Rising number of unaccredited courses, a metaphor for ailing varsity system
Some Nigerian private and public universities are poorly resourced. The consequences of this are dire and manifest in diverse ways. This explains the rising number of academic programmes that are losing accreditation. Parents and concerned authorities who desire graduates with an acceptable level of competency in their areas of specialisation are very worried about this development. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI, in this report explore some issues that gave rise to over 150 unaccredited academic programmes in Nigerian universities.
Even though some stakeholders knew about the existence of unaccredited academic programmes in Nigerian universities, not many could fathom the number. However, all doubts were recently cleared as the National Universities Commission (NUC) made public, the result of its 2016 accreditation status of academic programmes.
In sum, the report indicates that there are over 150 unaccredited courses in 37 of the country’s 143 universities. And a further analysis of the accreditation status shows that state universities top the chart when it comes to harbouring unaccredited courses, while federal universities follow immediately with 13 of them making the infamous list. Private universities are in the minority as only eight of them are found wanting.
Leading the infamous pack is the University of Abuja. It is home to 15 unaccredited courses, including law. The other schools are University of Benin, University of Jos, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the University of Calabar.
Some of the medical laboratory science, history and international relations, public health, theatre and media arts, science laboratory technology, architecture, biochemistry, microbiology medicine, pharmacy, law, business management, statistics, electronics and public health.
Since this development came to light, some stakeholders, including parents are bothered by the fact that 150 courses out of the 4, 000 offered in Nigerian universities have questions to answer. Academic programmes that enjoy full accreditation generally have a five-year lifespan within which they are due for re-accreditation. After this period, some courses might lose or retain their status depending on how well they have been managed, while other could be visited with interim accreditation. This happens mostly in situations where facilities on ground, both in human and material terms, have evidently depreciated.
Courses that have been downgraded to interim accreditation usually walk a very tight rope as another spell at that level usually lead to outright loss of accreditation.
According to spokesperson of the NUC, Malam Ibrahim Yakassai, academic programmes are not accredited in perpetuity, but accreditation are 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 that is fully accredited now will still enjoy that status beyond the next five years because changes are constantly taking place in different institutions. So, we must always be on hand to ensure that programmes that enjoy full accreditation are again looked at after five years. 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.
According to Yakassai, “For an academic programme to be accredited, it must meet the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (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.”
Yakassai, who said the NUC was also bothered about the volume of programmes that are without accreditation, added said that notwithstanding, the body is always ready and willing to respond to schools that “move quickly to remedy their deficiencies when they call us back for inspection. Unfortunately, some schools, because of the monetary involvement, don’t get back to us promptly, therefore contributing to lengthening the list of programmes with denied accreditation.
The NUC says accreditation of courses is necessary to ensure “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 specialization.”
The commission says it is also important to certify courses to assure Apart from accrediting programmes for the purposes of ensuring quality assurance, the commission’s spokesperson said doing so also lets the world to know that courses taught in Nigerian varsities meet set international standards just as graduates of the institutions are qualified for employment and further studies.”
Alleged demand for bribe by NUC officials for accreditation
Like other government parastatals, NUC is not without its fair share of scathing criticisms from stakeholders. For instance, in February, the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) accused some officials of soliciting monetary gratification from institutions during accreditation. It also accused the commission of allowing government’s interference in carrying out accreditation of courses in universities.
NAS President, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, while delivering a convocation lecture titled, “Building a New Generation University: Problems and Prospects”, at the University of Abuja, claimed that the NUC had derailed from its mandate and therefore became a tool of the government.
Tomori said, “In the recent past, the NUC has become a tool of the government, not a true commission for university education in Nigeria. Our NUC has gone along with the government without a whimper. When there are allegations that some of the people who conduct accreditation exercises in the name of the NUC receive brown envelopes, the NUC will ask: ‘Are those who give or take the envelopes not your colleagues?’ But NUC forgets one thing, that the accreditation bears ‘NUC’s accreditation.’
“It is clear and glaring that many lecturers are hirelings, peddling their certificates to the numerous newly created staff-starved universities, and when universities hire lecturers for accreditation purposes, then you wonder what type of accreditation we are getting in our universities and what NUC is doing about it.”
When his view was sought on the rising prevalence of programmes that are without accreditation, Tomori retorted, “We are a nation that no longer sees corruption in any form as evil. We see corruption as normal; as the polluted air we breathe. We are a nation at the periphery of progress … This is why in a country with 143 “accredited” universities 37 (26%) are running unaccredited courses and programmes …Yet we say all is well with university education in Nigeria. This high number of unaccredited programmes in NUC accredited institutions is a reflection of the state of decadence not only in our university system, but also in the entire nation. But for me, what is more disturbing is that the same NUC has officially declared 57 other academic institutions as illegal, plus another 8 under investigation and aspiring to the status of genuine fake universities. And NUC assures us that this list of fake universities is not exhaustive. Perhaps one day, with our penchant for corrupt practices, we will one day record, for every so called NUC accredited university, we will have one NUC unaccredited university … Given what exists in our academic institutions, it is a wonder that only 150 programmes are unaccredited. So, in summary, fraud, corruption, exploitation, bribery, dishonesty, immorality, greed, inducement, enticement, degeneracy, perversion, abuse, banditry, criminality and delinquency, either singly or in various combinations contribute to, not just the high number of unaccredited academic programmes, but also, the number of illegal institutions.”
