A vote for varsities of education (1)
RECENT discourse on the quality of tertiary education had brought to the front burner, the issue of recently established federal universities in Nigeria. Specifically, the universities are Federal University of Education, Kano, Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri, Adeyemi University of Education, Owerri, Federal University of Education Zaria, University of Health Sciences, Oturkpo and University of Maritime Sciences, Okerenkoko, Delta.
The discourse has focused on whether the nation needs more universities at this time especially when some are still appealing for more funding, whether what we need are specialised universities or conventional universities, whether universities will address the challenge of graduate un-employability and the quality of education, especially teacher education, the adherence to standards through NUC accreditation, the legal processes of establishing such universities etc. These issues have made some people to argue that new universities should not be established and those recently established be asked to downgrade from their upgraded status while some others have argued that a nation such as ours in a competitive world where education is key to unlocking the power of science and technology need such universities that help us to develop a robust human resource base as an alternative or addition to oil and gas resources in a developing economy.
An important point that must be made at this juncture is that the new six universities are specialised universities established in tandem with global best practice of establishing universities that aggregate experts and resources in related disciplines. This explains the raison d’être of establishing such universities and Nigeria too had caught the positive bug as it had established in the past universities of science and technology and universities of agriculture. Two states (Ogun and Rivers) have even established universities of education, while Ondo recently established a university of health sciences. Universities of education are found in different parts of the world, e.g. Canada, Europe and the U.S. while the first in Africa is the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana. Therefore, specialised universities, along global best practice, will aid our national development.
One common strategy that reduces cost, during establishment of some specialised universities is the upgrading of some colleges, polytechnics or other institutions. The importance of having degree awarding institutions has led to the upgrading of several polytechnics in the UK, in the last 20 years, into universities or similar practice of upgrading technicals to universities in some other parts of the world including South Africa. The establishment of degree awarding institutions is indeed the fad in developing economies. In Nigeria, challenges in quality of teacher education point in that direction because very soon a degree in education may become the minimum teaching qualification in schools as obtains in many parts of the world and should encourage the establishment of universities of education.
However, a fundamental distinction should be made between the new six federal universities. While two are in the discipline of health and maritime sciences, four are in education. While the former two are still trying to get infrastructure and the needed human resource backbone or staff, the four in education already have established campuses and a robust human resource backbone. This explains why this write-up addresses the issues and realities of the upgraded colleges of education that are now universities of education.
The four colleges of education recently upgraded to universities of education were all established in the early 60s and are 50 or more years old, which implies that they had had a long-term familiarity with the educational enterprise. The long-term existence had also resulted in their consistent funding by foreign agencies such as UNESCO, British Council, USIS in the past and also by the government directly or indirectly through ETF/TETFUND interventions apart from support from philanthropists. Thus, they have in the course of time acquired massive infrastructural layout that supported their academic programmes. Recent examples include the massive construction and renovation of structures which in the last one year alone is estimated over N600 million in Kano, N400 million in Zaria, N800 million in Owerri – all via special interventions, aside from the regular TETFUND grants. This implies that the quantum and quality of infrastructure in the four erstwhile colleges of educations, which far outstrip what is on ground in some of the third generation public universities and many private universities, will be adequate to support the upgraded colleges as universities. Any doubting Thomas should visit the new universities to see what is on ground.
In terms of the human resource base or support, it will surprise many critics to find that the present staff strength (particularly academic) is very strong because many of the erstwhile colleges have academic staff who are holders of PhDs. A ready example is that provided by the Alvan Ikoku College of Education where out of the 789 academic staff, 375 or well over 50 per cent are holders of PhDs; a feat that will make some third generation universities, state and private universities almost green with envy. Thus, the staff on ground in the new universities can support the efficient running of the universities meeting NUC standard benchmark, without any significant addition in the next one or two years. Indeed in terms of carrying capacity, which is an admixture of infrastructure, facilities and staff qualitative strength, the four erstwhile colleges, can fully support the running of the new universities of education.
It is equally important to examine the strength of the academic programmes in education in the new universities. It is, of course, a truism that the four new universities, for over the two decades, have been running degree programmes in education in affiliation with existing universities i.e. Adeyemi College in affiliation with Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile –Ife, FCE Kano and FCE Zaria in affiliation with Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and Alvan Ikoku College in affiliation with University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The long-term affiliation has helped to prepare the erstwhile colleges for university academic status. It remains a fact that many of the top universities in Nigeria today were once colleges, e.g. University College Ibadan was once a college of the University of London; University of Jos was once a college of University of Ibadan while University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, was a former college of the University of Lagos.
To be continued.
• Dr. Haruna is with Federal University of Education, Kano while Dr. Akintunde is a lecturer at Adeyemi University of Education, Ondo.