ASUU and the crisis in education
The 2017 list of Nigerian universities approved and released by the National Universities Commission, NUC, shows that Nigeria has 152 universities distributed as follows: federal universities, 40; state universities, 44; private universities 68. I am willing to bet that since the commission released those details, more universities must have been approved by the executive council of the federation, thus shooting up the numbers.
Anyone looking at these numbers would be proud to be a Nigerian. Our country is not, God be praised, big for nothing. It has put its wealth where its heart is – universities wise. It has more state universities than the universities in all the countries in the West African sub-region combined.
In sheer numbers, our country has eclipsed all African countries in the establishment of universities. It means, obviously, that Nigeria turns out more university graduates every year than do all African countries north and south of the Sahara put together. Makes happy in this crazy season of tear down Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the numbers do not tell the full facts about university education in our country. The facts of our situation are less impressive. And it is a source of cold shame, not of warm pride.
Take case number one. The university teachers, under the aegis of their union, ASUU, are back in the trenches, fighting an old battle over their welfare, poor staffing and a learning and teaching environment that is anything but conducive to teaching, research and learning. They labour under difficult conditions. Of the 152 universities, only a handful, according to the experts, do really qualify to be the citadels of learning. They do not have qualified lecturers in many of the disciplines. It is no secret that when the commission visits the universities to accredit courses, the university authorities hire and handsomely pay qualified men and women from overseas universities to present themselves as staff of the universities. They leave when the commission leaves. Objective achieved.
ASUU has been fighting this battle for as long as anyone could remember. But like the battle against corruption, the more you expend the ammunition in the battle, the greater the resilience of the problem. I have pointed out in this column and elsewhere more times than I can remember, that no one needs telling that education holds the key to our national – as indeed, it does in other countries. We cannot fix education without determining its real place and purpose in our development process. Is the aim of our education to turn our universities into degree mills and produce a good number of certificated young men and women who are so half-baked educationally that they are neither useful to themselves nor to the country? Or is to produce educated young men and women who are capable of driving our development as a nation?
These questions are simple but addressing them is not simple. We have not shown the courage to admit that our education is in serious crisis. Instead, we choose to pretend that all is well. We are jolted out of this ill-advised complacency only when the university teachers, the men and women who are saddled with the burden of teaching and researching in a difficult environment, drop their chalks and stay home, leaving their students to an uncertain fate.
When the blight of brain drain hit the country in the eighties, the first group of Nigerians to drain the country of their brains were the university professors and lecturers. You can find Nigerian professors and senior lecturers in many African countries today when our universities are in crying need of these people. But leaving was not their choice. Their relocation was forced on them by the crisis in our educational system compounded by the absence of the political will to arrest the dangerous drift and keep our brainy university teachers, most of whom were anxious to make their professional contributions to the forward movement of our nation, right here at home.
No matter how much we may pretend about this, the crisis in this vital sector, the pivot of modern development, cannot resolve itself. We must commit to resolving it. It goes beyond getting the lecturers back to the classrooms. The resolution of the current government-ASUU face-off cannot address the crisis in our educational system by merely persuading or even threatening the lecturers to resume work. The ASUU strike, sad though it is, is a cruel reminder once more that this country has more or less lost it. If we are serious about addressing the multi-faceted problems facing our educational system from the primary school to the university, we should declare a national emergency in the educational sector and commit ourselves to finding meaningful and pragmatic solutions to the problems that our educational institutions face.
The first step here is to place a moratorium on the licensing of more universities – federal, state and private – until we know where we are, where we want to be and how we intend to get there in terms of our educational development.
Case number two. I refer you to the front page lead story in the Daily Trust of August 28 this year. In addition to the 152 federal, state and private universities, there are 66 polytechnics, 85 colleges of education and 25 monotechnics, making a handsome total of 260 tertiary institutions in the country. Here is the bad news. Our impressive 260 tertiary institutions do not have enough rooms for our children who apply to them for admission. According to the newspaper, a full 74 per cent of the applicants do not make it. The paper shows that in six years, 2010 to 2015, 10,105,379 applied to the institutions of higher learning in the country but only 2,674,485 or 26 per cent of them were lucky enough to scale the Kilimanjaro.
It is not difficult to see that our country is brimming with frustrated young men and women. The more desperate among them form cult, kidnapping and armed robbery groups and take it out on the society. Sadly, their victims are not in a position to make things better for them.
You are looking at the unacceptable face of a monumental national scandal. So many institutions, so few opportunities for the training of our leaders of tomorrow. The problem is that the big people do not see this as a major national scandal. The majority of students in most of the higher institutions in the West African sub-region are Nigerians. These are the young men and women whose parents can afford to s parcel them off every year to more educationally salubrious institutions of higher learning. If they do not do that, their children and wards would remain here and be subjected to the yearly trauma of taking JAMB and IJMB.
The two cases I have cited here make one good case: we have neglected education at the peril of our nation. We may continue to pretend that all is well. But a nation that lives a lie lives to regret it in the long term. Nigerians, ronu.