Toying with university education
TWO news items last week heightened the crisis in the tertiary education sector. First is the unconfirmed report that the Federal Government plans to revert four Universities of Education it upgraded in May 2014 (about a year ago), to their former status as colleges of education.
The second is the denial of full operational licences (accreditation) to eleven (11) private universities. The two reports underscore the magnitude of problems confronting education in general and tertiary education in particular.
The developments also show the lack of blueprint as to what the country wants to achieve through education and the modalities for achieving it.
What is being advertised are the ad-hoc measures being applied and how these have failed. Sadly enough, we are toying with the future of the country, which is built in the millions of youngsters whose aspirations are being truncated by the half-hearted measures.
It would be recalled that in an executive fiat, the Federal Executive Council had in May 2014 approved the upgrading of four Federal colleges of education to universities at a meeting presided over by the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan.
The colleges of education were Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo (to Adeyemi University of Education, Ondo); Federal College of Education, Zaria (to Federal University of Education, Zaria); Federal College of Education, Kano (to Federal University of Education, Kano); and Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri (to Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri).
On the face value, it would seem that government took a progressive step to expand the teaching profession by churning out more graduate level teachers.
That is the seeming worth of the decision, which, however, is not the true worth of the “universities.” It would, therefore, be foolhardy for anyone to take the upgrade at its face value since in reality, little or nothing was done to upgrade the infrastructural facilities, laboratories, academic staff, funding, instructional materials and all that, to match the new “camouflage” woven around the institutions in the name of universities.
The N500 million reportedly approved for each of the new “universities of education” could hardly build a standard research laboratory; what about the other essentials that must be put in place? The upgrade was therefore merely on paper, in nomenclature and nothing more. It was politically motivated and not based on critical need.
The grant could have been given to the colleges to improve their capacity. They are better off remaining as they were than to wear the toga of glorified universities. Nothing changed.
The other side of the argument has to do with need. Was there a needs assessment to ascertain the imperative of converting those colleges of education to universities? On what was the decision based? Is the country lacking institutions that produce teachers at tertiary level? There are over one hundred universities in Nigeria that have education faculties that are looking for students.
The quota in the universities’ education faculties is not being met. If anybody wants to acquire education degree, there is chance to enroll in any of the existing education faculties that are almost evenly spread across the nation? Besides, the four colleges of education could be affiliated to some of the old universities in their jurisdiction rather than being pushed to assume university status they can’t sustain.
I am aware that the Alvan Ikoku College of Education is already affiliated to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and awarding degrees in education. The Adeyemi College of Education is also a College of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Those in Kano and Zaria could as well be affiliated to the older universities in the North to achieve the same result. There is no justifiable reason to destroy these ancient landmarks that were established with a purpose by Nigeria’s founding fathers shortly after independence in 1960.
The four colleges were established between 1961 and 1963 to produce middle level teachers at NCE level and should be left to pursue their original goals and objectives without interference.
That need is still there. If, therefore, the Buhari administration is contemplating to reverse them to their original status, (as being rumoured), so be it. Those protesting this move, to my mind, are ill-informed and chasing the wind.
The other issue concerns the denial of full accreditation to 11 private universities by the National Universities Commission (NUC). The universities reportedly include Wesley University of Science and Technology, Landmark University, Rhema University, Samuel Adegboyega University, Paul University, Oduduwa University, Tansian University, Baze University, Obong University, Achievers University and Wellspring University.
The nine universities that received full operational licences are Veritas University, Caleb University, Geoffrey Okoye University, Fountain University, Adeleke University, Western Delta University, Afe Babalola University, Salem University and Nigerian Turkish Nile University.
The issue is not that a university is denied full operational licence or accreditation but the consequences of the action on the millions of students that enrolled in these universities.
What is the fate of the students? Are they going to continue to study in universities that are not accredited? What is the value of the certificates awarded by these institutions?
Why does the NUC allow institutions to open their gates for admission of students when they are not yet fully accredited? It is noteworthy that the same NUC had clamped down on a number of unaccredited private universities and other tertiary institutions that were classified as illegal.
The action shows that what makes a university are not the buildings alone but a lot of other necessities are equally needed – quality of the teaching staff, governance structure, adequate infrastructural facilities, etc.
What is the rationale for these unaccredited universities to remain operational before getting fully licensed and accredited? What is the guarantee that they will meet the accreditation requirements when the private universities are seeking federal government’s support, an indication that they are in a tight corner.
The NUC is in quandary! Having substandard universities in every nooks and cranny of Nigeria is no solution to our problem. Somehow, university education has been reduced to pure business rather than academic.
Whereas the establishment of the universities has helped alleviate the severe admission crisis, the truth is that most of the universities are ill-equipped.
There is gross dearth of teaching staff. Experts say the total number of lecturers in the country could just be enough to serve about 30 universities.
That explains why the same lecturers are commuting to and fro the various universities to teach. The teaching staff number is falsified by some of these institutions to meet NUC’s accreditation inspection. There should be a blue print upon which our educational needs are based to avoid unending policy somersaults.