Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The rot in Nigerian universities

“I dreamt of a new role in which every man or woman could reach his or her full potential, irrespective of the colour of their skin, only by recognising education as a powerful weapon against poverty and injustice.” —Dr. Martin Luther King
I knew from time there are crises in Nigeria’s education sector; from primary to tertiary. The evidence are there for all to see. What with lack of adequate infrastructure, high rate of school dropout and out-of-school children, mass failures in external secondary school examinations, brain drain of lecturers and now students, perennial industrial actions by various unions in the education sector, et cetera. A release by a non-governmental organisation, Exam Ethics International, says Nigeria loses a whooping N1.5tn to education tourism. Of this sum, N160bn is spent by Nigerian parents on their children and wards’ education in neighbouring Ghana while they spent N80bn on same in the United Kingdom.
On November 1, 2012, the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities set up by the Federal Ministry of Education presented its report to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, at the National Economic Council in Abuja. The committee’s report revealed that public universities are grossly mismanaged; engage in activities at variance with the National Policy on Education and are lacking in human and material resources. They were accused of being incapable of supplying the nation’s manpower needs and are said to be bogged down by corruption of various kinds while offering education of poor quality, among others.
The setting up of the committee was part of the 2009 agreement between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government. It would be recalled that ASUU had in 2009 embarked on a four-month strike which had paralysed the entire public universities sector. On October 21, 2009, ASUU and the Federal Government reached a truce by signing an agreement. The gist of the signed agreement include the approval of about 50 per cent salary increase for the university lecturers, administrative autonomy for the universities, 70 years retirement age for university professors and enhanced funding of the universities.
The recent needs assessment report shows that a majority of the universities are grossly understaffed, rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers, have under-qualified academics and have no effective staff development programme outside the Tertiary Education Trust Fund intervention and the Presidential First Class Scholarship programme. The report also affirmed that there are 37,504 academics (83 per cent of which are male) in the country’s public universities. This shows that only 17 per cent of academic staffers in public universities are female. Could this be as a result of low girl child education, lack of interest of women in academics or total act of discrimination against the female sex in recruitment for academic positions?
The Yakubu report also revealed that only about 43 per cent of Nigerian universities teaching staff have doctorate degrees. Further, instead of 75 per cent of the academics being between senior lecturers and professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket. Only seven universities have up to 60 per cent of their teaching staff with PhD qualification. Also, the ratio of teaching staff to students in many universities is 1:100. For instance, it is 1: 363 at the National Open University of Nigeria; 1:122 at the University of Abuja; and 1:144 at the Lagos State University. In contrast, in Harvard University, it is 1: 4; Massachusetts Institute of Technology- 1:9; and Cambridge-1:3. The report also stated that there is numerically more support than teaching staff in the universities, instead of the other way round. In some universities, it was discovered that the non-teaching staff double, triple or quadruple the teaching staff. With regard to infrastructure, the committee found that physical facilities for teaching and learning in the public universities are inadequate, dilapidated, over-stretched and improvised.
Laboratories and workshops equipment as well as consumables are either absent, inadequate or outdated. Kerosene stoves are being used as Bunsen burners in some. Some engineering workshops operate under zinc sheds and trees, and many science-based faculties are running what is referred to as “Dry Lab,” due to lack of reagents and tools to conduct real experiments. The committee also documented that 163 of the 701 physical uncompleted projects it found had been abandoned.
On students’ enrolment, the report revealed that there are a total of 1,252,913 students in the public universities: 85 per cent undergraduates; five per cent sub-degree; three per cent postgraduate diploma; five per cent Master’s and two per cent Ph.D. As against the National Policy on Education that stipulates 60:40 enrolment in favour of science-based programmes, 66.1 per cent of them are studying arts, social sciences, and management and education courses. Only 16 per cent of students are studying science and science-education courses; 6.3 per cent, engineering; five per cent, Medicine, while 6.6 are studying Agriculture, Pharmacy and Law. It beats my imagination how the ratio 60:40 science bias enrolment could be achieved given the deplorable state of science laboratories and workshops. It is noteworthy that enrolment continues to be a big issue in our universities. A case in point is that of the University of Ibadan whose Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said could only admit 2,978 candidates for the 2012/2013 admission year out of the total applicants of 41,367.
The Prof. Yakubu-led committee with its 189 recommendations could be said to have clinically diagnosed the malaise within our university system. The question to ask is: Where were the regulators when all these malpractices and sharp-practices were being perpetrated? Again, will the report of the committee not gather dust in the Federal Ministry of Education or Presidency like the previous ones? There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigerians are too familiar with the problems of the university sub-sector of the country. What we lack is the political will to address and redress the situation. ASUU, over the years, has called on the authorities to fix some of these problems; unfortunately, successive governments have been acting in bad faith. If the fate of our universities could be this pathetic, what would be the state of other tertiary institutions such as Polytechnics and Colleges of Education? It is now crystal clear why Nigeria has been churning out unemployable graduates.
The N426.53bn budgeted for Education in the 2013 appropriation bill is about nine per cent of the total budget. This is a far-cry from the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent. Ghana budgets 31 per cent of its annual estimates for education, any wonder the country is now the choice destination of Nigerians in search of quality education.
Way back in 1999, Prof. Wole Soyinka had clamoured for our universities to be closed down for a year or two in order to fix the rot. Many have also called for a state of emergency to be declared in the country’s education sector. Given the highlighted decay in Nigeria’s university system, it is not surprising that no Nigerian university ranks among the best 2000 in the world. University of Benin was ranked best in Nigeria at 2,485 in the world by Webometrics. It is high time we saved the Nigerian university system from a total, and imminent collapse.