discounting the place of funding in the general outlook of higher education everywhere, the truth is that the tendency at pigeonholing the funding challenge confronting Nigeria’s universities has inexorably, and conveniently too, marginalized other critical dimensions to this all important inquiry.

He observed that the future of a nation could be determined by the quality of its education system generally, but especially by its universities in the immediate term. He said, “Nigeria’s poor national development profile is largely a function of the mediocre status of its universities. This is not in any way to assume away the fact of the systematic undermining of the Nigerian project by the nature of its politics, including the structure of governance, and character of the state, and the need to get it right at that level before the agenda of development could become meaningful. After all, as if to establish this critical nexus, one pundit was quick to aver, with a tone of finality, when he was notified of today’s event, thus,  ‘Unless you get the country back, you cannot get the university back!’ Rather, it is to underscore the fact that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that cannot be made right by the resourcefulness of truly great universities, including a schema for managing its diversity, and reimaging its governance structure. That Nigeria has not been able to mainstream, and deliver on the development agenda, therefore, smacks of failure on the part of its universities. This is why it is so important that we enhance the universities such that they could be development leaders indeed.

It has become evident in the face of massification, dwindling proprietorial funding, and rising cost of education that Nigerian universities have to prioritize fund mobilization. This requires mainstreaming of grantsmanship in the operations of the universities, with the VC serving as the chief advancement officer. The question that arises though is, how does a VC find the time to make the rounds in pursuit of funds when all they now have to preside over on daily basis are platforms of instability that the universities have become? The 10 per cent  of subvention that the NUC expects all public universities to mobilize on their own, every year, is quite modest.

“Here, I share the perspective of many others who have argued that the free tuition commitment of the Federal Government of Nigeria in university education is due for review. A creative way must be found to enhance tuition fees charged in Nigerian public universities . This could be preceded by the institution of a robust student.

Setting tone for the seminar, the Executive Vice Chairman of ISGPP; Dr Tunji Olaopa, reiterated that the seminar series is part of the school’s quest to engage the policy network and take seriously every policy intersection that is crucial to Nigeria’s development initiative.

Babalakin, while lending his voice to the introductory discourse noted that the process of getting our universities back must start from the academics themselves to chart the way forward and engage all necessary means to develop the research function of the ivory tower.

Professor Ademola Oyejide noted that our universities must ensure that skills are matched with certification, while the government must ensure that the National Employment and Youth Policies are urgently re-evaluated. He further spoke on the issue of funding and revaluation of university funding policies.

He made reference to the free education scheme which was well implemented in the former western region, and how tax was used in funding the endeavour. Professor Toyin Falola spoke on the nexus between what he termed ‘University and community triangle’ pointing out that this connection must be factored in by the universities in producing well-equipped graduates.

While addressing the forum, the Vice Chancellor of Lead City University, Professor Babatunde Ogunmola reiterated the issue of funding and ways to make the curriculum not only better, but structurally adhered to. This he said would ensure a true African University, real in critical environment and with excellence, far from the current federated, state and private universities currently in place.

He also underscored the urgent need for collaboration and synergy among Nigerian universities. He asked why universities in Nigeria are not cooperating to build laboratories where equipment will be in abundance instead of having many laboratories with little or no equipment to work. There is need for networking and collaboration among universities in Nigeria.

For Prof Bolanle, the need for quality administrative structures to be put in place was stressed. She particularly pointed to the role of university Senate in reviving Nigerian universities.

She frowned on the deplorable situation currently in place in some ivory towers where people who know next to nothing about university administration are drafted into the university senate; thereby causing confusion in the university administration. She emphasised the need to solve the problem of university proliferation, and quality of lecturers in our university.

She made reference to the urgent need to go back to the drawing board and challenge university administrators about the norms and value system for which the ivory towers used to be known.



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