While advising parents and students to regularly check the NUC website for the list of, and updates on “unaccredited programmes/courses and academic institutions before applying to study them.On how the lack of accreditation affects the quality of learning outcomes, he said, “Accreditation is the process by which the compliance of tertiary institutions with the set standards is verified. It allows for an impartial and objective evaluation of the courses taught in our different institutions.”
Tomori commended the outfit’s efforts “for at least providing Benchmarks for Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS). However, the processes for developing the BMAS is tedious and takes an unduly long time, such that it is almost out of date by the time it is approved and implemented. The world is changing so fast and our pace of change is like comparing the speed of a plane to that of Marwa’s bicycle!
He said the “ideal accreditation process should be conducted by a third party, not by the people who provided the guideline or those implementing the guideline… A more transparent accreditation system, not involving the NUC and university staff serving as judges and juries, but involving independent third parties should be introduced. Whenever the judge serves as jury you get jungle justice. Introducing a third party independent of both the NUC and the university will certainly result in a credible accreditation outcome and help change the poor public perception of our university system and products…” Chancellor of Gregory University Uturu (GUU), Dr. Gregory Ibe, is of the view that NUC has done well in its efforts to accredit academic programmes in varsities.
According to him, “The accreditation process of NUC is clear and the commission has its hands full. However, people cut corners a lot, and this is why anyone could blame NUC in the first place for anything about standards. You can’t blame a regulatory agency that gives you due service. How should NUC police the universities? Why should a university offer poor quality education to people and not do what is right? Maybe, the government should set up an Education and Other Related Offences Commission for the trial of universities falling on standards. An approach should be made to cleanse the universities and entrench a new attitude in leadership.
“People circumvent everything put in place to serve as a guideline and the NUC adequately acts to ensure compliance. The NUC has noted for example, how some state and federal universities borrow equipment ahead of inspection visits in order to convince NUC to accredit some courses that they don’t have the infrastructure to support. The NUC has actually gone tougher on issues like these. Today, NUC requires every university to engrave its name on every equipment it is showing during inspection. And the commission has said that it will sanction any university that lends equipment. I am not speaking for NUC, but because of what GUU passed through during NUC inspection, I am certain that they are not there to cut corners.”
Meddling in accreditation process by professional bodies
Professional bodies have no shared responsibility with the NUC with regards to accreditation of academic programmes because by law they are for postgraduate professional vocational registration and training. Section 10, CAP E3 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, gives NUC the exclusive control and prerogative on approval and accreditation of all academic programmes in all degree awarding institutions universities and others.
However, many were taken aback when the Vice Chancellor of Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Prof. Sola Fajana, last year urged the NUC to harmonise its underlying obligations with those of professional bodies in order to avoid clash of responsibilities.Fajana, who spoke during an accreditation visit of the agency, said universities could perform better in their duties and ensure they meet all the legal requirements by the NUC, and their respective professional bodies, if the cost of hosting the two bodies could be minimised. Some of these funds, according to him can be better used for sustained development of the universities.
He explained that some professional bodies such as Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), among others also conduct accreditation to determine the admission of graduates of the school into the bodies. He therefore charged the NUC team to find a way to harmonise their duties such that when a programme is accredited by NUC, professional bodies would have no reason not to accept the accreditation.
Shortly after that, the NUC citing consistent double standards and needless drills of universities over programmes accreditation, cautioned professional bodies to concentrate on their statutory requirements, rather than contending with its (NUC’s) constitutional role of evaluating and accrediting academic programmes in universities.
The out gone executive secretary, Prof. Julius Okojie, who spoke after commissioning the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Science, dean’s office and the Agricultural Economics and Extension Resource Centre, at the Kano State University of Science and Technology, Wudil, insisted that only the NUC, and not any professional institution could approve, sanction or withdraw accreditation granted academic programmes in the nation’s universities.
Okojie posited that several petitions and complaints bothering on extraordinary standard and conditions being pegged by some professional associations would soon be examined by the commission dispassionately, in line with the laws and regulations guiding the institutions.In reaffirming the commission’s position, Yakassai insisted that the it has not, and would never abdicate, or surrender its statutory functions to any professional group, but only relates with them to tailor academic programmes to industry needs.
He maintained that the NUC by convention collaborates with all professional bodies and other stakeholders for the improvement of university education in the country.
According to Professor of Medical Microbiology, Tolu Olukayode Odugbemi, “Since accreditation status is an indicator of a programme’s standard and thus affects learning outcomes, there is no doubt that ill-equipped laboratories, inadequate teaching facilities with unqualified teachers/ lecturers will end up with ill-prepared products that will ultimately harm the society.
However, “It should be noted too that many universities in Nigeria due to inadequate funding by owner(s) have been unable to expand their student carrying capacity. Therefore, the institutions have often yielded to pressure to over admit thus bring a distortion in the student/lecturer ratio.
“Newer universities, especially state-owned ones are unable to attract the right calibre of staff due to the unattractive remuneration package. This will invariably affect their accreditation. The NUC needs to ensure that various accreditation teams maintain high ethical standard in carrying out their assignments on accreditation exercise in all universities. It is getting to an unacceptable level that quality of teaching and non-teaching staff in one institution in Nigeria is not comparable to another tertiary institution.”
He stressed that for international best practices to be maintained in Nigerian universities, corporate governance, including appointment of principal officers must follow due process as politicising such appointments always has a way of robbing off negatively on administration and scholarship in affected schools. “Each university should be better monitored and of high international standard. In order to attract high-calibre staff of university standing, advertisements should be placed on local newspapers and online news media to search or attract eminent or suitable university staff,” he added.