Lagos — After spending about seven years to bag various degrees at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), some graduands who participated in the institution's second convocation ceremony shared their experiences with Daily Trust in Lagos.
Peter A. Kuje, 47, smiled as he was being accompanied by Daily Trust reporter, out of the graduation hall. Like the over 7,000 graduands who also participated in the second convocation ceremony of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in Lagos, it was a gratifying moment. But beyond the glamour of being addressed as a bachelor's degree holder, Kuje said he was happy his four-year programme which eventually lasted seven years, didn't end in vain.
A father of four and an accounting officer with Nasarawa-Eggon local council in Nasarawa State, Kuje said he witnessed so much frustration in his attempt to secure a degree in Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies through open and distance learning education offered by NOUN in its Abuja campus.
"I spent almost seven years because I started in 2006. Really, it was a difficult programme for somebody like me who had to be shuffling between Nasarawa and FCT to attend lectures at Abuja campus. And because there were inadequate facilities in the campus at the beginning, sometimes we did sit on the floor to receive lectures. It was later that some of us mobilized ourselves to put one or two things in place. In fact some of our colleagues who couldn't cope had to abandon the programme," Kuje narrated.
He said alongside many of his colleagues, they had to resort to self-help by finding a way to download copies of the materials from the school e-library and made lots of photocopies, all at their personal expense.
"This happened, even after we have paid for the course materials. In fact, you cannot even sit for the exam except you have paid for the course materials. That is not to say the course materials will not go round, it was often delayed such that we only get hold of them when we are about writing exams. So, to avoid mass failure, we go online and print some of these materials at personal expense even after we have paid the sum of N2,500 to the school for each of them," Kuje said.
Much more than other challenges NOUN graduands claimed to have faced, the inadequacy of course materials appeared to be the biggest of their headache. Ebere Loveline Uzonwanne, the institution's best graduating student who also delivered the valedictory speech on behalf of other graduands highlighted the problem.
"On behalf of undergraduates and graduands, I will like to draw the attention of the management to the issue of course materials. Even though we are aware, that some steps are being taken, yet more still need to be done in this regard," Uzonwanne said.
Precious Nwachukwu, a staff of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs who bagged a degree in Nursing, Alasa Yahaya and Kurotimi Robert, who both studied Cooperative Management at Yenagoa campus in Bayelsa State as well Afolabi Abayomi of Ikeja campus, Lagos, all made the same complaints.
Alasa Yahaya, 31, from Yenagoa campus said after a frustrating academic calendar, he decided to return to his home state and sought admission at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma but later returned to NOUN in Yenagoa after receiving assurances from his colleagues that management had assured them that they will graduate.
NOUN Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council, Prof. Greg Iwu, seemed to have a better grasp of challenges the graduands have had to contend with while pursuing their courses of study at the institution.
"I congratulate you, my dear graduands, on the successful completion of your various programmes in the university. We are not unaware of the myriad of problems that you passed through in the course of your studies, but we salute your courage and determination to overcome these problems. Rather than succumb and abandon your programmes as some of your colleagues, you persevered to the end. Today, you have earned your degrees successfully," Iwu said.
Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, NOUN Vice Chancellor also acknowledged challenges bedeviling the institution.
"Mr President, the past 10 years have been a chequered journey for the National Open University of Nigeria. As with all new institutions, NOUN contended with infrastructural as well as manpower challenges for a greater part of this period. Of no less importance also was our battle with the society's wrong perception of open and distance learning, seen as inferior in comparison with the familiar conventional mode of learning," the VC said in his opening address.
Aside infrastructural challenges and poor societal acceptability, Tenebe told President Goodluck Jonathan who was represented by the Minister of Education, Prof Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa'i, that inadequate funding is also a major constraint of the 10-year-old institution. He listed eight areas where poor financial strength had affected NOUN adversely. These include, advocacy and acceptability, payment of facilitators, course materials development, development of the study centres across the country as well as development of the Centre for Educational Technology and Entrepreneurial Development (CETED) in Kaduna, among others.
Tenebe said one of its landmark achievements was the accreditation of 30 out of the 31 programmes presented to National Universities Commission (NUC) in March 2012 and the recent accreditation of the institution's MBA and MPA programmes, all of which, he said, had raised the institution's profile with the public.
On whether NOUN graduands will be willing to recommend the programme to their relatives and friends, the graduands' responses differed. Kuje, Afolabi and Yahaya answered in the affirmative, saying NOUN has improved tremendously since 2010. But Precious Nwachukwu from Abuja Campus said she will only recommend NOUN to anyone who is already employed. Her argument is that the cost of printing course materials might be too burdensome for those who aren't earning a salary.
For Kurotimi Robert, however, NOUN programmes shouldn't be seen as restricted to the working group. She said despite having a kid to cater for and with no job at hand, she still managed to graduate from the varsity.