Uniform examination for undergraduates?
A suggestion that there should be a uniform examination for final year university students nationwide to address fallen standards does not deserve any further debate because it is flashy.
No doubt, the need for the enhancement of the capability of universities in Nigeria to produce good quality graduates has been widely acknowledged among the various stakeholders in the Nigeria.
This need to produce quality graduates has become so compelling given the mass of poor quality graduates being continually produced by the various higher institutions in the country in recent times.
This has been so widespread such that many employers hardly trust the Nigerian higher educational system to supply them with quality graduates that are considered employable.
In this regard, many parents, particularly those with means, send their children and wards abroad to acquire higher education.
This problem appears more pronounced for the public tertiary institutions than for the private.
For example, the preponderance of strikes and industrial actions by the labour unions in these public institutions has become alarming.
These unions, namely the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), among others, make learning in the nation’s public universities very burdensome to the students, the parents, to government and ultimately to the tax payers.
These government and labour union-instigated disruptions have negatively impacted on the quality of the graduates these public institutions periodically churn out, such that, more often than not, four-year programmes in these schools, end up being completed in up to six years due to these unwarranted disruptions.
These frequent on-and-off seasons students experience in their education affects their concentration and ability of the system to complete the required minimum syllabus for the production of quality graduates.
Perhaps, against this background, a senior and eminent citizen, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), the founder of the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), the other day called for the introduction of a national uniform examination for final year students in the universities nationwide to assist in enhancing the quality of university graduates in the country.
Chief Babalola said he was inspired to recommend the uniform examination model because of the quality assurance standard he set for ABUAD at inception.
He further said that with every university working hard to ensure that their students pass the examination, high standards in teaching and research would be enhanced across the various institutions.
While this proposition appears laudable on its face value, there are a number of issues, which the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) might not have considered in coming to his assessment of the point at issue.
First is whether the further centralisation of education and the creation of more bureaucracy are necessary in the enhancement of good education in Nigeria.
The adoption of the proposal appears to be an assertion that, “one size fits all” in the delivery of education to the populace.
The argument may appear plausible at the lower level of education where institutions such as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examinations Council (NECO) among others exist to establish basic benchmarks of quality at that level.
However, at the tertiary level, institutions such as the National Universities Commission (NUC) exists to establish basic minimum academic standards, which every university is expected to comply with.
That is the essence of the periodic accreditation the NUC undertakes for existing programmes as well as its resource verification for new programmes, from time to time.
Second, global best practice does not support such an omnibus final year examination for all universities. Universities have their uniqueness and peculiarities, which distinguish them from others.
Though some basic minimum academic standards are unique to universities, they separately have areas of specialisation, with a slant in emphasis that may not be obtainable elsewhere.
Where then would a common examination add value? Aside from subject or course peculiarities, regional emphasis also differentiates universities from others.
There are universities that specifically focus on cutting-edge research in frontier areas of innovation that could be unique, even within the entire country.
In economic parlance too, provision of university education is like that of monopolistic competitive market with the different institutions producing similar but differentiated products.
In the United States of America, for example, high profile or Ivy-League universities or institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton exist side by side with local Community Colleges and they all produce university graduates.
All these graduates are considered employable but by different employers at difference prices.
In the main, the market clearly differentiates the product of Yale from that of a Community College.
That is the beauty of an open and liberalised educational system. The best universities in the world, with high quality graduates exist in such environments.
This newspaper believes that regimentation of processes and structures in the educational sector as suggested, in this regard, should not be encouraged, as it has not worked elsewhere.
Products of university education in highly regimented societies, from experience, leave much to be desired in terms of quality and hence the country should desist from going in that direction.
What government should focus on are: First the strengthening of the work of the NUC to ensure that national minimum standards in curriculum, staff quality, student-staff ratio and availability of needed facilities and equipment are maintained and enforced.
This will ensure that accredited courses in the various universities are suitable for the production of quality graduates.
Second, government should frontally address the issues relating to the recurrent strikes and industrial action by the various unions in the public tertiary institutions.
In this regard, government should desist from entering into agreements, which it does not seriously intend to keep, in its negotiation with the unions.
There is no doubt that with appropriate funding in the context of functional autonomy as we have repeatedly suggested in managing tertiary education, the quality of university graduates will be enhanced.
Once the foundation of the challenges in tertiary education is faithfully addressed, there will be no need for the mounting of common examinations for final year students in Nigerian universities. It is not even an idea that should be debated, in any case. Spike it.