Scrutinising university teachers’ qualification
Nigeria’s tertiary education system is falling apart and everything is being blamed for that – from the government’s inability to fund universities to failure to grant them autonomy. Beyond that, the quality of teachers is seen as a clog in the effective education of the country’s youths, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL
In January 2015, the report of the Needs Assessment on Nigerian universities had shown that less than 50 percent of lecturers had doctoral degrees. The National Universities Commission (NUC) had pointed out that inadequate teaching staffs in the right mix and quality have had negative effect on accreditation performance of universities.
The then Deputy Director of the NUC, Ashafa Ladan, had warned that some private universities’ proprietors would “either have their operating licences suspended or undergo forensic auditing due to their failure to put in place proper structure for governance and administration as contained in their academic brief and the university law.”
Ladan added that the desire to make money had made some university proprietors to violate laid-down requirements in order to begin lucrative and marketable courses before maturity period.
“The guidelines and requirements of NUC and other professional bodies place greater constraint on some proprietors as they would have preferred to employ poor quality teaching staff to maximise their profit. Most of the senior teaching staff in private universities is either employed on sabbatical, visiting or adjunct basis due essentially to difficulty in attracting quality staff at this level.
“The quality of teaching staff (senior lecturers and above) posed greater challenge with regards to mentoring, research and research leadership, effective linkages, journal publication and the general evaluation system of standing of the university,” Ladan stated.
According to him, there is poor understanding of the concept of governance and management structure of the university by some proprietors, which poses a serious challenge; and that there is poor understanding of how university operates.
“Some proprietors are deliberately stubborn, viewing private universities as purely a business affair, which is not the case. Some private universities take off with bank loans and whatever is generated as revenue is shared between repayments of the loans and running the universities in an uncomfortable ratio,” the NUC director claimed.
“This challenge is compounded by the fact that private universities do not determine their carrying capacity. This often creates poor financial position for the proprietors. And unsteady funding has negative impact on quality teaching, leading to production of poor quality graduates and accreditation performance.”
Speaking in a similar vein, former vice chancellor of Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Peter Okebukola said: “Government must place high premium on education by providing adequate financial resources for the sector. Our institutions of learning must also look for innovative ways to raise funds. The teaching profession must be considered as one of the most important jobs and accorded due regard.
“The Minister of Education must appeal to state governors to give special emphasis to addressing the problem of low quality of basic education. Also, there is the need for an enabling environment to be created for teachers and students through improved conditions of service, provision of basic infrastructures for the delivery of quality education.”
Okebukola further noted that Nigerian universities were grossly under-resourced in human and physical resources, calling for adequate funding of public educational institutions in the country.
In 2018, a former vice chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Prof. Ikenna Onyido, blamed the drastic drop in the quality of university education on “lazy professors”, whom he described as “internet professors.”
Onyido, delivering the keynote lecture of the 55th meeting of the Committee of Deans of Postgraduate Schools in Nigerian Universities (CDPGS) which held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka, said quality control and adequate sanction regimes must be put in place to curb what he called counterfeit PhDs which, he said, is a greater threat to the country than that posed by Boko Haram and killer herdsmen.
He said: “The difference between my borrowing Sachs’ phrase to couch my title and what some of our colleagues do these days in their quest to become professors overnight is that while I acknowledge my source, these dubious, crooked colleagues of ours do not.
“In fact, a reasonable proportion of the theses, which pass through some of our postgraduate schools, contain massively plagiarised materials, just as some of our latter-day professors in the Nigerian university system are internet professors. They plagiarised their way up the promotion ladder by downloading materials from the internet and claiming the authorship of articles they know nothing about.”
Corroborating him, the vice chancellor of NAU, Prof. Joseph Ahaneku, noted that research was what stands out the university from other tiers of education, but regretted that there have been negative reports about the quality of research, particularly as it relates to originality, emanating from Nigerian universities.
Ahaneku stated: “Sadly enough, some university teachers are now making devious use of the internet to manufacture research publications; publications which have neither broken new grounds nor expanded the frontiers of knowledge. It is possible that this could be attributed to their poor research competencies arising from the poor supervision they had received during postgraduate studies from teachers or supervisors, themselves lacking in the necessary skills.
