Tuesday, 30 September 2014

At 54, Nigeria boasts low-ranking varsities


The fact that no Nigerian university ranks among
the top 10 in Africa should be a source of
concern to all.
As Nigeria celebrates its 54th anniversary as a
sovereign nation on Wednesday (tomorrow), it is
not only time again to click the glasses in
celebration, it is also an occasion to appraise
development in every sphere of the nation’s life.
For the education sector, the evaluation will
attract mixed commentaries. For instance, while
government officials and their allies will give
kudos to the authorities for a well-deserved
journey so far, especially with significant
increase in school enrolment, increased number
of universities, polytechnics, colleges of
education, and greater private sector
participation, those on the other side of the
divide will point to the lapses in the sector.
The latter will easily point to the policy flip-flops,
underfunding, frequent industrial actions, and the
recent attacks on schools, among others, as the
hallmark of the sector. According to a professor
of Political Science and International Affairs
scholar, Kayode Soremekun, there is not much to
celebrate in the area of education as the country
commemorates another independence
anniversary.
He says, “I do not think that we have done well,
especially in the public realm. As far as I am
concerned, the public dimension of nation’s
education system has collapsed. For instance,
the frequent mass failures recorded in the West
African Senior School Certificate Examination tell
a lot about the decay at the secondary level. The
country’s primary and secondary schools are no
longer what they used to be.
“If you look at the university level, there is still a
similar decline in standard. More alarmingly, the
recent warning by the National Universities
Commission Executive Secretary, Prof Julius
Okojie, urging vice-chancellors to avoid creating
positions for roadside professors is another
pointer to the decline in the sector. Therefore,
you can see that between the primary schools
and the universities in the country, there is a
crisis.”
Beyond Soremekun’s statement, analysts also
point to the 2014 University Web rankings for
African universities, saying it is not cheering
news for a country that has attained the golden
age. Indeed, going by the rankings, no Nigerian
tertiary institution is among the top 10
universities on the continent.
Where South Africa and Egypt shine, dominating
the best rankings portfolio and occupying the
choicest of positions, Nigeria, the most
populated black nation in the world has its best
in the University of Ilorin, which occupies the
20th position in Africa. In fact, going by this
year’s rankings, only 10 Nigerian universities are
among the first 100 tertiary institutions on the
continent.
South Africa, where apartheid regime ended in
1990, not only occupies the first position with
the University of Cape Town, it also has seven
other universities in the first 10-bracket table.
Egypt has two – the Cairo University, Giza and
the American University, Cairo – in the first 10
best ivory towers on the continent.
Some of the criteria for receiving favourable
rankings are student population, university’s
ability to attract foreign students, number of
Nobel laureates, lecturers’ publications and
international journals, web presence of the
institutions as well as their capability to attract
grants. Compared to several other universities
abroad, many believe that Nigerian institutions
clearly lag behind as far as these factors are
concerned.
But some stakeholders are also quick to note
that many lecturers and non-academic workers
in the tertiary institutions also conduct
themselves in ways that deal professionalism a
big blow. In many of the institutions, there are,
for instance, lecturers who rely on obsolete notes
while others are so lazy and exploitative that
they place premium on handouts.

