Saturday, 9th December 2023

Specialised universities need help

By Editorial Board
20 September 2023   |   4:10 am
The focus on an assessment of specialized universities is both apposite and timely. The pertinent, simple, and direct question is: have they fulfilled the mandate to train the high-level manpower to meet the urgent needs of national development...

National Universities Commission

The focus on an assessment of specialized universities is both apposite and timely. The pertinent, simple, and direct question is: have they fulfilled the mandate to train the high-level manpower to meet the urgent needs of national development?  All things considered, the answer is ‘no’. But this is not for reasons that are entirely the fault of these institutions. The proprietors –mostly governments- have failed the institutions and rendered them incapable of living up to the respective mandates.

Beyond the well-known purpose of education as both an intrinsic and a necessary good, ‘The Philosophy and Goals of Education in Nigeria, as stated in the National Policy on Education (NPE) (2013) says ‘education is an instrument for national development and social change [for the better]’. ‘It is vital for the promotion of a progressive and united Nigeria [and it] ‘maximizes the creative potentials and skills of the individual for self-fulfillment and general development of the society.’
But beyond the fact that general education for the citizenry is required for national development; society needs high level specialists and experts in different fields first, to generally advance knowledge and apply skills and second, to add value to the productive capability and capacity of the country.  This is the reason for tertiary education to ‘contribute to national development through high level manpower training’, produce ‘skilled manpower relevant to the needs of the labour market’, and to ‘promote and encourage scholarship, entrepreneurship and community service’. At the top of this category of education is university education.  
The NPE expects university education to among other charges, make ‘optimum contribution to national development’ [by] intensifying and diversifying its programmes for the development of high level manpower within the context of the needs of the nation; making professional course contents reflect our national requirements, …[and] making entrepreneurial  skills  acquisition  a requirement for all Nigerian universities’.
Because of the urgent necessity for Nigeria to transit into the technological era and indeed fit into this age of technology, federal and state governments establish specialised universities deliberately located wherever possible at areas where they can maximally benefit from on the one hand, and add value on the other.  For example, the Federal University of Agriculture was established in 1988 in Makurdi, the capital of a Benue State situated in heavily agricultural territory. The Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun (FUPRE) is located conveniently in the oil-producing Niger Delta area ‘to produce middle and higher-level manpower and expertise for the oil and gas sector.’
Besides the Federal Government, the rich and not-so-rich states of Enugu, Kebbi, Oyo, Rivers, and Ondo operate universities of science and technology. Many others run colleges of agriculture ostensibly with the intention to tap into the agricultural resources of their respective locations.
All these are, in principle, good ideas.  But it is not enough to establish with fanfare a specialised tertiary institution; it must be funded and nurtured to achieve its value-adding goal. It bears repeating: anyone who is development-minded and patriotic enough to establish a specialised institution is duty-bound to run it well enough to achieve its purpose. Failure to do this, amounts to wasted effort, even irresponsibility. And too much effort is being wasted by a situation that research institutions and other specialised academies are wasting away for lack of first, adequate funding and second, other forms of support.
Because of the desperation to generate money and stay afloat, specialized institutions dabble into courses far away from their core disciplines. A university of technology begins to run courses in Law and Mass Communication; a university of agriculture admits students for Management Science, Economics architecture, finance, and accounting. That is not acceptable. Even that much was said by Adamu Adamu when he was minister of education. ‘Some institutions change the nomenclature of some of the courses to read for instance, Banking Engineering, Accounting Technology, among other names. This is an aberration and should be stopped with immediate effect’ he ordered.
It is bad enough that the National Universities Commission (NUC) would allow these ‘aberrations’ to occur at all directly under its nose, and indirectly, under Adamu’s watch as minister.  There are reports of cases whereby some institutions even introduce, advertise, and admit students into courses not approved by the NUC. Two or more years into the course, students –and parents – are painfully made aware that they have been wasting their time and money.  This also jeopardises the future of the young students. Surely, supervising authorities at every relevant level stand accused of failing to do their duty.
It is not enough that an indignant Mr. Adamu blew hot air against impropriety; he had a duty to address the root cause of the problem which, it is generally agreed, is poor funding.  The new minister must address this in favour of the institutions, if only for the sake of national development. Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) official Dr. Akeem Oluwo said that specialised universities are underfunded and they therefore have to resort to ways they can to meet their needs. ‘If there is enough funding from the government, the universities [will] be able to focus on teaching and research…’ He is right. Indeed, it is surely a distraction that university administrators will, in addition to the demand of fulfilling their mandate of their institutions, worry about how to raise funds for that purpose. And, as professor of education Adekunle Aloba is reported to note, once an institution fails to stay focused on its mission it in turn distorts the national plan and equilibrium as enunciated in the NPE and other relevant policy documents.

It is not necessarily out of place that specialised institutions also carry courses in other seemingly unrelated disciplines. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT) in the U.S. still runs History courses. But universities must not digress into non-core courses due to desperation, nor do so without   approval of the NUC. They must do so because it meets the overall development needs of the country. After all, this is the overarching purpose of education. University teacher, Onyeka Chukwu, further suggests that specialised universities may introduce courses that have direct relevance to their core courses such as Marketing that is relevant in a college of agriculture because agricultural produce need to be sold. ‘But such an institution has no business with Arts and Social Science [courses]’.
An equally important point to make: whosoever would establish a specialized institution, indeed any institution at all, should be prepared to fund it sufficiently to fulfill its goal. Otherwise, it would amount to an exercise in futility.  In a fast changing and increasingly competitive global village, this country cannot afford such laxity.  The mandate of tertiary institutions generally, and specialised institutions in particular is, broadly speaking, to train personnel equipped with knowledge and skills to meet the manpower needs of Nigeria.
To meet expectations and drive national development, specialized institutions – universities, colleges, and research establishments, need funding and other relevant support. To this end, governments and other proprietors must live up to their responsibilities.