In response to the growing number of candidates seeking admission into tertiary institutions in the country, smart business people are making brisk business. I’m told that some 260+ new “universities” are awaiting the nod of the National Universities Commission (NUC). Agents of foreign universities have been invading secondary schools and luring final-year students and their parents with “qualifying tests”.
Added to the existing 150 or more tertiary institutions, the 260+ new universities would bring the number to 400+. Even then, less than 40% of qualified UTME candidates would be absorbed in the institutions, but it would be an improvement on the current 20% of 1.7million yearly admission seekers.
The NUC should stop pretending about doing its job diligently and simply give them approvals. In this digital age, the commission should stop requesting large campuses and large academic and non-academic staff as pre-requirements for establishing a university. If it had been regulating standards, the present crisis in tertiary education wouldn’t have existed. It’s no longer hidden: the standard of tertiary education in the country has plummeted to an abysmal level. A degree certificate from a Nigerian university is no longer worth a penny, so why pretending about standards?
There’s nothing anybody would have done in the past 10 years to avert the current crisis. Nigeria has chosen to live a lie; it should continue living a lie and not stop. That’s why I recommend that the gates of our universities, polytechnics and colleges of education be thrown open to all qualified candidates. It’s of no use worrying about the products of our institutions anymore – they will continue to be sub-standard anyway. So let everyone be allowed to get their certificate! While they’re in “school”, we would be challenged to revitalise the industries that would absorb them on graduation.
The vehicles for solving university admission difficulties are the MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – that are becoming popular in the west. With the aid of ICT, every university (not just the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN) can now organise courses online. The youngsters would learn from home or from their workplaces, and attend place-based “lectures” (seminars) once in a while. Only a course like Medicine could be exempted from MOOCs for now.
The products of MOOCs won’t be any different from today’s graduates. In fact, those who study through MOOCs are likely to be better rounded, as each student would have more freedom to learn on their own and not be harassed by vindictive “lecturers”. And since their degree certificates would be awarded by the same old universities, they would be equally prestigious.
If every Nigerian tertiary institution were to run MOOCs, it would be possible to admit all candidates that pass the UTME and the WASSCE/NECO each year. Thus flooded with candidates, even private universities would lower their fees. JAMB’s load would become lighter.
After everybody has acquired their desired certificate, the next challenge would become obvious: how to create jobs for the graduates. We might then decide to make master’s or PhD degree programmes work-based – the postgraduate students would be learning on the job. In other words, nobody would study for their master’s or PhD without getting a job. The new workplaces, I believe, would be skill-acquisition centres run by giant corporations or primary industries run by budding entrepreneurs. Some would be large farms, food-processing and preserving factories, paint factories, toothpick-making factories and other cottage industries. A writing school that we currently run would blossom, as would small printing and publishing companies.
Nothing could be more hurting than the attitude of successive Nigerian governments towards education. At present, only a fool would fail to see that the country’s education system has collapsed at all levels. Rather than do something to salvage the sector, our leaders have, as usual, been more preoccupied with lip service, awarding contracts and sharing the nation’s wealth.
Our policymakers’ own children and grandchildren don’t attend Nigerian universities because they have no faith in our education system. That’s why they have sent them to schools in well-run countries. But they should know that their children will still return to this country and live in the midst of their mates whose future is being destroyed – unless they decide to remain in exile perpetually.
The existing 150+ universities are not working and yet we are thinking of creating new ones. Who will teach what in the new ones? Because Nigerians are ever docile, their leaders have learned to take them for granted – and do things with impunity. Illiterates who made money by looting public funds or through 419 or through kidnapping are establishing universities where they charge high fees. Yet, the products of these private universities are not better than the products of public ones. In any case, the lecturers and administrators are the same kind of people.
As I stated in earlier articles, more patriotic leaders and business people would have, instead of new universities, considered establishing major industries. One large farm in each state can end the annual importation of N2trillion food into the country and create more jobs than the varsities do. A steel industry in Onitsha (the one taken to Ajaokuta was originally designed to be sited in Onitsha in 1973) can transform Nigeria into an industrialised nation. The money that will be used to build 250 new universities – stolen or worked-for – could provide electricity in all the major cities of the country.
When will the NUC keep to the fifth goal of its mission, “To match university graduate output with national manpower needs”? The NUC now has a full department devoted to entrepreneurship, all in an effort to make the universities comply with what they ought to be doing from the outset. I still can’t see success there. The Nigerian factor is visible everywhere.
We Africans have to be original. Were we original, what we call “departments” now would be called “universities” instead. There would be a university of cassava farming and a university of automobile manufacturing. The people we call “roadside” mechanics today would be senior lecturers in reputable universities of automobile engineering. There would be professors of publishing and professors of palm wine-making. Herbal healers in our communities would rightly be called doctors and pharmacists.
When I was leaving high school in 1982, I had little faith in the country’s education system because I felt it was not practical-oriented. I had to seek university admission not because I wanted to, but because there was no alternative open to me. It’s unfortunate that the dilemma I faced 35 years ago is the same dilemma my children are facing now. It shows that Nigeria has been static or, worse, marching backwards.
The day of reckoning has come. We either swim or sink.