8 December 2012

Nigeria: Mr. President's Latest Joke (II)


When a Nigerian who was offered a place to do his PhD in civil engineering refused to accept the offer because his institution where he teaches in Nigeria would reject it due to the fact that he had changed his field, the professor who offered him the studentship laughed and said, "I understand. Thirty years ago, Malaysian universities were like that." Yes. Thirty years ago.

Recently another Nigerian had to change his university and forfeit his scholarship because the university where he lectures in Nigeria insisted he must do his PhD in materials and metallurgical engineering instead of the mechanical engineering in which he got a scholarship.

In Nigerian universities, you're not allowed to move even a little from your bachelor degree if you intend of to work with them. Doing a master's degree in computer science when your bachelor was in mathematics is considered a change of field. Building to civil engineering is a change of field; therefore the holder of this certificate can't work in the civil engineering department.

A friend told me that when he was a young lecturer in a federal university in Nigeria, he once helped one of his professors to evaluate applications. "When we saw any certificate that was a little different from our field of civil engineering, we just tossed it in the bin. The professor didn't want me to give them a second look. He called them 'change of field'."

It was this friend who advised me not to do a PhD in information technology after finishing a master's in psychology. He said, I would not be allowed to teach in Nigerian universities. I wanted to tell my friend that Nigerian universities can keep their jobs, but I knew he meant well so patiently listened to his counsel. However, immediately I had the opportunity of doing a PhD in IT, I did it - Nigerian universities my foot.

Lately, a Nigerian was denied a place in one of our universities to study biotechnology because his bachelor degree was in biology education. Then he applied to study biology, but he was denied. The university told him that his degree was in education, thus he should do his postgraduate degree in the education faculty. Then he did what I always advise victims of our universities' terrorism should do: he completely ignored them and their wickedness and applied for biotechnology in Malaysia, he finished the master's and started a PhD.

Nigerian universities must come to terms with the fact that interdisciplinary research - which may nudge someone to take a degree in another field - is a blessing not a burden.

For example, a professor in electrical electronics may have a big project where he requires a statistician to help with artificial neural networks, a computer science major to help with human computer interaction, a graduate in physics to remind to remind them of first principles and many others from different fields. It's not uncommon that all of these graduate students would be given a master's or a PhD in electrical engineering - including the guy with a bachelor degree in physics. In Nigeria, this is impossible. And it's not as if this attitude has improved the quality of our tertiary education. Why our professors insist on this nonsense is beyond me.

In my university, we have a professor who teaches at the electrical engineering department with a master's in physics. It's only his PhD that he earned in electrical engineering.

In chemical engineering department we have lecturer with a PhD in online optimization of chemical process systems but with a master's in computer aided process design. In the same department, there's someone with a PhD chemical engineering from University of Leeds, MSc (process integration) from UMIST and BEng (Chemical Engineering) from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Another one with a PhD in distillation/process integration from UMIST,

MSc process integration from University of Manchester and BEng chemical engineering from University of New South Wales, Australia. Another has a PhD in material production and engineering from University of Oita, Japan and bachelor in environmental chemistry engineering from University of Oita, Japan.

In Nigeria, these people wouldn't have been allowed to branch out to the subfields without a postgraduate diploma; and if other universities allow them to do it, they will not find work in our universities.

The boundaries in many academic fields are now so blurred and intertwined that you may find knowledge management in a computer science department in one university but the same programme would be at the business school of another university.

Even conferences no longer have department specific topics or themes such as civil engineering; but you'll find many in green technology and papers could be submitted from any field, department or research group that has anything to do with green technology e.g. cloud computing, architecture, etc.

I gave Malaysian examples, but this is what you see in any decent place anywhere in the world. For example, Dr. Louise Abbott who teaches at Texas A &M earned her bachelor degree in biology, a D.V.M. in veterinary medicine and a PhD in zoology.

Mr. President should know that our universities' inflexibility in allowing exchange of ideas, projects and students between departments and related fields is one of the reasons why Nigerian universities can't smell the top 1000 universities in the world, let alone the first 100.

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