“Herein lies the challenge for the schools of postgraduate studies to articulate appropriate curricula for in-depth postgraduate studies; to formulate the necessary rules and regulations and enforce same for the training of postgraduate students; and to shore up the research competencies of the academic staff. It is in the purview of the Deans under the supervision of the Boards of the Schools of Postgraduate Studies of the universities to ensure a realisation of this.”
Onyido added: “The speed with which some candidates’ papers are said to be assessed by external assessors makes one wonder whether the papers were assessed at all, whether the candidates’ papers left the campus at all. In one of our universities, an academic officer whose admissibility into a PhD programme was settled by external arbitration in 2015 was by 2017 a professor already to the consternation of a cross-section of the university community, for the magical way in which that professorship was manufactured.
“Now, tell me, what can that type of professor profess? In fact, in many public universities, nobody fails external assessment for professorship these days, which makes one wonder whether everyone on our campuses has suddenly become a genius, exceptional human beings, which runs contrary to the distribution of gifts by nature, which operates by the Gaussian distribution. One of our universities in the South-East has recently added to the typology of professors by producing professors who are now called ‘China professors’. There is incredible impunity, unrelenting depravity and unconscionable perversity on some of our campuses.”
Continuing, he pointed out, “It is the responsibility of the boards of postgraduate schools to ensure that doctoral graduates produced in Nigeria are of the standard to compete locally and globally. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, in certain instances, the process for the award of higher degrees has been “Nigerianised”, that is, corrupted and abused. The danger posed to the nation by producing counterfeit doctoral graduates would be an existential threat in the long run more than that posed by Boko Haram.”
Onyido admitted that a number of issues have weakened the Nigerian university system, one of which is the wholesale erosion of academic culture and tradition, threatening the process for the making of professors, producing mixed results system-wide, with severe implications for the capacity of the university system to engage in mission-oriented research, which is a sine qua non for sustainable development.
“I have argued that our postgraduate schools should take on the responsibility of managing university-wide research efforts in addition to its responsibility for postgraduate training and the research that goes with it, as is done in many universities in the developed countries.
“For this to happen, I have recommended the metamorphosis of the postgraduate schools to schools of postgraduate studies and research, contemporaneous with universities evolving their research philosophies and plans that focus on short, medium and long term research priorities and goals,” he said.
He also called for mainstreaming sustainable development into the nation’s universities’ teaching, research and outreach activities, and for postgraduate schools and centres for sustainable development, where they exist, to lead the charge.
In 2008, a former Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie, had directed that all university lecturers must possess a doctoral degree by 2009 or lose their jobs. In the end, nobody lost his job except Okojie. Same threat was repeated in November 2009 by a former Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu.
In 2016, a former vice chancellor of Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, Riskuwa Shehu, claimed that private universities in Nigeria lacked qualified academic and non-academic staff to offer quality education. According to him, most senior teaching staffs in private universities were either employed on sabbatical, visiting or on adjunct basis.
The professor of biochemistry, however, said private universities had more stable academic system because of governance structure compared to the public sector institutions.
“The proprietors of such institutions have a way of reducing pressure from the workers of the institutions. Honestly speaking, you find out that the private institutions in this country are mostly driven by the workforce in the public sector,” Shehu said.
Jude Udenta, a professor of government and public administration at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology noted that most private universities depended on retired lecturers, ad hoc lecturing staff or lecturers got from faith-based organisations since they could not pay their lecturers well.
“If you see any sign of young lecturer in there, it might be due to lack of job. The same lecturer definitely will leave anytime he gets an appointment in any public university due to minimal pay at the private universities.
Just few of them are coming into the academic sector with innovations to match the towering gap and academic excellence government-owned universities have attained so far over the years,” Udenta stated.
A pharmacist, Rex Olawoye, said the exorbitant fees charged by private universities had adversely affected their students’ intake. He said most parents preferred their children attending public universities to the private schools because of the low fees paid in the former.
According to him, few parents who send their children to private universities did so because of their uninterrupted academic life.
Olawoye said: “Despite this, however, admission into the private universities is still very low, chiefly because of high fee and fewer academic staff. I don’t think the quality of teaching at the private universities is lower than that of the public ones because lecturers at these private universities are eminently qualified.”
An educationist, Samuel Adejobi, advised the federal government to exercise more control over private universities to promote academic excellence in the institutions, saying: “It is unfortunate that the proprietors of the institutions are mainly driven by monetary gains at the expense of quality and standard. Many of them lack proper structure for governance and administration. Many of their senior lecturers are either visiting or on sabbatical.”
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