By Simeon Nwakaudu
As long as the debate on the quality of Nigerian university graduates continues, so long will the dialogue on the process that churns out the graduates remain germane. Many Nigerians by virtue of the submissions of respected personalities on the quality of Nigerian university education have come to the erroneous conclusion that nothing positive is happening within the system.
Indeed, such conclusion are based on several generic statements that have been made in the past and are still being made by those who are opinion moulders. Though, some of the statements have cases elements of truth in them, they are to a large extent without firm foundation as the nation’s university education system has improved in quality via a vigorous accreditation system put in place by the Federal Government through the National Universities Commission, NUC.
For the Jonathan administration, the key policy goals of access and quality have driven all actions aimed at ensuring that it returns education to its pride of place. This piece dwells on the second leg of the administration’s education transformation agenda, which is improving the quality of education available to Nigerians.
As one flips through the newspapers, it is quite easy to read reports that talk about corps members who are unable to write letters or fill forms. We read about a few graduates unable to carry out some basic responsibilities and we jump to the conclusion that the system is degenerating further.
We, however, forget to mention the overwhelming majority of graduates, running into over 90percent trained locally in our universities in the last few years, who teach in community schools as the only graduate teachers available, conduct elections that have been adjudged as more credible than when the older generation conducted same and also are involved in daily acts of nation-building in all walks of life. Our attention is usually focused on the non performing minority.
The Executive Secretary of the NUC, Professor Julius Okojie recently placed the issue of the quality of Nigerian degrees in the right context. Of course, he should know better. According to him, many Nigerians think that the Nigerian university degree is worthless simply because there are less employment opportunities than the number of graduates in the country.
He spoke during the presentation of a report on Labour Market Observation on Nigerian Graduates in Abuja.
Okojie said: “I keep hearing that our certificates are not acceptable abroad. Who has given that impression in this country? I have been in the university system since 1978 and I can tell you that our certificates are honoured abroad. The Federal Government gives scholarship to the best 52 youth corps members to study abroad every year. Some of them have third class honours; some are even HND holders and they do so well that they are asked to stay for their PhDs. So, where did we get the idea that our degrees are worthless? All the graduates need is the opportunity to practice. So, we must not kill our education system by saying our degrees are worthless,’’
Okojie at that function explained that NUC initiated a survey to understand the needs of the labour market and prepare the students to meet those requirements through proper training.
“It will also help in putting in place national and institutional structure for polices on the labour market information system. This will help the suppliers and consumers of labour to understand the peculiarities of the market and align themselves to it.’’
It is on this premise that the 12 new Federal Universities established by the Jonathan administration were tailored to tackle specific developmental needs of the environments where they operate.
Since the Jonathan administration came on board the accreditation process of universities, public and private have been duly strengthened to ensure that the academic standards of these institutions are enhanced. Several functional accreditation teams comprising seasoned academics and distinguished professionals in different fields undertake regular visits to universities for quality assurance purposes.
What has made the university system more functional than most Nigerians are willing to admit is the fact that the NUC has put in place a functional framework to ensure that all universities operating within Nigeria do so in line with approved standards. This is the more reason why most operators have found it difficult to penetrate the system, hence the operation of illegal universities.
It is important for Nigerians to know that the NUC has the Benchmarks Minimum Academic Standards, BMAS, which rules the operation of academic programmes in Nigerian universities. Usually, the accreditation teams work on the criteria that examine four fundamental areas. They include; academic content; staffing; physical facilities and the library.
The teams on the field evaluate the programmes to be accredited on the following criteria: staffing (32%), academic content (23%), physical facilities (25%), library (12%), funding (5%) and employers rating (3%).
It is imperative to inform that at the end of each exercise, universities earn different scores that determine the nature of accreditation that will eventually be issued to them by the NUC. For instance, a university that earns over 80percent at the end of the exercise gets an excellent rating with full accreditation that lasts more than 10years. However, a university that earns less than 40-percent score during the accreditation process is duly denied accreditation. In between 40-percent and over 80-percent are different categories of accreditation status.
The NUC has worked deliberately with all the universities in the country to ensure that key areas are improved upon to strengthen the university system. It has used carefully its legal position to sanction erring institutions with the beliefs that such sanctions will improve the quality of education.
Most importantly is the fact that the Federal Ministry of Education in liaison with the NUC and other key stakeholders have worked tenaciously to improve the capacity of lecturers, the librarians, university academic planners and administrators with the view to ensuring that the nation’s universities churn out the best graduates that will drive the economy of the nation.
Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike stated that the Jonathan administration will never waiver on the need to continue to strengthen the capacity of universities to deliver on their core mandates. He said that the administration has the political will to ensure that at all times universities work within their established framework for the development of the nation.
To him, the NUC will continue to get the needed support to carry out the onerous task of regulating standards in Nigerian universities. The good work that has been kick-started will definitely be sustained as the Jonathan administration is not ready to allow anyone distract it from delivering on the promise of maintaining quality, whilst ensuring that Nigerians have access to university education.
The issue of quality assurance in the nation’s universities is a continuous exercise. It is unending. Even after getting full accreditation status for the university or for different programmes, the universities are expected to continue to work comprehensively to maintain the facilities and structures that led to that status. If any universities waivers at any point, it ultimately affects that institution. What is important is the fact that the Federal Government through the NUC continues to set the basic standards for the universities, insisting at all times that the right thing be done. For this, the nation is reaping the benefits of her investments.
Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education.