By Simeon Nwakaudu
Steadily, the nation is climbing the ladder of quality education in Nigerian Universities. This statement is weighty and is borne out of the painstaking reforms that the Jonathan administration has embarked upon across the nation’s universities. These reforms have been all encompassing, touching all aspects of university education.
The drive to ensure that Nigerian students are availed the opportunity of the best university education by international standards is premised on President Jonathan’s Education Transformation Agenda which has human capital development as a key pillar to long term national development.
It was against this background that the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike on Thursday, September 26 had a developmental session with officials of the National Universities Commission, NUC, the Tertiary Education Fund, TETfund, and the Vice Chancellors of our public universities to consolidate on the gains made by the administration in the areas of infrastructure and the improvement of academic standards in our citadels of learning. That meeting was fruitful and highly productive.
What was placed on the front burner was the further implementation of key strategies to improve the quality of education in our universities to ensure that the academic standards are on steady rise for the benefit of Nigerians. Fundamentally, to ensure that there is a strong link between our universities and the labour market. The key aim is to build a quality workforce from our universities that will galvanise societal growth and make Nigeria globally competitive.
The administration has clearly worked towards changing the face of quality in our universities, maintaining that all courses offered in our universities must meet certain prescribed standards. On this issue, there has been no compromise.
Using the instrumentality of the NUC, the administration has come down hard on universities and persons who refuse to comply with stipulated guidelines on the running of universities and courses. The story of the four courses suspended at the frontline University of Abuja is all too familiar.
Despite pleas from all over, usually based on sentimental grounds, the administration insisted that the normal accreditation process must be followed by the University of Abuja. Though strenuous, the students, staff and members of the general public are happier that the government insisted that the right thing be done. In the past, this would have been swept under the carpet, whilst the university continues to churn out poorly baked graduates.
This same insistence on specific accreditation standards have played out in several universities in the country, both private and public. Nigerians who follow developments in the nation’s universities are aware of the fact that majority of the nation’s universities have had the hammer of the regulatory agency, the NUC, fall on them for falling short in certain aspects.
At present, some institutions are battling with the NUC in the courts over denial of accreditation by the commission. Indeed, one of such universities has lost at the Court of Appeal on the denial of accreditation by the commission. That legal seal brings to the fore the quality of efforts that go into the accreditation process.
At the base of the process to ensure quality of academic work in the nation’s public and private universities are sound academics, completely independent of the NUC who ensure that the strict accreditation guidelines of universities are closely followed. The role of the NUC as the Federal Government’s regulatory agency has been to coordinate the process.
As the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Wike maintained, the Jonathan administration will never waiver in its commitment to quality. Administrators and academics in the Federal Ministry of Education, the universities and the NUC are on the same page to continue with the successes already recorded.
Beyond the issue of the successful implementation of the accreditation process by the Jonathan administration is the strict monitoring process used by the administration to send illegal universities and degree awarding institutions out of the business of selling different classes of degree.
In the recent past, Nigerians woke up to find all manners of mushroom institutions masquerading as universities or affiliates of foreign universities. These schools attempted to capitalise on the interest of most Nigerians to acquire degrees to make financial gains. As such, they wilfully took advantage of the people.
The government vowed not to condone this ugly trend. The subsequent blackmail adopted by the proprietors of these illegal universities has not yielded any results for them. After embarking on mass advocacy to convince Nigerians against patronising these schools, the Federal Government through the NUC took the bull by the horn by involving the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to arrest proprietors of these illegal universities. Some of these proprietors are being prosecuted while the rest have fled their schools. Operatives of the ICPC are still on their trail.
Reviving the publication of academic journals has been quite successful. The Jonathan administration has indeed given the publication of academic journals by scholars of the nation’s universities a new lease of life. After several years of lull in the publication of journals, the administration put in place a N2billion National Book Development Fund and inaugurated the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to assist the board and management of TETFund in reviving the culture of academic publications in Nigeria. This initiative has worked tremendously in improving the quality of academics in the nation’s public universities. Needless to say that the incentive to embark on research has had positive multiplier effect on our universities.
The national and international training and retraining of academics in the nation’s universities have received a boost in the last two years. Close to 7000 academics from Universities and other tertiary institutions have been trained. The government has established a mechanism for academics to acquire doctoral degrees in their respective fields. Most of them are back to their schools contributing to the process of academic rebirth.
By far the most profound of all the programmes to completely change the fortunes of the Nigerian University academically and in terms of quality of education is the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development, PRESSID, initiated and sustained by President Jonathan himself. PRESSID Implementation Committee is chaired by the Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie. This project is targeted at creating the next generation of academic with their focus on developing a framework to enhance national progress.
Under this project, the Federal Government of Nigeria plans to develop a critical mass of professionals who would serve as catalysts of change and agents of scientific and technological advancement, as well as sustainable economic development. This would be achieved through the sponsorship of outstanding students for postgraduate studies in the top 25 universities in the world. The first set is already studying in the 25 universities while the process for the selection of the second set of first class brains has commenced. The new scholars will be trained in sciences, basic medical sciences and aspects of Biology. They will also be trained in Economic, Engineering and Technology and Medicine. Before they are allowed to embark on the said training they are expected to be bonded and to work, preferably, as academic staff in any public university or research institute for a minimum period of five (5) years.
For the Jonathan administration, there is no room for half measures in the reforms taking place in the nation’s universities. It’s a total package. The process of supervision and monitoring flows from the highest governmental level through to the Ministerial level down to the level of the implementing government agencies. That is why where previous administrations have failed in enhancing quality education at the university level, this administration growing progressively.
Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education.