Reviewing Nigeria’s university system – Thisday

The universities need more attention – especially investment in manpower and infrastructure
In apparent admission of its deplorable state, the federal government has constituted a committee of some credible academics to review the country’s troubled university system for better performance and efficiency. Professor Abubakar Rasheed, Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) said last week that there was need, among other things, to reform post-graduate training in the universities. “How do we get to see that serious post-graduate students complete their studies within the normal period of three years?” he asked. “It could be less or more than three years but three years is the normal period across the world.”

Rasheed’s statement is a significant reminder that the federal government also recognises one of the fundamental problems in the country’s public university administration: the issue of the delay in graduating students. Many students, indeed both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, graduate years after the stipulated time for their programmes. For some universities, it could take up to 10 years or more to graduate a doctoral student.

There are several reasons for this, but ironically some are inflicted by the government. The growth trend in the universities is expansive instead of developmental. Over the years, there has been a proliferation of institutions of higher learning without the backing of adequate resources to meet the needs of the students and indeed the university communities.

Postgraduate students study in overcrowded and poorly-ventilated classrooms. Even more troubling, qualified and experienced lecturers are scarce while libraries lack relevant materials and up-to-date journals. Laboratories operate without chemicals. Indeed, as bad as this, some lecturers and senior academics often “moonlight” in some ill- equipped private universities for quick cash. This has created academic and administrative problems for the universities many of which lead to delays in graduation of students.

Perhaps even more noteworthy is insufficient cash flow in public universities to fund research, the heart of postgraduate programmes. In virtually all the universities in Nigeria, little or no attention is paid to research. The little funds often budgeted for research in the public universities is often diverted. Thus the research units of many of our tertiary institutions are starved of funds in addition to lack of equipment resulting in lack of implementation of the few research results. In a world where knowledge is the key driver of growth and development, Nigerian universities work with bare hands.

Thus under-funding of the universities has collateral damage on the output of these tertiary institutions. The weak financial condition is exacerbated by the current crippling economic crisis afflicting the nation. Yet besides increasing personnel costs, funds are also required to rehabilitate dilapidated facilities and purchase new consumables for the ever growing student population. It is therefore little wonder that frequent bursts of strikes have become the routine weapon used by university staffers to force the authorities to listen to their plight. And strikes contribute significantly to the delay in graduation and indeed decline in the quality of graduates of our public universities. The hurried academic calendars, following the end of industrial actions allow for very little attention to serious studies or research.

Therefore, going forward requires the select committee, among which is Prof. Peter Okebukola, himself former Executive Secretary of the NUC, to work hard and find a lasting solution to what has become a perplexing national challenge. In doing this, NUC must set minimum standards for all universities, both public and private.

If Nigeria wants to compete in the prevailing knowledge economy, the policymakers must ensure that the research departments of the universities are adequately and regularly funded. The government, both at federal and state levels, must ensure that more funds are pumped into rebuilding decayed lecture halls, libraries,laboratories, dormitories and in hiring qualified staff. The best universities in the world are those which can attract the best and the brightest.

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