Monday, 4th December 2023

Discordant tunes over accreditation of courses in varsities

By Iyabo Lawal
08 August 2023   |   4:10 am
There are fears by parents and undergraduate students concerning accreditation of academic programmes.

National Universities Commission building

The alleged irregularities by university managers and officials of the National Universities Commission (NUC) during accreditations have drawn the ire of stakeholders, who called on the Federal Government to beam its searchlight on the unending tales of misconducts during the exercise, IYABO LAWAL writes.

There are fears by parents and undergraduate students concerning accreditation of academic programmes.

The apprehension is not unconnected with failure of many universities to obtain accreditation for courses in recent times.

A 2022 report of the National Universities Commission (NUC) on the accreditation status of academic programmes in the institutions indicated that they are currently running about 180 unaccredited courses.

But stakeholders have questioned the integrity of accreditation exercises, alleging that the process has been compromised. They accused the NUC of aiding and abetting corruption in its accreditation exercise, alleging that the accreditation team receives bribes, which undermined the credibility of the exercise.

In 2018, medical students of the University of Abuja finally became graduates after 12 years studying a six-year course. The reason was that the medical programme was not accredited by the NUC and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.

In 2019 some students of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), Ondo State, found out after completing their course that it was not accredited by NUC.

As a result, they couldn’t graduate or mobilise for the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) until two years later.

Similarly, medical students at the Ekiti State University, Ekiti State, during their convocation were christened “Doctors at last” after spending extended years in school due to non-accreditation of the course.

The school’s College of Medicine, which started in 2009 was finally accredited in 2019 and the second set of admitted medical students spent 10 years on the course.

In the same vein, as at September 2022, only 60 universities were granted full, interim and failed accreditation for undergraduate engineering programmes. Three of the affected students from the University of Calabar (UNICAL) sued the institution for breach of trust and others.

NUC is empowered by law to accredit all academic programmes run by universities in Nigeria for quality assurance. The guidelines for accreditation of programmes stipulate the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (B-MAS), which a course must meet to earn full accreditation.

The assessment criteria include the number of academics with PhDs; infrastructure to accommodate undergraduate and postgraduates courses, curriculum, teaching staff quality and quantity, students admission; retention and graduation, standards of degree examination, financial support, and employers’ rating of graduates, among others.

The accreditation team also establishes the number of students that may be admitted per programme. Each programme that complies is entitled to full five-year accreditation, while those that fall short of compliance are awarded partial accreditation of three years only.

This system has been used over the years to maintain and monitor quality and high academic standards. Programmes that did not meet up with the set standards are denied accreditation and this is the aspect most vice chancellors detest, hence their resort to sharp practices. But it takes two to tango.

Some of these universities are notable for borrowing academic staff and equipment during the commission’s scheduled visits. Surprisingly, some officials of the regulatory body, who are meant to expose these fraudulent acts, feign ignorance for obvious reasons.

The narratives surrounding the accreditation of university programmes and the alleged misdeeds of some NUC officials are indications that there is hardly any facet of the country’s affair that is spared by the storming wind of corruption.

According to reports, the scoring used by the NUC in the accreditation of universities was 32 per cent staffing capacity, 23 per cent academic content, 25 per cent physical facilities, 12 per cent library presence, five per cent funding and three per cent employers rating.

Former Vice Chancellor of Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki, Prof. Frank Idike, had once faulted the activities of some universities on accreditation, wondering why those who were supposed to know better kept destroying the system.

Idike had confirmed that some universities take shortcuts to accreditation. “Years back when I came to ESBU, the first accreditation of our academic programmes was very poor as we had about 11 programmes okayed, 25 interim accreditations, and six denied. Though I was not happy with the outcome, I accepted it because what we had is what we deserved, and what we got will guide us in the future.

“But in some universities, when the NUC team visits for accreditation, they rent staff, buses, and other learning facilities to raise their status. It is a very bad practice.

“They borrowed all these to gain full accreditation status in a misleading way. NUC should have a way of detecting this.”

Similarly, a former Deputy Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Prof Usman Mohammed, expressed concern over the alleged corrupt practices.

