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Before NASS creates 80 varsities, polys and COEs – Part 3

By Martins Oloja
09 December 2018   |   3:44 am
Not a few have quoted this message, which has been consistently attributed to a university don in South Africa, Africa’s leading nation...

[FILE PHOTO] ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi

Not a few have quoted this message, which has been consistently attributed to a university don in South Africa, Africa’s leading nation when quality in education is in focus even in global context. The origin of the great message: A lecturer in a South African University wrote an expressive message to his students at the doctorate, masters and bachelors level and placed it at the entrance of the college.

‘Destroying any Nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by the students.

Patients die at the hands of such doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers;
Money is lost in the hands of such economists and accountants;

Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars;
Justice is lost in the hands of such judges…
The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation’.

The simple message from South Africa is this:
Patients will always die in the hand of a doctor who passed his exams through cheating. And buildings will certainly collapse under the care of an engineer who passed his examinations through cheating. In the same vein, money will always be lost when an accountant who passed his examinations through cheating is in charge. And even humanity dies in the hand of a religious scholar who passed his examinations through cheating. Too bad as justice will always suffer when a judge who passed his examinations through cheating serves in the temple of justice.

No doubt too that ignorance will rule the minds of children who are under the care of a teacher who passed examinations through cheating.

There is little doubt that this is one of the reasons we celebrate mediocrity everywhere we go in the most populous black nation on earth, Nigeria. There is therefore a correlation between the destruction of the country and collapse of its education. Just we this column has consistently noted, that too explains why though Nigeria is being cited as the largest economy in Africa but South Africa is still ahead on so many fronts because the foundation of the country’s economy driven largely by products of qualitative education is also nurtured by modern critical infrastructure.

There is a sense in which we can claim in Africa that South Africa is an entrepreneurial nation. We don’t need to consult any oracles about why South Africa is the only country in South Africa that is a member of G-20. Nor do we need to blame the last administration about why Nigeria is though the largest economy in Africa, she is still not a member of the elite club of emerging markets called BRICS – comprising Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa. Let’s not seek vainglory in the dark.

Let’s just look at the nexus between the quality of tertiary education in South Africa and its development pace. Let’s check all the global ratings of the best ten universities in Africa in the last ten years, for instance. What you will see in data always be summarise thus: of the top ten universities in Africa, seven to eight are always in South Africa while the best seven to ten are in Egypt, a North African country that can also boast of excellent infrastructure in many good well planned cities. Specifically, The University of Cape Town, South Africa has always been the King of universities in Africa while the American University in Cairo and the Cairo University have been always been adjudged part of the best ten in Africa. And so the best University in Nigeria is always among 20th to 30th in Africa. Which means, so many African countries including Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Mauritius, Botswana, etc have better universities than Nigeria. This is a tragedy that Nigeria’s governing elite have always ignored. This is a national shame that has never attracted the attention of Nigeria’s representatives at both national and state levels. From 1999 till date, for instance, there has been no commitment to robust investment in quality education. The only newsworthy item is the commitment of our leaders to investment has been that two of our former leaders who failed to invest in quality in tertiary education in their time in office, manifested their own (private) universities as soon as they left office. And there has been no query from the so-called office of the citizen about the two universities in Ota, Ogun State and Yola, Adamawa State.

In other words, from the great message from South Africa about the correlation between quality in education and development of any nation, we should no longer ask ourselves where the rains began to beat us in Nigeria where the worst are generally believed to be ruling the best at the moment.

It is therefore shameful in the extreme that our power elite, especially the federal legislators in the bi-cameral chambers could sit down to draft bills for 80 additional universities, polytechnics and colleges of education as dividends of democracy at this time when Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) members and the federal government are still at loggerheads over poor funding of university education and failure to fulfil agreements with the union. All of these altercations are based on what Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor, inability of the government to raise adequate funds for the tertiary education sector.

As I was saying when I began this university education question on June 11, 2016 when the second part of the article titled, ‘why we need better universities, not more’ reproduced last week was published, I am fully persuaded that the time has come for our leaders at all levels, to renew their minds about some critical factors that will determine the future of Nigeria. I had noted as I still will reiterate, ‘better universities will lead to Nigeria’s exceptionalism’.

Certainly, what we will do with education funding is one of them. I had then noted that first, there is no need for education summit anywhere before an emergency can be declared and funds massively deployed to re-equip all our schools, retrain our teachers and dignify teaching with good conditions of service.

As I was saying, we are in a world of business and governance system where the quality of servants at all levels determines the quality of output and global competiveness. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has in its website where it profiles country and global competiveness in its yearly index on competiveness. The WEF notes that education quality is the only known tool for country and global competiveness. They always advise Switzerland and Singapore, which lead the global index pack regularly to even scale up and reform their education curricula despite the fact that they are leaders. It is said that, that is the only way they can sustain their competitive edge.

That is why Professor Ayo Olukotun who analysed the implications of the 2016 Times Higher Education ranking of universities, had then warned the Abuja policy makers: “The point to note is that while the dizzying expansion of the universities in Nigeria may have its uses for example in the area of widening access vertically and horizontally, there must be complementary investment in quality focusing on those institutions, which possess the best potential to rise to global stature…”

Same for the United States that has almost eight of the top ten universities in the world. The quality of education in the United States explains part of the critical success factors, former House of Representatives Speaker, Newt Gingrich calls “American exceptionalism” in a classic he wrote in 2011. What United Kingdom’s Cambridge and Oxford Universities (OXBRIGDE) for instance, represent has been part of the reasons the United Kingdom is a world power. Today’s world has become a case of show me your universities and I can tell where you are and why you are where you are and how far you can go!

There is, therefore, this urgency in repeating the significance of the correlation between quality of education and development of any country. This is the reason South Korea of about 52 million people has become an emerging world power even in disruptive technologies development. It is the world’s No.5 in research and development (R&D) funding. The United States is No.1. China (European Union) are No.2, Japan is No.3, Germany is 4th while South Korea is No.5, France is No.6, India is 7th, United Kingdom is No.8, Russia takes no.9 slot while the 10th is Brazil as I had noted in 2016.

Specifically, South Korea is unique in Asia as it takes education quality to a new height: the country has a minister in charge of Knowledge Economy apart from the one in charge of Education, Science & Technology. That is why Samsung is a global leader in electronic quality. The state is behind the competitive quality and advantage of Samsung. It is not just a miracle of some sort. That is why Apples (United States) is often sleepless about the brand equity of South Korea’s) Samsung.

It is quality in their higher education, their research funding quality that is driving their competitive spirit. We do not have to talk about China. It is regarded as No.2 in R&D funding in the world now. South Korea used to be there (N0.2). Japan has always been a world economic power, second to the U.S. China just overtook Japan somehow but not diminished.

Let’s learn more from the small-yet-so-big South Korea: This is what the influential Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) testified about South Korea in a foreword to a publication:
“In 2016, Korea will celebrate its twentieth anniversary of OECD membership. In this time, it has achieved impressive convergence in living standards towards the Organisation’s top performers. Fundamental to these efforts have been investment, innovation and human capital.

“Korean students regularly rank among the best performers in the OECD’s PISA tests, while the country is a leader in investment in research and development. At the same time, Korea has not been afflicted by the curse of rising inequality that has struck most other OECD members over the past decade. The level of income inequality remains slightly below the OECD average…
***The struggle for ‘better universities, not more’ continues next week.