6 January 2013

Nigeria: Tertiary Education in Perspective - Any Glimmer of Hope?


As the new year sets in, Nigerians, have commenced the perfunctory ritual of assessing and analysing the performance of the government in the outgone year. While the jury is still out on that count, a cursory glance through the nation's various media may give an insight into what the verdict will eventually be. There is a near consensus that the government could have done better in various aspects of our national life and development.

This unexpected ray of light is in the education sector, tertiary education to be precise. While most skeptics will want to give lie to this assertion and validly so, given the not so convincing performance of the Jonathan administration in the education sector, this optimism arose from another incident that occurred during the early months of the outgone year.

The ASUU had proceeded on indefinite strike after several warnings to Government to honour and implement the terms of agreement it reached with her in 2007. In breaking the deadlock the GEJ administration decided to take a holistic look at the problems of tertiary education in Nigeria starting with the Universities.

The Government may have been spurred on to take this action owing to the issues that emerged during the negotiation but more disturbing is the fact that Nigerian Universities were merely living on borrowed time afforded them by the interventions of the TETFUND, a government interventionist agency set up to help clean the rot in that sector.

Realising the place of Universities in training the management workforce that would propel the nation's development engine, the administration set up a Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigeria's Public Universities(CNANU) and appointed then Executive Secretary of TETFUND Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as its Chairman.

The choice of Prof. Mahmood must have been deliberate given the intimidating achievements of the TETFUND in that sector under his watch. Prior to his assumption of office as Executive Secretary of TETFUND, no Nigerian University was in the list of 100 ranked universities in Africa for several principal reasons including virtually no resources for research, decay and dearth of infrastructure etc.

The TETFUND following the amendment of the old ETF Act, ensured that enhanced funding was available for designated intervention projects in all beneficiary institutions within the mandate of the Fund. This stride culminated in six Nigerian Universities for the first time breaking into the top 100 ranked Universities in Africa.

The high point of the TETFUND achievement during this period was the provision of funds for research, library development, academic staff training and development, publications of journals, book development, infrastructural development including rehabilitation and renovation, entrepreneurship development, etc in public tertiary institutions within the mandate of TETFUND.

The TETFUND also ensured that the beautiful architectural masterpieces which Nigerian students studying abroad were accustomed to were provided in beneficiary tertiary institutions thereby creating the ambience necessary for conducive teaching, learning and research.

It was to the CNANU that the Government looked up to for guidance on how Nigeria's Tertiary education system can be transformed and delivered. The Committee toured virtually every University in the country and unravelled stunning and embarrassing revelations about the true state of Nigeria's universities.

These revelations were meticulously penned in the committee's report presented to the Federal Executive Council and the National Economic Council .It revealed the extreme decay (including infrastructure) in the Nigerian Universities and made very practical and pragmatic recommendations which if fully implemented and with the necessary will on the part of government has the potential to transform the nation's educational system.

The committee's approach to the assignment and the ingenuity it brought to bare in delivering its points of reference was so evident and poignant that a delighted President Goodluck Jonathan further directed that similar Need Assessment be carried out for Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in Nigeria.

In 2013, it is hoped that the Government will muster the necessary will to face the changes that is needed in the education sector.

This report must not be allowed to go the way of previous reports before it. While we commend the government for setting up the CNANU, it must go one step further by releasing a white paper on the report and implementing aspects of the report that are immediately practicable with timelines.

The Committee may also be requested to stay on and supervise the effective implementation of its recommendations as done in other climes. It is clear that this may be the only opportunity we may have as a nation to get it right owing to the fortune of having a President who also happened to be from the sector. 2013 may just provide a glimmer of hope for tertiary education in Nigeria.

Tochukwu Ohazuruike is of Coalition to Save Education in Nigeria.

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