Leadership (Abuja)

2 February 2013

Nigeria: Saving Our Universities

opinion

I left the University of Ilorin about 25 years ago. I still remember vividly those first few days on campus. For a young man who had limited exposure to city life, I was overwhelmed by Unilorin's emerging magnificent buildings and excellent lawns.

But more important, I enjoyed the high standard of academic instruction that was available to students from lecturers that could be considered world class by any standard. We also enjoyed an appreciable social life that was devoid of any major violent eruptions as cultism was not particularly noticeable on campus then.

In our halls of residence, we also found relative peace. All the "Jambites" as we were referred to in those days were three in a room, so it was easy not to be distracted. You also found among us, children of the extremely poor parents who struggled to stay on despite the challenge of survival.

I remember that as freshmen, our tuition was just N120 and this covered tuition, accommodation, examination and other sundry fees. Life was good, I must confess. Let me also add that with just less than one naira, one could eat a full breakfast, lunch or dinner.

But one thing that struck hard was the apparent dissatisfaction of our teachers with the university's state of infrastructure. So in-between lecture periods, you could hear them openly complain about the deteriorating conditions particularly with regard to the issue of funding, research and infrastructure. One of our lecturers was particularly fond of describing us as half-baked. He would say: "you guys did not come on time. In our days, we had first-class lecturers, we ate government subsidised chicken and our laundry was done by washer men".

In our days, Nigerian universities had started groaning under the weight of 55 military governments which did not quite know what to do with these institutions of learning. This was the season when most Nigerian academics, particularly those in health sciences and allied disciplines emigrated in droves to Saudi Arabia and other oil rich Arab countries where value was fully appreciated and paid for.

Recently, I stumbled on my former lecturer's email, of course he now lives in the United States and we exchanged some mails. I reminded him of our half-baked undergraduate status which, with the benefit of hindsight I now know was a way of encouraging us. But I was also quick to remind him that today, no form of baking is taking place because conditions have gone from bad to worse and he agreed.

Since leaving the university, I have been in the private sector so I have come face to face with the rot and the very disturbing human resource from our Universities.

Sometime in November 2008, the National Universities Commission Data Base (NUCDB) project was launched by the National Universities Commission, NUC. The launch actually gladdened my heart and other stakeholders, because I know that data remains one of the biggest challenges confronting our institutions of higher learning today.

Then in September last year, a certain Paul Adingwupu, a private sector person in conjunction with the NUC inaugurated Nigeria's first ever on-line Programme Accreditation Portal in Calabar, the Cross Rivers State capital.

In many ways, the inability of our public institutions to move with time and reality has remained a major stumbling block in our quest for international recognition in some key sectors. But with this On-line Programme Accreditation Portal we have taken a quantum leap in our quest towards addressing these problems. Now, we are sure of a unified system in the management of our universities for enhanced academic structure and visibility.

However, my only fear is implementation and sustenance. This fear actually inspired this article because I have not heard much from NUC and their technical partners since last September.

However, I appreciate the enormous work ranging from research, infrastructure and human resource to content and environment in our universities but we must begin from somewhere and data is an appropriate place.

Bernard, a Public Commentator lives in Lagos.

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