He said: “When I read of the allegation on the pages of newspapers, I felt concerned and worried. Concerned in the sense that a system in which I had served for over 25 years in federal, state and private universities would have degenerated to that extent. Given the fact that corruption has become endemic in all spheres of the Nigerian life, I still believe that comparatively, there is sanity within the academic system.

“Worried for the fact that there is lack of understanding on the part of those who are expected to play legislative and supervisory roles on various national and specific agencies under their control. One would have expected that they would have been educated and well grounded in the procedure and processes of accreditation.”

A Professor of Adult Education at the University of Ilorin, Prof Akeem Olaniyi, said the manipulation would negatively affect the system, as facilities which the students need to be able to do well in that course, graduate and move into the society to function, are not there.

The situation, a setback for students
An academic and former Dean of postgraduate studies, University of Jos, Prof Kevin Pansak, reminded that accreditation of institutions and its courses were imperative, and cautioned students and parents against enrolling in unaccredited courses.

He lamented that many students rush to courses without checking whether such have been accredited, adding that stressed that these category of students studying unaccredited courses would suffer delays, which may lead to frustration and eventually, depression.

He said: “Accreditation is not a joke. It is a serious matter and it is as important as recognition for the institution itself. Once you are operating with an institution that is recognised officially and in a legitimate avenue to train the mind, teach students and graduate them, then you are doing the right thing. It also means that not only the institution should be accredited, the courses should be as well.”

Pansak added that accreditation confers authenticity of the content of the courses and training given to the students.

“There must be some guarantees and assurances that a course will be accredited, and when indications are clear that they are not likely to be accredited, then you should know what to do. You do not stick your neck out gambling and assuming, there should be pressure from within, among the students themselves,” Pansak added.

Former Vice Chancellor of Caleb University, Imota, Prof Ayodeji Olukoju, said failure of an institution to obtain NUC approval for courses already enrolled for by students over a five-year period could affect the concerned students, their parents and institution that floated and ran such academic programmes.

He added that the affected students could suffer gross disappointment, frustration, failed dreams and low self-esteem.

He urged university administrators to desist from admitting students for courses that are yet to secure NUC`s accreditation.

On allegation of corruption against the agency’s accreditation team, immediate past executive secretary of the commission, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, said in the conduct of accreditation, only professors evaluate, score and make recommendations, while NUC staff served as mere secretaries, with no powers to influence the outcome.

He said: “To conduct accreditation on any programme, a panel consisting of at least three professors in the relevant subject area and one NUC representative was set up.

The three professors are to evaluate the programme based on set parameters, give their scores, make comments and recommend a status for the programme to the commission.”

Rasheed explained that the process of accreditation entails a peer review process where only professors drawn from the universities are used as panelists, while NUC staff monitor with no statutory powers to influence the outcome of the accreditation exercise.

To discourage universities from the practice of ‘renting’ lecturers or equipment for the purpose of accreditation, the commission’s Acting Director, Public Affairs, Ajo Haruna, said there’s a new rule in place, which mandates the institutions to inscribe their names on all equipment owned by them. Besides, he said lecturers for the particular programme must have been collecting salaries for at least six months.

On corruption allegation against the officials, Haruna denied the claim, saying the new measures in place do not encourage such.

He explained that academic programmes are not accredited in perpetuity as they areare reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that they still meet Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS).

According to him, there is no guarantee that an academic programme fully accredited now wouldenjoy same status beyond the next five years because changes are constantly taking place in different institutions.

“For an academic programme to be accredited, it must meet the BMAS put in place by the commission. In other words, such programmes must have the right mix of lecturers/faculty members, the right learning environment and adequate teaching aides, which include appropriate books, equipment and the rest.

“Courses that are enjoying interim accreditation have just two years to remedy the situation, if not they, are denied accreditation. And once any programme is denied or has its accreditation withdrawn, we write to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), intimating it of the development, and for them to bar graduates of such programmes from taking part in the national service,” he added.

Haruna noted that accreditation of courses is necessary to assure “employers and other members of the community that Nigerian graduates of all academic programmes have attained an acceptable level of competency in their areas of specialisation.”