Nigerian universities as problem-solvers
When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the other day, charged institutions of higher learning, especially universities, to be the domain of problem-solving as well as the breeding house for nation-builders, he was only stating the obvious truth about universities and national development. Universities are fundamentally centres from which forward-looking nations draw the well-qualified and properly educated workforce and citizens that steer national aspirations towards progress.
Coming at a time when academics and non-academic staff of public universities were acclimatising to the drudgery of work after a five-week long strike over the parlous state of tertiary education in the country, Osinbajo’s admonition was very timely as it was a commission. If the Vice President spoke the mind of the government on this issue, then this government must express commitment by making plans to re-position universities for national development.
Osinbajo, who was represented at the convocation ceremony of graduating students of Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, was quoted to have said: ìThere is need for a paradigm shift in our curriculum to enable the products of our ivory tower adapt to an ever-changing world.î He went on to say: ìWe need to begin to have innovators of start-up businesses straight from the universities.î
This is not the first time that Nigerian universities would be charged with this type of task. Every period of strike actions has always become an auspicious time to remind the universities of their primary role in society. In fact, in the last two decades that incessant strikes and brain drain have turned Nigerian universities into mere producers of graduate job seekers, both faculties and students have lampooned by critics and public commentators for the glaring absence of innovation and sundry business and scientific break-throughs that are associated with world-class universities.
As candid as the Vice President’s remark seemed, it is worth asking whether, given the state of public universities in the country, the problem-solving and nation-building manpower desired would ever be generated. Whilst Nigerian universities, both public and private ones are infested with disenchanted, and somewhat unqualified staff and unwilling students who are clueless about the meaning of university education, the onus lies on the government to impress its allocative powers towards its desired goal. How is it that Nigeria universities every year churn out, not just graduates and post-graduates, but also professors from science and technology faculties, and yet the quantum of human capital is not reflected in the country’s material prosperity? Why is it that, save for private individual successes by the natives, major public infrastructural projects and designs are handled by experts other than Nigerians? Couldn’t a combination or coalition of the many egg-heads that inundate the universities be able to solve Nigeria’s problems? Why is it that when these same Nigerians get outside the nation’s shores they become instruments of phenomenal transformation for their host countries?
Perhaps a nation deserves the kind of leadership it has. What motivation has the government provided to demonstrate that it demands Nigerian universities to be problem-solving institutions? Just like the backward trend of proliferation that has devalued erstwhile promising institutions of social development, the indiscriminate establishment of universities as political desserts, rather than consolidating and restructuring existing ones, is a mockery of the fundamental objectives of tertiary education. A government that plays politics with the university and pays lip service to university education; that treats students as liabilities and teachers like beggars; that equates more universities with progress in tertiary education, is far from having institutions of learning that would breed problem-solvers and nation builders.
If the government desires to have universities nurture thinkers and do cutting-edge research for national development, it must promote excellence and task the universities to also promote excellence, as it is the practice in nations with world-class universities. The leadership should support universities to solve problems by providing an enabling environment. This begins first by being visionary enough to see how far the abundant potential can take Nigeria. It should then understand Nigerians’ fundamental needs as a people; needs of mental and cultural regeneration and needs of physical and environmental transformation.
Furthermore, it should embark on educational restructuring that would provide the history and literature to enable Nigerians understand themselves as a people. It should establish and monitor laboratories and libraries, and fund results-oriented research works related to challenges affecting Nigeria. It should also promote problem-solving research by seeking home-grown solutions to national challenges, rather than wait for position papers and policy frameworks from foreign consultants whose main interest is their own economy.
As this newspaper as always reiterated, a well-guided practice of university autonomy holds the key to reaching that goal. University autonomy, as once remarked, would entrench the inexorable symbiosis between the quality of universities and the intellectual capital of a country. And instead of routine production of graduate job seekers, it would also enable universities compete to be the best in the supply of well-qualified and well-educated workforce and citizenry, out of which the country draws the capital for its well-being.