Besides, analysts allege that some engage in
examination malpractice, while others are adept
at sexual harassment of students. Of course,
some play all kinds of politics while pursuing
higher degrees like the PhD. And even
professorship. Analysts are thus worried that
even if all infrastructure were in place, it would
still be difficult if such elements were not weeded
out.
So, as the popping of champagne goes on in
commemoration of Independence Day, analysts
want to know why a country considered to have
the biggest economy on the continent is not
doing well in the education sector, 54 years after.
They want to know why Nigeria’s no fewer than
129 universities, comprising 40 federal, 38 state
and 51 private institutions, are not receiving the
best of assessment in Africa. They also bother
why many Nigerians prefer the United States,
United Kingdom and many neigbouring West
African countries as safe havens to pursue their
education.
For the Ibadan zonal Coordinator of the
Academic Staff Union of Universities, Dr. Nasir
Adesola, the reasons for the poor rankings are
obvious, considering the frequent strikes,
inadequate funding and policy inconsistency,
among others, rocking the sector.
He notes, “Sincerely, we are not faring well at all.
We have not achieved the desired level of
development in all the sectors. For the fact that
things are still as bad, the immediate implication
is that our education has not translated into the
development of the country and this is a thing of
concern. Within this same period, I mean 54
years of independence; many Asian nations have
had beautiful turnaround in their countries. It
means that we really need to sit down and look
at our system again.
“What the Federal Government should do is to
appraise the system and set a target for Nigerian
universities to endeavour to attain a certain
position in the rankings. It should focus on how
to move the nation’s schools up the ladder, and
not paying lip service to education.”
Indeed, last year alone, the strike called by the
Academic Staff Union of the universities resulted
in the shutting of the gates of the nation’s public
universities for 169 days. The teachers were
kicking against the non-implementation of an
agreement the Federal Government signed with
them in 2009, as well as the non-payment of
their earned allowances.
The polytechnic system, where the President,
Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Mr.
Chibuzo Asomugha belongs, the sub sector has
not fared better, either. Though ASUP suspended
its over eight months strike on compassionate
ground last July, almost three months after, the
Federal Government has yet to resolve the
lingering issues. The same scenario plays out at
the nation’s colleges of education. Teachers in
the colleges have a myriad of unresolved issues
to sort out with the authorities in the last 10
months.
It is not surprising, therefore, why the ASUP
President also agrees with Soremekun and
Adesola that it is not Uhuru yet for the sector.
Asomugha declares, “If I were to assess the
nation as an examination paper, I would not give
it a pass mark. Given the potential of the
country, where we are after 54 years, in truth, we
cannot be adjudged as progressing.”
Besides education, he believes that more needs
to be done in all spheres of the nation’s life. He
adds, “A cataclysmic serial leadership failure has
kept the nation crawling for 54 years. All
segments of society have performed within the
failure range: education, defence, health, security,
unity, infrastructure, youth employment, among
others. It is easy to share the sentiments of
certain discernible figures in society that Nigeria
is more or less a failed state. Yet the potential
that can turn the nation’s fortunes around
abound.”

Apart from strikes, the nation’s university
system, nay the entire education sector, has the
problem of inadequate funding hanging on its
neck like an albatross. In fact, analysts argue
that since independence, the best the sector has
witnessed in terms of funding is 13 per cent,
which, they add, is a far distance from the United
Nations Children Education Fund’s 26 per cent
recommendation.
According to them, the troubled funding is at the
heart of the problems besetting the sector. For
them, the inadequate funding is at the source of
the frequent industrial actions, dearth of
infrastructure, abandoned and dilapidated
buildings, lack of well-trained personnel,
ineffective teaching methods, inadequate
curricula and, above all, the fallen standard of
education in the country.
But, proffering solution on how to alter the
situation, Soremekun, a former Obafemi Awolowo
University, Ile-Ife, Osun State lecturer, says, “All
we need to do is to go back to the basics. We
need to ask ourselves what has really gone
wrong. You see, the western world thrives mainly
because of its knowledge structure. That
knowledge structure is not yet in our country. So
we need to map out our own structure.”
The ASUU helmsman Adesola agrees with
Soremekun. He notes that beyond criticising the
government, the union is leading other
stakeholders in planning an education summit
later in October as a way of addressing
practically some of the salient but festering
issues bogging down the nation’s education at
the tertiary level.
Similarly, Asomugha believes that not all hope is
lost yet. He says, “We need to muster the
collective will driven by a focused and selfless
leadership to maximise the depth of possibilities
at our finger tips in order to develop not just the
tertiary sector but also the nation at large.”


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