Professor Julius Okojie, the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), has blamed stakeholders for the dwindling standards and poor ranking of Nigerian universities globally.
Speaking on Quality Assurance and the Challenges of Mandate Delivery in Nigerian Universities, at the 18th Convocation Lecture of the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Prof. Okojie, who was represented by Prof. Adebisi Balogun, former Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, pointed majorly at poor funding, dearth of modern physical infrastructure, non-robust staff development policy, leadership and governance, the proliferation of universities and sharp practices, security issues on campuses, research, innovation and development, avid unionization, internationalization, challenge of entrepreneurship and vocational training, use of ICT and other social media platforms and promotion criteria, as damning challenges to effective mandate delivery in the nation's education sector.
The humble beginning
Chronicling the history of Nigerian universities and their roles in personal and national socio-economic development, Okojie said; "It is important to note that the university system in Nigeria has grown in leaps and bounds. The number of universities has increased from five in 1962 to 128 in 2013, comprising 40 federal, 38 state and 50 private universities. The newest additions are the Technical University, Ibadan, Oyo State, and the three new federal universities at Kebbi, Yobe and Zamfara."
Where we got it all wrong
"There is no doubt that the increase in the number of universities has thrown up some regulatory challenges. There has been growing concern over the quality of graduates as they are perceived to be lacking in skills sets required for the work of life, and their relevance to overall national and regional developments. The poor ranking of our universities and hence lack of global competitiveness, is another major concern."
Prof Okojie, NUC Executive Secretary
Decrying the global poor ranking of the nation's universities, the NUC boss recalled with nostalgia, "As the organisation, administration and leadership of a university is hinged upon the actualisation of its mandate of teaching, research and community service, the period preceding independence and post-independence gave rise to agitations for the establishment of universities as instruments of regional development, agent of modernisation, social mobilisation and economic growth.
"The University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos were established on this premise. These universities flourished on the tradition of high standards and international core values and they identified with local values and culture. Thus, between 1960 and 1980, cherished global academic core values were entrenched and institutionalized in the Nigerian university system."
Adding that after two decades, the Nigerian university system gradually began to crumble under the weights of social, political and economic challenges, the Professor of Forestry averred; "Some of these challenges affecting the delivery of quality mandates in our university system are self inflicted (internally created), some externally created, while a number of them are inflicted on the system as a response to the universities' external environment. Today, our university system is struggling to regain its lost glory. For example, the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University, which are ranked amongst the global best in the 1970's are now struggling to find places among the best 10 in Africa."
On poor funding and management
Okojie, who was former Vice-Chancellor of University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAAB), while opining that poor funding affects the facilities to be provided for effective teaching, learning and research activities, which in turn predict students' performances, also held that the management of the available funds and resources must also be brought to fore.
His words; "Funding affects the type of teaching staff that can be engaged to undertake teaching and this definitely affects student performance. Funding has effect on the recruitment level, the quality of staff, training and retention of staff. For example, 66% of the federal budget to education in 2012 was allocated to the universities and other academic centres to cover personnel cost overhead and capital costs. The Federal Government has committed 8.4% of the total budget to education.
Although, the level of funding is commendable, it is a far cry from what is needed to redress the dilapidation in the university system and neglect of the past decades. Ghana for example, commits more than 30% of its total budget to education. It is therefore instructive that all stakeholders, including the state governments and the private sector, should and must demonstrate sustained commitment to funding of education," he said.
Speaking on provision of modern physical infrastructure, Okojie argued that the future is bleak for Nigerian education, "if Engineering workshops which are meant to train 21st Century engineers are still provided with equipment and gadgets that were introduced in the 1960s; if hostel rooms meant for four students in the 1970s are, in 2013 being occupied by 12 students each having a 'cooker corner' and using kerosene stove, with the abysmally low level of research facilities in the universities."
57% of teaching staff not PhD holders
Citing the 2007 NUC Programme Audit Report, Okojie revealed that in Nigerian universities, "there are a total of 30,452 members of academic staff, comprising 5, 062 Professors/Readers; 7,037 Senior Lecturers and 18, 353 Lecturers 1 and below. If we hypothetically divide this number among the 128 universities, each university will have on the average a total of 245 academic staff made up of 44 Professors and Readers and 57 Senior Lecturers. But, we all know that this is not the situation. When compared with other parts of Africa, there is chronic shortage of teaching staff. For example, the Cairo University in Giza Egypt, alone has 12,158 academic staff.
"This also brings to question the 'moonlighting' ability of some of our professors junketing from one university to the other during NUC accreditation exercises and another quality issue that over 57% of teaching staff in Nigerian universities are without PhD. Why won't our universities be poorly ranked globally," pondered Okojie.
The way forward
While noting that NUC has since its establishment in 1962 worked tirelessly towards realising the basic role university education was to play in the orderly development and benchmarking of the Nigerian university system in terms of quality and standards, the NUC Secretary, however, suggested that for the Nigerian university system to live up to the effective quality for mandate delivery, thus attaining best global ranking, "it should continually develop a process/system that seeks to improve the provision of service with an emphasis on future results; to develop statistical tools to understand sub-systems and uncover problems and identify a process or set of processes for further improvement and in all to set goals for the measurement of results that will prevent future failures, as may be revised regularly on the basis of results."