Reviewing the varsity system
To be chaired by one-time NUC Executive Secretary, Professor Peter Okebukola, the panel is made up of former Vice-Chancellors, Chairmen of Governing Councils, and ‘very credible senior academics.’
The NUC seems to be worried about the quality of postgraduate training in the universities and think that the academic curricular should be revised. On the face of it this is a welcome development.
However, there are fears that this is just another attempt at time wasting and duplication of efforts.
What has the National Universities Commission been doing in the last 30 years that on its watch, things have deteriorated so badly? What about the Senates of the different universities? Why was it that these same ex-Vice Chancellors could not invigorate the universities they managed in their time? Is this not just another attempt at empanelling a body whose recommendations would end up in the garbage rooms of government?
Indeed, how can anyone be sure that this panel’s report would be any different form those submitted by so many in the past? These are genuine worries. The regulatory functions of the NUC are not in doubt and its responsibility for standards is appreciated. But it should take itself more seriously.
For example, there was a recommendation about a decade ago that some universities should be designated postgraduate universities to provide manpower for the younger universities. What has become of the recommendation in terms of implementation? Is there a synchronisation of the activities as well as recommendations of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and those of the NUC?
There have been too many panels and bodies set up in the past to make recommendations on education. The Federal Ministry of Education has received countless memoranda on the state of the universities. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), like many other bodies, has made similar recommendations in the past. What has become of all of the previous suggestions and recommendations? What about the annual reports from the accreditation teams which visited the different universities?
The appropriate approach is to allow the different institutions to function on their own as independent knowledge and research centres. In other words, all the watch-dog bodies which have the mandate to make and enforce rules as well as assess compliance in the education system should function efficiently. If they do, such ad-hoc bodies as the one newly created by the NUC would not be necessary.
There is no doubt that the Nigeria’s universities do need overhauling. Their academic programmes need to keep step with current developments across the world. Their products should be able to compete favourably with their counterparts elsewhere in the world. They need more laboratories and equipment.
Classrooms and lecture halls are inadequate. They need more facilities to beef up research. Information Communication Technology facilities are nearly absent in some of them.
Journals and publishing outlets are still problematic. Funding is still a major problem. Students do not pay tuition fees in the Federal universities. The result is that there is a shortfall in terms of actual releases to the universities. Yet these are issues that the different universities should be able to handle.
The greatest indication of a structural problem in the universities is the incessant strikes by the different unions. At the moment, most of the federal and state-owned universities are partially paralysed by a strike called out by the non-academic staff unions of the universities. This has become a recurring decimal in the political and educational equation of the country.
It is, indeed, strange that the nation’s universities are still being chaperoned by the NUC through defining how programmes should be run. Uniformity is not synonymous with quality. The various Senates of the universities should develop and approve relevant programmes, courses and degrees that would drive development. By responding to the challenges of their environment through academic programmes and recruitment of qualified staff, the universities would be put on a faster lane.
The NUC should therefore strengthen its coordinating functions especially by working with the Senate and management of the different universities. The padding and ad-hoc arrangements which take place during accreditation visits should be stopped.
The exercise must be deepened by ensuring that the factual situations as they relate to each university are reported. The different Senates should also rise to the occasion and ensure that the quality of teaching and research comes up to the level of excellence this country needs.
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